From Strange and Distant Shores: Godzilla Movie Marathon, Part Three

By Orrin Grey

godzilla_finalwarsGodzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura Country: Japan

As I said before, while All Monsters Attack was intended to finish our list of Showa-era Godzilla films, we had planned to follow it up with a couple of movies from the Heisei era. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get copies of a couple of the movies I’d planned to watch and with the shell-shock of Minilla fresh in our minds, we were unprepared to hold out in the face of adversity. So we all agreed to jump nearly forty years ahead and just cap our marathon off with 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, the movie that was, itself, the bow that Toho put on their Godzilla franchise, at least for the time being.

I had seen Final Wars back when it first came out, and I knew it was the perfect movie to end our marathon with, but it turned out that it was also the perfect antidote to All Monsters Attack. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, Final Wars is a loud, flashy, ridiculous exercise in excess of the worst kind, but somehow it works, especially right on the heels of a slew of Showa-era disappointments. Really, there’s not a better time to watch Final Wars than immediately after giving up on watching a bunch of older Godzilla movies, since it’s basically the previous fifty years of Godzilla cinema put into a blender, crammed into two hours, and set to music by Sum 41.

Final Wars opens with a battle between the battleship Atragon Gotengo and Godzilla, which ends with Godzilla trapped in ice at the South Pole. We’re then given a quickie explanation that the Gotengo is part of the Earth Defense Force, a special group of mutant superheroes who fight kaiju [Japanese for “strange beast” or “monster”].

I would try to further summarize the plot, but it would take up a lot of space and just sound crazy. Final Wars is all over the place. It’s got what I think are the most monsters of any single movie in the series, including ones from all over the history of the Godzilla franchise. Even the American version of Godzilla shows up briefly, as do a bunch of aliens who’re obviously from Planet X (they call themselves “Xilians”) and who use the same old trick of pretending to be peaceful and then trying to conquer the Earth using mind-controlled monsters. As soon as they showed up, my wife immediately hypothesized that they were the survivors from Monster Zero and that this was the future they had “escaped into.” It seems as good an explanation as any.

There are double-crosses and plot convolutions and Matrix-style martial arts battles and a fight on motorcycles and the amazingly awesome Sergeant Slaughter Jesse “The Body” Ventura Captain Gordon, played with over-the-top scenery chewing badassness by UFC fighter Don Frye. What it all boils down to, though, is that the aliens and the monsters they control wipe out just about the entire planet and the remaining members of the Earth Defense Force agree that the only course of action they have is to wake up Godzilla and let him destroy the other monsters.

What ensues is the best sequence in the movie. Maybe in any of the movies. Maybe ever. It’s everything the little kid in you wants from a bunch of guys in rubber monster suits wrestling each other, as Godzilla systematically defeats every other kaiju around in a rousing demonstration of why he is the King of the Monsters. (I am also obligated by my wife to inform you that, at one point, he hurls a giant spider into low earth orbit.)

Mothra shows up on the good guys’ team too, to fight a second-generation version of Gigan with chainsaws for arms.

Everything about Final Wars is like a parody of a Michael Bay movie and at any moment, you expect “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” to start blaring over the soundtrack. But it’s also an incredibly fun, ridiculous ride on a rollercoaster made up of just about everything Godzilla, put together with the same unapologetic love of the franchise that I had when I was a kid.

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