Review: ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’

Godzilla's 28th adventure is a 50th anniversary extravaganza that is the series' costliest --though one doubts it will be the last, as some publicity has indicated. Pic is a long but entertaining spectacle that's contemporary enough in style to suit today's young viewers, while careful to placate picky longtime fans via traditional f/x and cast/critter elements reprised from earlier chapters.

Godzilla’s 28th adventure is a 50th anniversary extravaganza that is the series’ costliest –though one doubts it will be the last, as some publicity has indicated. Mixing old-school monster mayhem with a more voguish, “Matrix”-y emphasis on martial arts and humanity under alien attack, pic is a long but entertaining spectacle that’s contemporary enough in style to suit today’s young viewers, while careful to placate picky longtime fans via traditional f/x and cast/critter elements reprised from earlier chapters. In the States, it’s slated for July DVD release in English-dubbed form.

Hiring young fantasy-action whiz Ryuhei Kitamura as director/co-scenarist was a good move; even when those men in (improved) rubber suits are lumbering at each other over the classic miniature sets, pic’s pacing and look feel up-to-date.

Earth has been relatively peaceful since Godzilla was successfully buried deep in ice beneath the South Pole. Then –sometime a few years hence –several of his old nemeses return to wreak havoc on cities worldwide. A huge spaceship suddenly appears and neutralizes all the monsters in a blink. The visitors are “Xiliens,” who take human form and announce they would like to negotiate a peace treaty that would replace the United Nations with a “United Universe.”

They are indeed too good to be true, however. It doesn’t take long before their nefarious real purpose is exposed — conquering Earth, then setting up farms to breed and harvest people. “You’re cattle. You exist only to be our food!” cries hotheaded Xilien leader X.

Greatly outmatched, Earth officials decide to de-freeze Godzilla as man’s only hope to vanish the invaders, as well as the monsters they control. Only trouble is Godzilla is still mad at man for freezing him in the first place.

Pic is divided fairly evenly between mano-a-mano combat in the human-vs.-Xilien and Godzilla-vs.-monster camps. Mothra shows up to help out the big green guy, while the villainous side includes (albeit with some design improvements) Rodan, Gigan and even the Smog Monster. These bouts are generally fun, although given two-hour-plus run-time, a certain repetitiousness does set in.

It might have been better to give Godzilla fewer but more vividly emphasized combatants. Ditto the martial arts action, though it’s expertly choreographed and shot. However, intercutting between monster and martial mayhem keeps pic lively enough, despite eventual air of overkill.

With offshore co-producers pitching in budget coin, “Final Wars” does manage an epic, globe-trotting feel — even if characters the world ’round have a curious tendency to look and speak Japanese. Mix of CGI, model and prosthetic effects works well enough, with Takumi Furuya’s handsome widescreen photography providing one connective element. Production design for interior sequences (especially in the spaceship) is sleek and shiny.

Godzilla: Final Wars

Japan-Australia-U.S.-China

Production

A Toho Film Co. production in association with C.P. Intl., Zazou Prods. and Napalm Films. Produced by Shogo Tamiyama. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Screenplay, Wataru Mimura, Isao Kiriyama.

Crew

Camera (color, Toho-Scope), Takumi Furuya; editor, Hidekazu Kakesu; music, Keith Emerson; production designer, Deborah Riley; sound designer (Dolby Surround), Kazunori Shimizu; f/x supervisor, Eiichi Asada; principal creature designer, Shinji Nishikawa; CGI director, Nobuhiro Kondo; fight choreographer, Tak Sakaguchi. Reviewed at Another Hole in the Head Horror Film Festival, San Francisco, June 5, 2005. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Akira Takarada, Kane Kosugi, Kazuki Kitamura, Maki Mizuno, Masami Nagasawa, Chihiro Otsuka, Don Frye, Kenji Sahara, Kumi Mizuno, Kenta Suga, Shigeru Izumiya.
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