Today’s Random Tokusatsu: Godzilla Final Wars (2004)

Today’s selection: Godzilla Final Wars (2004, dir. Ryuhei Kitamura)

Subgenre: Kaiju

Available from: Sony

Final Wars is the film made to commemorate 50 years of Godzilla, and 50 years of Toho science fiction movies in general. I think that it succeeds in what it sets out to do in spades, but I must address the fact that it is reviled by the majority of the fanbase, both casual fans and hardcore Godzilla experts alike. To theorize why, I must posit a controversial notion: Final Wars is an anniversary project embracing the entirety of Godzilla, and I think many fans don’t actually like the entirety of Godzilla. They have a chip on their shoulder about not being treated seriously, so they try to forget Godzilla dancing on Planet X, they ignore Godzilla’s son Minilla playing tail jump-rope, they disown the entire filmography from the 1970s. What Final Wars does is take all that stuff and say “Hey! This is part of Godzilla’s history, too!”, and much like, say, the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon as viewed by Christopher Nolan fans, that can be polarizing.

I adore Final Wars, and it continues to be one of my favorite movies. I speak of its detractors only because I wonder if the movie is profoundly misunderstood. Addressing some of the most common complaints:

  • “Godzilla doesn’t show up until an hour into the movie!” The movie is also over two hours long. Nobody complains that Godzilla doesn’t show up until 55 minutes into the 83-minute-long Terror of Mechagodzilla. There are plenty of other monster sequences before that, and it serves as buildup so that Godzilla is something truly special when he does appear.
  • “There’s so many rip-offs of famous Hollywood movies!” Like Godzilla vs. Mothra didn’t steal from Raiders of the Lost Ark, like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla didn’t take from Planet of the Apes, like Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah didn’t plagiarize from Terminator? Have you watched War in Space? Heck, the idea of Godzilla was taken from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, so none of this is unprecedented.
  • Gigan went out like a chump!” Gigan is a chump. He was sent to Earth to back up King Ghidorah, then to back up Megalon, and then he got killed by Zone Fighter. Gigan is really just a glorified monster of the week.
  • Zilla went out like a chump!” Yes. Yes, he did.
  • There’s too much stupid comic relief!” If you think that Godzilla must always be intellectual, grimdark, and serious, remember that he fought Charles Barkley once. Yes, the original movie is a haunting allegorical tale of nuclear horror, but nearly everyone involved in that film also worked on a film about Godzilla being the imaginary friend that teaches kids to fight bullies.
  • All the human characters dress funny!” I refer you to Destroy All Monsters.
  • The characterization is weak!” I refer you to every Godzilla movie after the original.
  • I hate Minilla/the Mothra fairies/alien invasion stories!” That’s your problem. You need to love all parts of Godzilla as much as Chris Sims loves all parts of Batman.

The more you familiarize yourself with the Toho canon, the more there is to find to like in Final Wars, not just from the “Godzilla movies” themselves, but from Gorath, Atragon, and other related works, and subtle bits of world-building throughout the movie’s background demonstrate a fair amount of thought that went into an ostensible dumb action flick. It probably helps my enjoyment that I also happen to be a fan of Kitamura’s directing style; I know that the techno music, color filters, and constant fisticuffs present in his films doesn’t strike everyone as cool. The movie takes a kitchen sink approach to cram as much history into the movie as possible while still maintaining a hyper-kinetic pace (apparently the original script would have made a three-hour long movie, which I’d love to see realized), and as such, it’s not a good starting place for the uninitiated… though those are the people who seem to enjoy it the most.

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