*. Since Godzilla first stomped Tokyo back in 1954’s Gojira, 2004 was the legendary monster’s fiftieth anniversary. To the credit of Toho Studios they decided to celebrate by throwing a party: a sort of kaiju celebrity roast with a line-up of all-stars: Gigan, Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, King Caesar, Zilla (the much-maligned, as he is again here, dinosaur from Hollywood’s 1998 Godzilla), Ebirah, Hedorah (the Smog Monster), King Ghidorah and the giant bugs and spiders whose names I never bothered to learn. In fact pretty much everyone shows up, including the faeries from Infant Island and, as bad guys, the Xiliens.
*. I think the only one who didn’t get an invite was Mechagodzilla, which was fine by me since I was getting tired of him. Even Minilla shows up, and . . . isn’t quite as irritating as I thought he’d be.
*. Providing a brief plot synopsis is impossible. Basically the Xiliens are plotting to take over the Earth so they can feed on our mitochondria. Instead of just wiping us out with their obviously superior technology they figure it would be more fun to destroy civilization first by unleashing the kaiju on various cities (Shanghai, Sydney, Paris, etc.). You-know-who (“the most destructive weapon on Earth”) is our last chance to stop them.
*. That’s not the complicated part. The complicated part has to do with the human story. Or really superhuman story, since our heroes on the Earth Defence Force are mutants with superhuman powers. Their top gun is Ozaki, who can fight on a motorbike like Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II and do all kinds of Matrix-style martial-arts moves when battling the Xilien leader (named, simply, X).
*. I was getting ready to say something snarky and dismissive about Don Frye, a former MMA fighter who I don’t think would make many studio Z-lists, but he’s actually well cast here as a gruff Cap’n Steampunk. Also very good is Kazuki Kitamura as X, who goes into fits every time Godzilla throws down another of his kaiju champions. In such a role you might as well ham it up, and he certainly does.
*. But did we need so much going on? You’d better enjoy seeing Godzilla getting buried in ice (a scene recalling the end of Godzilla Raids Again). It’s going to be a long time — over an hour! — before you see him again. That gives you some idea of how much effort they put into the human/superhuman story here.
*. Whether you approve or not will depend on taste. Director Ryuhei Kitamura wanted this movie to be more a throwback to the Godzilla movies of the ’70s (the Showa Era), with less CGI and more men slogging it out in rubber suits. That part works pretty well, but the human story is more directly derived from The Matrix, especially with Ozaki going full Neo at the end. So this part of the movie flags a bit because there’s no way to do those kind of fight scenes in-camera.
*. Kitamura thought of Final Wars as a kind of “Best of” album and at least that’s how the second half plays. Reviews were mixed. I found it to be mostly noisy, mindless fun. I did appreciate the throwback elements, but thought the human story suffered from effects overload and a not very original or interesting alien plot. In short, it’s a party flick. It also marks the end of the Millennium series, and really the end of Godzilla as we knew him. It would be another ten years before Shin Godzilla would kick things off again, and take things in a new direction. Tradition be damned, CGI here we come!