Well, we’re at the end of the Toho side of this journey. After this there’s just Gareth Edwards new US produced take on Godzilla, which can’t possibly be as awful as the 1998 film. Toho decided that in 2004, on Godzilla’s 50th anniversary, they’d go out with a bang and leave Godzilla to rest for 10 years. The aim was to make a modern, action packed love letter to the monsters and history of Godzilla. That film is Final Wars and after the link I’ll tell you all about how awesome Don Frye is.
Godzilla Final Wars makes a number of nods and winks with it’s plot to various previous Godzilla films. Godzilla is frozen in Ice at the film’s open as in Godzilla Raids Again. The main threat comes from the Xiliens, who were the alien race controlling King Ghidorah in Invasion of Astro Monster. The giant multi monster brawl is a take on Destroy All Monsters. Essentially the Xiliens appear to the human race to be their saviours after removing a number of rampaging monsters from all over Earth. When it is revealed that they have replaced a number of powerful people with doubles there is a coup in the Xilien ranks and all out war on humans is declared. They unleash every monster they have to destroy everything in site. It’s up to a mutant powered super soldier named Shinichi Ozaki (Masahiro Masouka), The manliest man ever Captain Gordon (Don Frye) and the few remaining friends they have to enact a crazy plan. A plan that involves freeing Godzilla from his ice prison and leading him on the warpath against all the invading monsters.
I’d like to take a moment here to discuss Don Frye. You may not have heard of Don Frye, but you should have. He is a former mixed martial arts fighter that has competed all around the world and even trained Dan” The Man” Severn in the 90s. Most of his MMA fights lasted just one round, with him victorious more often than not. If you go on Youtube you can find a video entitled “Shit Don Frye Says” which is a few minutes of interviews with him where he spouts off random comments about men, women and the state of the world today. He’s a man’s man. A real man’s man. Like William Regal was in the 90s but without that horrible entrance music. In Godzilla Final Wars he plays Don Frye with a Samurai sword and he is glorious.
Every line of dialogue he speaks is in English, despite the fact he lived in Japan for about 6 years so must have picked up some of the lingo. I doubt it’s a case of him speaking his lines in English for the US release as, quite often, the Japanese characters respond to him in English too. In fact, much like a Bollywood film, there is a few moments of random English. One sequence featuring a pimp and a police officer in New York is particularly beautiful in it’s use of the English language, and its clearly re-dubbed dialogue to remove swearing. The fact Don Frye speaks every line of dialogue in English should give you a clue as to what sort of tone this film will have. If you aren’t sure perhaps the name Ryuhei Kitamura will clue you in.
If you’ve ever seen the film Versus you’ll get an idea of what sort of action to expect from Final Wars. The human mutant characters all have heightened agility and speed allowing for fast paced martial arts action, including a fight between Ozaki and his partner/rival Kazama (Kane Kosugi, a veteran of the awesome series SASUKE/Ninja Warrior), a fight that takes place on two motorbikes moving at high speed. Also, if you have seen Versus, you’ll be aware that Kitamura has no idea what physics or gravity are. His lack of interest in making anything in the fights physically possible, regardless of super powers, is pretty endearing. He just wants the fight to be as over the top and jaw dropping as possible. He’s also clearly influenced by The Matrix, making a number of visual quotations to fight sequences and shots from that film.
This over the top style to the fights even carries over to the monster battles. Whilst the physics aren’t being defied with quite as much disdain for Newton’s Laws of Motion, they are still in a level of stylisation not seen in any previous Godzilla film. There has been hints of it, but nothing compares to what Ryuhei is pulling off. The energy and pop of every monster attack is often coupled with a sheer indulgence to just do whatever will look the coolest or get a good laugh. A fight where Godzilla squares off against Rodan, Anguirus and King Caesar at the same time features wall running, Anguirus being kicked like a ball and various brilliantly stupid moments.
You’d think all the silliness would come across as mocking, but it isn’t. There’s some real love for the staging of monster encounters and attacks that comes right out of the Showa era. No effort is made to make, say, Ebirah suddenly look cool when attacking a power plant. Ryuhei just embraces the goofy nature and lets us enjoy the film for exactly what it is and what it clearly knows it is. Popcorn nonsense on an apocalyptic scale. The fact most of the monsters haven’t been seen since the Showa Era is also a nice touch which goes to reaffirm that the newer monsters really haven’t been as creative. One monster does get a total redesign, that being Ryuhei’s personal favourite Gigan. He pretty much needed one though and both, yes both, his new looks are pretty damn badass looking. I mean, he gets double chainsaws added to his arms. That’s awesome.
Have I effectively gotten across just what sort of film Final Wars is? It’s one of those films. Those films that are just pure silly, charming, ridiculous fun. In every traditional sense it is a terrible film. But I challenge anyone to not find something that puts a grin on their face. If you don’t smile at anything in Final Wars you’re probably a robot and John Conner will come for you. As mentioned though, technically, Final Wars is a bad, bad film. There’s a large number of aspects to discuss when it comes to the film’s shortcomings and many of them are systemic of the style of film Ryuhei Kitamura has set out to make.
Characters are cartoons. Some are inconsistent in their personalities, such as Ozaki coming across as a honourable fighter in his first scene but a idiotic jerk a few scenes later. He does gradually learn to change and become a leader of sorts. He ends up effectively being Neo, right down to being a unique mutant who has extra special powers known as a Keizer. This is all absolute nonsense, of course. But this film wouldn’t work without such nonsense. Could you imagine a film like this with a story that made sense and was taken 100% seriously. Sure, you could take it seriously to the point where it becomes comedy again, but why make that effort? Just make it fun all around. If I could draw a direct parallel I’d say that Final Wars is at least as silly as an average episode of Power Rangers.
The film is shot very haphazardly with a few framing issues in places, mostly during the kung fu mutant fights, but often shots are framed in an awkward manner leading to slightly tilted angles or a lot of wasted space. Practically every single shot of the film is put through either an orange of cyan filter with such a harshness that the image appears to degrade as a result. Tiny details get lost in the orange bloom. Light coming through windows bleach entire scenes in white. It’s stylised so much that it becomes distracting to watch. It’s pretty incredible that in a film with action like this has that just the colour temp or tint can make a scene look too stylised.
By far the worst aspect of the film has to be the score by Keith Emerson. He may be a formidable legend in the world of prog rock but scoring a Godzilla film is not his forte methinks. One piece of music, used at the film’s open and over the credits sounds entirely wrong. It’s like… how to describe… you know when you hear someone playing music but they aren’t sure how to change chord properly so the tempo and fluidity of the music is suddenly stalled… that. That is what the main theme sounds like. There is a score running through pretty much every single minute of the film and it’s distracting nature is especially felt when it’s volume pops up and down in the mix at seemingly random moments. Also, there’s a Sum 41 song for literally no reason that plays when Godzilla destroys the 1998 Zilla. I think someone asked for an epic rock song for the fight and they got the former Mr Avril Lavinge instead.
Despite Final Wars man, many flaws, the sheer enjoyment that is barely contained on the faces of the cast help sell just how fun this film can be. Akira Takarada appears as a UN Senator who’s replaced with a clone and he just looks like he’s having the time of his life in every scene. That guy is a genuine legend of cinema and it’s great to see him flash his charm once more. The glorious stupidity of the film is literally the main reason to watch. I cannot recommend Final Wars as a fine piece of cinema, but I whole-heartedly recommend it as one of the most fun monster movie experiences you could ever hope for. You just have to be willing to embrace the silly as the cast and crew clearly did also.