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February 7, 2006

{     Godzilla - Final Wars     } to be the swansong of the Toho Godzilla oeuvre, Final Wars is ultimately so much more than that- it's a bombastic and hyperbolic homage, a messy postmodern love letter to kaiju film in general and Godzilla films specifically, and it's also one of the most iconoclastic entries the genre has ever seen. Credit here is due entirely to director Ryuhei Kitamura, whose unique vision informs every frame of the piece. Considered a controversial choice for helming this last and greatest of Godzilla films, Kitamura was known more for his effectiveness in manipulating miniscule budgets, strict deadlines and small ensemble casts to great effect than he was for handling huge-budget giant monster movies. In many ways, he's the Japanese analog of Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi; first making a name for himself with fascinatingly gory and twisted small-budget indie action films (Down to Hell, Versus, Alive, Aragami) before moving on to direct larger-budgeted effects-laden blockbusters. But this isn't just any movie property here, this is the Mean Green himself, adored by fans the globe over. Many feared that Kitamura wasn't up to the challenge, or that his insistence upon weird plot twists and smartass sci-fi would taint the final bow of The Big G. And many fans (especially the hardcore traditionalists) were bitterly disappointed with Kitamura's final product. Clock the Amazon link below for pages of whiny complaints, chief of which is the accusatoin that Kitamura has simply cut and pasted scenes from other sci-fi films to create Final Wars, that he's an unoriginal thief, spoiling the sacred ground of G-film with an entry that's unnecessarily complex and overwrought. Methinks they have missed the point. To really understand what Kitamura is up to, you need to look at the entire history of Godzilla. Since their debut in 1954, the Godzilla films have been resurrected no less than twice, defined as three distinct series: Showa ('54-'75), Heisei ('84-'95) and Millenium ('99-'04), with the Heisei and Millenium series both intent on redefining the monster for a new generation of fans. It's all about recontextualization and appropriation, albeit rather cannibalistically. Each series has its own slightly tweaked versions of Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah and the gang, and each establishes its own mythos, subplots and overarching storylines. As the years have worn on and the ability to depict the monsters and sets more realistically has increased, there's also been a subsequent swing towards a more serious, almost conservative, tone to the films, distancing them from the goofy and fun (though exploitive) latter entries of the Showa period, which delighted in cheap comedy and camp, as the Godzilla franchise was milked for all it was worth in the mid-seventies. Today's hardcore fan generally spurns those films, or at best, grudgingly includes them as a part of their collection simply for the sake of completeness. What Kitamura manages with Final Wars is to combine elements of all three series, creating a pastiche of themes and tones that weave throughout the core plot structure. This allows for moments of lightheartedness to coexist with scenes of devastating ass-kickery. It's fun and quick-paced, and it never takes itself too seriously, a major failing of the last couple of Godzilla films (Tokyo S.O.S., Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla) and a major whining point amongst the fuckwads who perpetually forget that these are films that star a man wearing a giant prosthetic mutant lizard suit. KItamura wisely does away with the ongoing subplots carried through recent entries of the Millenium series, discarding the excessively bland paramilitary themes in favor of a more sci-fi flavored approach involving genetically enhanced super-warriors and a team of badasses piloting a flying submarine equipped with kaiju-killing armaments. The bad guys aren't just the monsters either, there's a megalomaniacal alien overlord intent on enslaving the human race, turning us all into cattle herded for our genetic stock. Is it over the top? Yes indeed. But it's also the kind of ballsy makeover G-film's been begging for. There has always been a duality inherent in Godzilla movies, a separation between the 30-stories-tall monster and the human reaction to that monster's presence. Often it's almost as though you're watching two separate films. You'll get a scene of monster action, then a cutaway to the humans scurrying about trying to effect some plan to bring the monster down. In the original 1954 classic, this duality was so pronounced that when the film was brought over to the US, scenes starring Raymond Burr were quickly spliced in to replace the Japanese cast, securing it a wider American audience. Kitamura does his best to close that gap, partly by making the "human" storyline as kinetic and fascinating as the "monster" thread. He even goes so far as to show them directly interacting, as when a team of three genetically enhanced humans takes on (and takes down) a giant rampaging beastie. The line between these two elements is indelibly blurred in Final Wars, and the balance of power is in constant flux. With the humans capable of taking out a single kaiju with minimal effort, the ante is quickly upped, resulting in a multi-monster free-for-all the likes of which we haven't seen since 1969's Destroy All Monsters. And here's where things pay off in spades for true G-fans. The kaiju roster for Final Wars includes no less than 14 giant monsters, from heavy-hitters like Gigan and Anguirus to the excessively obscure King Ceasar and Kumonga. The film's ultimate bit of fan service comes in the appearance of GINO, who is the spitting image of the CGI iquana last seen in the 1998 American version of Godzilla, perhaps the only treatment of the Big G more despised by fans than Final Wars seems to be. For those not schooled in Godzilla fan-speak, GINO is an acronym for Godzilla In Name Only, and Kitamura delights in punishing the creature with one of the most gruesome (and certainly the quickest) death scenes in the film. While the giant monster action is a bit sparse in terms of actual screen-time, this is made up for with the sheer lunacy of what you're seeing on-screen. The action is incredible; you'll see rubber suits pushed to their very limits, as well as some of the most creative and fantastic duke-outs the genre has ever seen. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the cheeky and hyper-kinetic re-imagining of Godzilla seen in Final Wars. Perhaps I too easily overlook the flaws of Kitamura's messy plot and sub-plot structure. I suppose it's even possible that I'm a bit mentally ill in general when it comes to the subject of kaiju film, but I think there's really a lot to love here. The link to Amazon below will get you the best price I've found on-line, but area Wal-Marts are unloading them for a mere $9.98. If you'd like to save a few bucks and your local Mega-Lo-Mart isn't hawking them on the cheap, e-mail me at, and we'll work something out.

     » Whiny-ass Amazon Reviews



Posted by: Aaron at February 8, 2006 12:10 AM
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