In what was fully intended to be the final, final Godzilla movie, we are presented with a pile of Godzilla stuff that may be fitfully fun, but is ultimately kind of a letdown. #31: Godzilla: Final Wars.
Godzilla: Final Wars came out on the 50th anniversary of the original. It’s the second longest Godzilla film to date, and the second most expensive (only outstripped in both regards by the 1998 American film). It has no less than 15 monsters, beating out the record held by Destroy All Monsters. It’s also out of continuity with the other Millennium films, standing as a direct sequel to Godzilla Raids Again. I hate this, especially considering that we only know the monsters Godzilla is fighting because of years of tradition. Are we supposed to ignore the previous films, or be familiar with them? Reboots suck. All of them. Even the ones we like.
The story is a bit all-over-the-place too. Godzilla: Final Wars takes place in the near future when superpowered mutants, like the X-Men, have been evolving on Earth. Mutants have been gathered into an elite fighting force. Then a spaceship appears in the sky. The cenobite-looking Xilians appear to mankind, claiming to be benevolent, but who definitely have a monster-control ray in their possession; previous Godzilla films have taught us that. Also, all the Earth’s monsters have suddenly began attacking. Kumonga is back! King Caesar too! Anguirus is around, and even Zilla from the 1998 is seen stomping around Australia. Eventually, the Xilians reveal they want to harvest humans for food, have been creating mutants using their own DNA, and want to take over the world with monster rays.
Of course, it’s up to Godzilla to go on a marathon of monster fights and take down every single monster in the Toho canon. The fight between Zilla and Godzilla is notoriously the shortest in the series, and even the Xilians admit that the tuna-eating monster isn’t worth a damn.
All of this sounds fun on paper, but there’s something about the steely aesthetic, weird pacing, and too-fancy camerawork that leaves Final Wars feeling bland and unimpressive. The director is Ryuhei Kitamura, and his films have been choppy and dull and too edgy. This is the only Japanese Godzilla film to be rated PG-13, and that’s not something we necessarily need from Godzilla. Why is the immediate instinct of all remake and reboot filmmakers of the last decade to make the material darker, heftier, and more serious? Is there no longer room in the pop culture firmament for bright, fun, and jaunty? Childish? Silly? Even goofy? Are these negative qualities? I would argue that a whiny, adolescent sense of “dark” is way less interesting and even less mature than something that is childish, colorful, and fun.
There is a new monster in Final Wars as well in the form of Monster X, but Monster X is not an extraordinary monster. It’s just another one on the pile. And while Monster X does indeed eventually mutate and change into Monster XII (a.k.a. Kaizer Ghidorah, a centaur version of King Ghidorah), never mind why, Godzilla just pick him up and throws him away. The epic nature of the monster fights are gone, preferring to pander to Godzilla fans. I hate being pandered to.
And that’s the way the Godzilla series was set to end. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Perhaps this new film will prove to have the spirit back…
Up next: Godzilla (2014)