Friday, October 23, 2009

Into the Vault: Godzilla Final Wars

In his 55 year history, Godzilla has appeared in no less than 28 feature films (not counting the Roland Emmerich film).  Out of those 28 films, the general consensus is that the original, Gojira, is still the best of the bunch.  So why wouldn't I nominate that film for inclusion?  The simple answer is that it doesn't fit the spirit of The Vault.  Gojira is more at home on a list of the most influential or popular films of all time.  The Vault is more about great films that, for whatever reason, are underappreciated.  Who doesn't know/love/appreciate the first Godzilla film?

Thus, I present to you Godzilla: Final Wars.

The most recent in Toho's Godzilla canon can best be described as a loving tribute to all things science fiction.  On top of being a kaiju monster flick, Final Wars features aliens, mutant soldiers, spaceships, airships, lasers, zombie mutant soldiers (not flesh eaters), asteroids, explosions, wire-fu, CGI, rubber monster suits, UFC champion Don Frye, and more!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  So what's the story here?  To put it simply, monster attacks have broken out all over the planet, and a race of aliens arrives on Earth to vanquish the monsters.  Soon thereafter, humans and aliens have created an alliance between the two worlds.  Soon thereafter, the aliens proceed to re-release the monsters, newly brainwashed, to wreak havoc the world over.  It's up to an elite force of mutant soldiers (specifically engineered to battle monsters) and the most badass of American generals to stop the monsters and the aliens at all costs.  Their plan: release Godzilla from hibernation to...well...destroy all monsters..

Yes, it is silly.  Yes, it is ridiculous.  And yes, it borders on incoherent.  But I posit that Godzilla: Final Wars is a love letter to the last fifty years of action cinema, and director Ryuhei Kitamura set out to make the zaniest, most entertaining action film he possibly could.  There's wire-fu fistfights that directly pay homage to The Matrix.  Fighter jets fly into alien motherships a la Return of the Jedi.  Hell, the aliens are referred to as X-Men.  This is all on purpose, and it's not being done as parody.  As much as this is film is an homage to Godzilla's legacy, it's also the kind of over-the-top action flick that they just don't seem to make anymore.

Of course, this is first and foremost a creature feature.  No less than fifteen monsters make appearances in Final Wars, and several others are shown during the closing credits.  Some of Toho's most famous creations, as well as a few that haven't been seen in decades, turn up for one more battle.  Even the American Godzilla (referred to here as simply 'Zilla') makes an appearance, and it's easily one of the best scenes in the entire film.  These monster battles are as goofy and charming as they've ever been, but true to Toho's Millennium series of films, the battles in this film feature some pretty stellar effects work.

In the end, you may prefer other Godzilla films to Final Wars, but you can't deny this film's go-for-broke attitude.  It's so infectiously entertaining that I say it's a shame more people don't know about and absolutely adore Godzilla: Final Wars.  If this truly is to be the last Godzilla film (though probably not), I can't think of a better way to go out than on top of a pile of defeated monsters.

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