The year 2004 was arguably the biggest year for the Godzilla series. It was the 50th anniversary, a truly impressive accomplishment. Never before had a movie franchise endured throughout so many years. To celebrate, TOHO commissioned a special anniversary concept. They were going to bring back all of the classic monsters, such as Rodan and Anguirus. Interestingly, the company really wanted this film to have an international appeal. So they hired an up and coming director by the name of Ryuhei Kitamura. Sadly the film never met the international success the company had hoped, and it bombed in the Japanese box office. Even more sad, this one is hated among the fanbase, sometimes even more than the 1998 film! Final Wars will continue to have its controversial reputation. It’s easily the most unique film in the franchise, which can either be a good or bad thing. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s a little underrated.
The story begins in the year 2004 when Godzilla is put under ice by the EDF’s Gotengo. 44 years later, mutants continue to be the elite force. They keep the world safe from monsters such as Godzilla. Things take a turn for the worst when the cities of the world start getting attacked by different kaiju. Just when things look hopeless, the monsters disappear out of thin air. Aliens called the Xiliens appear and claim they have come in peace. But, when has aliens in the Godzilla series ever been peaceful? After the aliens start attacking a plan is hatched: Awake Godzilla!
The story is classic Showa fare. In many ways this film pays tribute to the Showa era. It has the invasion where aliens ‘come in peace’ with an ulterior motive. They control the monsters and have them destroy the world’s iconic cities. It abandons the ‘realism’ of the Heisei and Millennium eras, and showcases how crazy Japanese monster fights can be. After the incredibly dull Tokyo SOS, I’d say this film was a welcome change of pace. It introduced the word ‘fun’ back into the series. It has its share of problems, which I’ll address soon. But first, the cast.
The cast is one of the reasons the film not isn’t liked among the fanbase. The main character is a mutant named Ozaki. He is established early on as a likable protagonist, showing a caring heart, unlike his partner Kazama. He is by no means the most developed character in the series, but he’s not bad either. Kazama serves as an opposite, one who wouldn’t hesitate to kill. The two have a kind of respect friendship later on and the scene with Kazama sacrificing himself to save the team was well-done. The most popular character by far is Captain Gordon, portrayed by boxer Don Frye. This guy never gets old with his tough static demeanor. It’s easy to see why he’s a fan favorite human among fans. (For some, he’s the only redeeming thing about Final Wars!)
The aliens in this film are the Xiliens, who appeared 48 years prior in the classic MONSTER ZERO. The ‘spandex’ is updated but looks like the original. There are only two notable Xiliens, Matsatoh Eve as the general and Kazuki Kitamura as the 2nd in command. Eve is kind of the Controller of Planet X, calm headed and serious. He has probably the best line, “He who relies on power will soon have that power turn against him.” While the scene with him getting shot by Kazuki technically made sense in the context of the movie, it would have been interesting to see what this guy would have done if he had stayed alive. I think there was potential. But, like it or not, the 2nd in command emerged as the antagonist. This guy is a semi-fan favorite for his rather crazed personality. You can tell he’s having fun with the whole thing, which is an interesting change of pace for the series.
There’s a few side characters, perhaps the most standout one is Secretary-General Naotaro Daigo. This guy is portrayed by longtime veteran Godzilla actor Akira Takarada, who amazing as it sounds appeared in the very first film 50 years prior! You can tell he’s having a blast with the role here. Fan favorite actress Kumi Mizuno from MONSTER ZERO also makes a comeback as EDF Commander Akiko Namikawa. It’s very nice to see all the familiar faces among all the newcomers, fitting for a 50th anniversary film.
Here comes the best part of the review, all about the monsters. One of the primary reasons why this film was hyped was that it would be bringing back some kaiju that hasn’t been seen for years. Sadly, aside from Godzilla, Mothra, Minya, and Keizer Ghidorah, they are all mind-controlled throughout. Still, nothing beats watching them with modern effects. Rodan for example has never been portrayed like this before. We see his power and speed unparalleled in what is definitely one of the highlights, his attack on New York City. The actual suit design is an excellent modern take on the pteranodon. It’s easily his best look, right up there with the classic 56 design. Anguirus gets a pretty cool new design. He actually looks like a warrior monster, complete with his fantastic rolling ability from the video games. It’s great to see how far the films had come when it came to showcasing a monster’s power.
King Caesar appearing was a triumph of sorts for fans, he hadn’t been seen since 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. The design isn’t bad, but slightly goofier than the one featured in the 74 film. Kumonga appears, but sadly he’s canon fodder for Godzilla. (Which is disappointing, since in Son of Godzilla he actually almost killed Godzilla.) His design is more or less the same as his 67 counterpart, just slightly less creepy-looking. Kamacuras is mostly realized with CGI, which in this case is a good thing since the film gets to showcase its insect-like qualities. He was cannon fodder in his original appearance and is here, but he does get a new ability, camouflage. Ebirah appears, and has the infamous scene of being the only monster taken down by the mutants. His destruction scenes are pretty great however, and his new design is solid. I’m sure Manda fans were displeased at the serpent’s short appearance, but it was a great scene nonetheless. It was a good tribute to his battle with the Gotengo forty-one years ago in Atragon. His new design is easily superior to his previous incarnations.
Probably the funniest and most interesting aspect of the film is the inclusion of the American Godzilla from the 98 film. TOHO grabbed this creature and trademarked it ‘Zilla,’ and had Godzilla battle him. It’s a fight for the fans, and definitely one of the highlights. Zilla is done via CGI, like in his movie. The CGI actually looked better in the 98 film than in this one. Still, the fact that Godzilla actually battled his American counterpart is still amazing today. Minya makes a triumph return, more proof this film was aiming to tribute the Showa era above all else. He doesn’t serve much purpose other than to be comic relief, though the final scene with him showing Godzilla to not attack the humans was well done. His design is a solid update, even better than his original look.
Gigan gets a radical new design. It’s definitely awesome, there’s no denying that. It’s not necessarily better than his classic look, but it’s still fantastic nonetheless. It’s a shame he didn’t appear more cause he lost rather easily…twice. Mothra is lifted straight from Tokyo SOS, so obviously there’s no complaints. While her screen time is limited, she does have some great scenes such as the one where she knocks down Gigan and Monster X in one swoop. Monster X is the new kaiju exclusive to this film. His design is very lean, to match Godzilla’s rather thin look. He has a very unique design, resembling some kind of skeletal beast. Monster X is a welcome addition, and his fight with Godzilla is fantastic. However, it’s his real form that is the most intriguing.
It wouldn’t be a 50th anniversary without an appearance of a three-headed monster, right? Keizer Ghidorah is another controversy. Not many are fond of the design at all. Firstly, the scene with Monster X transforming into Keizer was excellent and a really cool plot twist. (Sadly the Sony DVD openly spoils it on the cover.) Keizer Ghidorah’s design is a peculiar one. He has 4 legs, so he actually closely resembles Desghidorah from Rebirth of Mothra. I personally think the design is unique and looks like a ‘final boss.’ However, what he may lack design wise he surely makes up for in portrayal. This is how King Ghidorah should be portrayed. (Not like his appearance in Giant Monsters All-Out Attack three years prior.) Keizer actually takes down Godzilla, pushing him around and using his gravity beams to the fullest. Another thing I personally like about this Ghidorah is that the gravity beams are actual gravity beams. They lift Godzilla into the air like SpaceGodzilla’s telekinesis, absolutely fantastic. While not many like this Ghidorah’s design, there’s no denying that this is one of his best portrayals.
And finally onto the main event himself! Godzilla’s portrayal is unlike any other. This film perfectly showcases why he earns the title ‘King of the Monsters.’ He’s sadly absent after the exciting opening scene. Once he does come in later on, his presence is greatly felt. His new design has been a subject of divisiveness among fans. It’s the slimmest suit ever created, because they really wanted him to be athletic and do moves that an heavier suit wouldn’t be able to achieve. The head design I think is fantastic, he looks dead serious and mean throughout. The eyes are barely visible, which is either a good or bad thing depending on the person. Admittedly Godzilla’s screen time in the climax is limited and needed more. Sometimes in the climax he seemed more like a side-character as opposed to the main focus.
The soundtrack done by Keith Emerson is another subject of controversy. After Godzilla’s classic Akira Ifukube theme in the TOHO logo, the rest is done by Emerson. There are quite a few standouts, such as G’s ‘King of Monsters’ theme, ‘Gigan vs. Mothra,’ ‘Beginning of the End, and ‘Monster X Arrival.’ The ‘End Title’ theme is seemingly universally hated, which I think is a shame. It’s a really nice theme giving the viewer a sense of closure. The soundtrack is not for everyone however, it’s the definition of un-traditional. It’s easy to see why it’s disliked by a lot pf people. Is it bad though? Not necessarily. It fits the movie well. It’s just not something you’d expect from a Godzilla movie. Then again, Final Wars is not your average Godzilla movie. A negative I have, and many others have, is that Hedorah was cannon fodder. The sad part is that the new design looked really cool, yet was destroyed in under 10 seconds. Hedorah was one of Godzilla’s strongest opponents back in the day, so that was truly inexcusable.
Overall, Final Wars will continue to be the most hotly debated movie of the entire franchise. It attempts to be a tribute to the series as a whole while also attempting to have a broad international appeal, and I’d say it succeeds for the most part. Should Godzilla have gotten more screen time? Yes. Should the monsters have put up better fights? Yes. It might not have been the 50th anniversary film people were looking for, but there’s no denying that it’s a roller coaster from beginning to end. The climax no matter how many times viewed is a heart-pounding ride. With a last roar at the end from the title monster himself, Final Wars ends up being a pretty fun watch.
Daniel is the guy for everything Godzilla related at Unleash the Fanboy. Besides the Big G himself, his favorite monster is Rodan and you can follow him on Twitter:@Destroyer_199