Monday, 3 July 2017

Godzilla: Final Wars (3 Stars)

This was an important film for Toho Studios. 2004 was the 50th anniversary of the first Godzilla film. "Godzilla: Final Wars" was intended to be the last Godzilla film, and also a celebration of everything that made Godzilla great. The film had to be something big, something to be remembered. It had to offer something spectacular. It failed.

It's an uneven film. It has occasional flashes of brilliance, in particular the Ed Wood inspired dialogue, but most of it is pompously dull. Instead of making the ultimate film about Godzilla it added so much that in the end it wasn't a film about Godzilla at all. If you doubt what I say, consider this: we see Godzilla at the beginning of the film, but then he isn't shown at all for 67 minutes. During the title sequence we see multiple clips of Godzilla films from the last 50 years. Then there's a brief battle at the South Pole, in which Godzilla is defeated by trapping him under the ice. That's less than two minutes into the film. So what happens for the next 67 minutes?

The film takes place some time in the near future, probably the middle of the 21st Century. There have been frequent attacks from giant monsters, so a special unit has been created, the Earth Defence Force. It's an international organisation, but Japan is in control. It's made up of genetically engineered soldiers, referred to as mutants. For a few years they succeed. Then there's a sudden outbreak of simultaneous attacks by giant monsters throughout the world. This is an unashamed "best of Godzilla" sequence. In quick succession we see all the monsters that have appeared in the previous Godzilla films. I can imagine the Godzilla fanboys gasping with pleasure as they saw one familiar face after another from the previous 27 films, but each monster was shown so briefly that it was little more than a series of cameos.

Then help comes. Or does it? An alien race arrives and captures all of the giant monsters. The aliens introduce themselves with one of the greatest lines of film dialogue ever spoken:

"We come from a distant planet whose name Earth inhabitants can't pronounce, so just call us the People from Planet X".

Brilliant! In the rest of the film they're called the X-Aliens. They claim to come in peace, but we soon discover that they intend to use the human race as food. When the Earth doesn't voluntarily submit they release all the giant monsters at once. The only possibility to defend the world is to release Godzilla from beneath the ice. This happens at the 69 minute mark.

It's good to finally see Godzilla in action, but it's too little too late. There are so many monsters for him to battle. He needs barely 30 seconds for each of them. If he had good battles the film would have lasted six hours.

Maybe Godzilla fans can name all the monsters. I have no idea who this one is.

This looks like Baragon, but the last time I saw him he wasn't so hairy.

This is Minilla, the Son of Godzilla.

And these are my favourite fairy princesses, played by the same actresses, Chihiro Ohtsuka and Masami Nagasawa. Why do they have a different hair style? It doesn't suit them.

The film has scenes that pay homage to "Star Wars" and "The Matrix", and I even suspect that some scenes are intended to reference the Thunderbirds TV series. All this was unwanted and unnecessary. The film has too much science fiction and not enough Godzilla.

What many comic fans might not know is that Marvel published a Godzilla comic for two years, from 1977 to 1979, in which Godzilla battled various characters in the Marvel universe. What must surprise comic fans even more is that these comics were very good, mainly due to the creative team of Doug Moench (writer) and Herb Trimpe (artist). Over a series of 24 comics SHIELD, led by Dum Dum Dougan, attempted to capture Godzilla. They received occasional assistance from heroes like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, but Godzilla was always victorious.

After 24 comics Godzilla disappeared from the Marvel universe, because Toho Studios withdrew Marvel's rights to the character and granted them to Dark Horse comics. I don't know what led Toho to this decision, but one thing is certain: Dark Horse never achieved a similar high quality.

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