Wednesday, October 25, 2017

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (AMERICAN DUB)

In the sixth installment to the "Millennium Era", Toho felt that it was time to put the series to rest again, but not after ending it with a bang and releasing it for the 50th Anniversary of the first film; which leads us into an all-out monster brawl known as...



Out of all the Godzilla films made during this Era, "Godzilla: Final Wars" was the one that I was interested in seeing the most. It had the majority of monsters that Godzilla has fought in the past. There's tons of action involving both the monsters and the humans. The Xiliens from "Invasion of Astro-Monster" are the film's primary villains. And fans are overall mixed about the film. There are some who love it for its action and wide variety of monsters, while others are disappointed in it by finding the overall product to be a mess in terms of story, effects, and action. And I'll admit that as hyped as I was to see the film, I felt a bit skeptical about it from the amount of cons that I've heard fans complain about. But now after finally seeing the film, what are my thoughts on it? ON WITH THE REVIEW!

Taking place in the future in the same time span as the 1954 film, giant monsters appear all over the world to destroy humanity, but are beamed away by an alien race known as Xiliens, who have come to help Earth from the monsters and an incoming planet called "Gorath"  that will destroy it. But it later on turns out that they actually came to Earth to use all of mankind as their food source, and unleash all the monsters to start doing harm to the world. A former commander (Don Frye), a mutant solider (Masahiro Matsuoka), a biologist (Rei Kikukawa), and a journalist (Maki Mizuno) team up to take down the Xiliens through their skills and a spaceship called "The Gotengo" (that appeared in the film "Atragon"), but need help with taking down the monsters attacking world-wide. Their only solution to achieve that is to unleash Godzilla from his frozen icy prison. From here on out, we get spaceship battles, monster brawls, hand to hand combat, and total destruction.



If the plot sounds familiar to any of you Godzilla fans, or if you've been following my reviews on them, that's because the film is pretty much just a modernized remake of "Destroy All Monsters", just with more action and monster's fighting each other, while that film was more dialogue heavy and showed little of the the monsters. The premise itself even reminds me very much of a video game that was my very first exposure to the Godzilla franchise "Destroy All Monsters Melee", which involved aliens (looking almost similar to the Xiliens) releasing monsters around the world under their control, as one (of your choice) resists their power and fights off the monsters that are attacking. As if having a recycled plot isn't enough, the film (like many Godzilla films before this one) has ripped a few scenes and concepts from other movies such as "Independence Day" and the climax from "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" for example. But the American film that this film takes a lot of elements from is "The Matrix" such as the fast editing and pacing; some of the color scheming and lightning; a soundtrack that sounds more suitable for an action film than a Godzilla film; the use of slow-mo; the stylized action scenes; and the Xiliens themselves resembling the characters from that film from the way they're dressed with long black leather jackets and shady goggles. It's more than obvious that Toho is trying to cash-in on "The Matrix" craze, much like how it was cashing in on James Bond in the 60s, and Time Travel films in the 90s. But as painfully obvious as the rip-offs and similarities to other films (including their own) are, is there at least more than enough good in the film for you to overlook it?



Well let's start off with the amount of monsters that Toho got to appear in this movie, with the exception of the king of them all. We do have appearances from some of the monsters who've appeared in all three Eras like Mothra, and a different version King Ghidorah  (and I know that he's referred to as Keizer Ghidorah. But come on, it's still King Ghidorah, just with a different name, origin, and a slightly different design). But for the majority of monsters that we see, are monsters who Godzilla’s hasn't encountered since the "Showa Era" such as Anguirus, Gigan, King Caesar, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Ebirah, Hedorah, and Godzilla's son Minilla. Even Manda who had his own film, and lastly appeared in "Destroy All Monsters" (not counting the times that Toho used stock footage of him in other films) gets a few minutes of screen-time. Rodan also returns to fight against Godzilla, who hasn't been seen since "Godzilla VS. MechaGodzilla 2” during the Heisei Era. And as a special treat for die-hard Godzilla fans, Toho took another slam at the 98 Godzilla by throwing him in the film as a joke, and giving him a different name known as Zilla. We unfortunately don't see any of the monsters that originated from the Heisei Era, or this Era, but after not seeing most of these monsters for decades it felt right to bring them back here for this gigantic brawl. If there is one thing that I find myself questioning about the monsters that appear in this movie, its the ambiguity of their origins? We know that the film is connected to the 1954 film, but it's never clear if this film is in continuity with the other films that these monsters have appeared in, or if they were being recreated for this film. All we get is a montage of monster attacks during the seizure inducing opening credits, and hints that Japan has encountered most of them before, but that's it, which is quite confusing. Even though the continuity with the monsters in "Destroy All Monsters" is just as head scratching, the film at least establishes itself to connect with all the other films whether it makes sense or not. Mainly everything about the monsters past in this film is all just up in the air! And for a franchise that usually loves to establish their monsters, this just felt as half-baked as the writing for the monster's background in most of the other films from this era.


So since we haven't seen most of these monsters in so long, naturally their designs, costumes, and effects would be altered to fit the modern era that these films were made. But considering that there are so many of them, I won't bother talking about each and every single design.  Monsters such as Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Kumonga, Anguirus, do look like that they have been altered a bit, and they do look as cool as they did in the previous films that they've appeared in, but nothing about their designs really stand-out from the others. King Caesar for instance, who I felt that his design was cool, but his costume looked cheap for when he appeared in "Godzilla VS. MechaGodzilla"; here they give him a costume that doesn't look as beaten-up and worn-out as the previous one. I do wish that they kept his glowing red eyes since that's what helped make him look so ferocious in the original, but it’s still overall not a bad re-design. The concept of Ebirah being a giant lobster is still ridiculous for a franchise that usually gets creative and original with most of their monsters, but I do like that he looks more like a real-life sea creature, instead of making him resemble one of those plastic lobster toys that you can buy at a harbor gift shop. Kamacuras is now a mixture of puppetry and CGI, and as obvious as you can tell when he's real and not, he still looks good and I like that he moves more like how an insect would, especially for when he flies. Out of all designs in the film, the best one goes to Gigan and Ghidorah's first form. The updates to Gigan's design are similar to his iconic design, but have a few altered changes to make him appear a little different, much like the other monsters that I chose not to go into detail about. However it's not his first design that stands-out; it's his second one when he's rebuilt as Modified Gigan, since he is now given Chainsaws for hands instead of hooks. Now that's what I call an upgrade! Ghidorah's first form known as Monster X, even though it doesn't feel that much of a twist that it's really Ghidorah since he has three heads, a long tail, and gravity beams, its still an awesome design for how other worldly and demonic it looks with its skulls and space-like appearance. It's just an overall unique and grim looking design!



Though the film has plenty of great designs, and updates to the costumes and effects to bring these monsters to life, there are a few bad ones. The costume used for Minilla doesn't feel like that I'm looking at a reptilian creature. I’m not talking about it in terms of design (though it is mostly true), I mean the costume for it looks like the kind of costume that would be used for a show like "Barney". When they make him appear gigantic (for unknown reasons) he looks fine, but when he's the same height as the humans, I'm just constantly aware that I'm looking at someone in a costume with its lack of expression and how bulky and rubbery it looks. But in the very least the character is less obnoxious than he was in the "Showa Era".  Hedorah's new costume and design looks absolutely dreadful. I may not be a fan of Hedorah, but the costume in the original did look more life-like and slimy than this. This just looks the effects team created his costume at the very last minute. And as if some of the costumes don't look bad enough, so are the CGI for some of the monsters. Zilla looks way more fake here than he did in the Emmrich movie. But since the film is taking a good jab at this horrible Godzilla impersonator, I actually believe that the horrible CGI used for him makes this jab even funnier, whether it was intentional or not. But Manda on the other hand, while having an awesome design and a cool action scene supporting it, the CGI for him is certainly not all that convincing.

Image result for Godzilla final wars

Now I'm sure you are wondering at this point of what I think of Godzilla, since I spent so much time talking about his foes and allies! Out of all the appearances and alterations that Godzilla's made over the decades, this is personally my favorite. His new design looks so much cooler and badass than it ever did before, that it's almost as if Toho took the best Godzilla designs from all three Eras, mixed them together, and made him thinner, resulting with the best design that Godzilla’s ever had. I know many people would disagree with me on that, and that's fine, we all have our personal favorite Godzilla design, and when I think of Godzilla being strong and awesome to look at, this is the one that comes to mind. And the scenes of Godzilla fighting against the monsters support the reasons why I find him to be so powerful and cool looking in this movie, because he never gives up or hold's back when fighting a monster. If a monster is in his way, or wants to challenge him, he'll take em' out in almost no time. That's how powerful of a monster that Godzilla is in the film. And the best part of all is, they give him a personality, which I haven't seen since "Giant Monsters All-Out Attack". He's a monster who hates humanity for what they transformed him into, and for all the destruction that they have brought to the Earth, and wants revenge, as well on those who have frozen him. He gets distracted from taking out the ship that imprisoned him when he's fighting against the monsters, but when all the monsters are dead, he goes right back to going after his real enemy. He does have a sentimental side as shown in the end of the film when he meets his son, but before that it's all just simple revenge with him. The only real downside to Godzilla's appearance in this movie is with the exception of the film's teaser, we don't see him again until we're about an hour in, since most of the screen-time is dedicated to the monsters, characters, and the Xilliens; but when Godzilla finally does appear, all of his scenes that follow make up for his absence in the last 45 or so minutes.

Image result for godzilla final wars

With a Godzilla film titled "Final Wars" and having a large gallery of monsters, you would of course expect this film to go all-out with its action, and the film absolutely does deliver! The film is flooded with so much action, destruction, and excitement at such a fast pace that it never gets boring, slow, or even tiring (not to say that I can't see why others may feel differently about it). And everything from the locations, to the monster effects, to the miniatures, to the explosions, to the Sci-Fi comic-book like sets and art-direction, to the mattings, to the cinematography that gives this monster B movie such a gigantic size and scale, is all just so amazing to look at! BUT that's not to say that the fight scenes and effects don't have their problems too! I already covered the designs and effects for some of the monsters looking phony, and outside of the monster effects there are a few shots where the matteing appears to be very off (like you know that some of the locations and monsters that the actors are standing in front of aren’t there), and half of the CGI looking very video game like (especially during the spaceship battle scenes). But much like many of the great Godzilla films, even if the effects are wonky at times, or take up most of the scene, if the fight scenes themselves have enough weight, thrill, energy, and stunning action to keep you invested and amazed than its easy to forgive how clunky some of the effects, and designs look since you still find yourself enjoying the overall experience. But with that in mind, there is one major element in these scenes that may disappoint Godzilla fans, and that's how short some of the monster fights are. Since the film has so many monsters for Godzilla to fight, it would seem likely that many of these fights aren't going to last as long as you would like them to be, and for the most part they are. The only real long fight that we get in this movie is Godzilla fighting against Monster X; all the other monsters get taken out within a few minutes, and even some times a minute (like Hedorah for instance), which will come off as a downer for many fans who were expecting to see more time dedicated their favorite Godzilla foe. When you really think about it, if you took away all the other monsters, and just kept Monster X, Mothra, Minilla, and Godzilla in, and just had the Xilliens warn them about what's going to happen to earth, you really wouldn't miss much in terms of story. But on the other hand, I still enjoy watching all the other monsters destroy stuff before Godzilla fights them, and when they do fight Godzilla, as short and brief as they are, the fights themselves are still incredible on an action and visual level that heavily exploit how mighty of a monster that Godzilla is!

http://www.filmsmash.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/godzilla-final-wars-3.png

The action scenes revolving around the characters and the Xiliens as out of place as these scenes are for a Godzilla film for how Matrix like it is, and even at times pointless (particularly the motorcycle chase sequence) are still just as fun and badass as watching the giant monsters. The choreography, the stunts, the editing, the pacing, the set-ups, and the music (even if it doesn't sound like music that you'd hear from a Godzilla film) create this one big adrenaline rush for how fast and wild that these scenes are where you find yourself attached to the action in-front of you as if you are on a roller-coaster. Unfortunately since the majority of scenes with the human characters are just them fighting, there's hardly any time dedicated to them to be interesting. They're for the most part acted fine and do keep your attention okay when they’re not fighting, but many of the characters and their performances just don't come across as memorable for how bland they are. Even the whole entire concept for these X-Men type of heroes called Mutants I found to be boring. As a matter fact, I kept forgetting that these people are supposed to be a special type of human beings since all they mostly do is fight with their fists and the weapons that they carry. I get that they move faster and are supposed to be stronger than the average human being, and that one of them appears to have a special power towards the end of the movie; but I found the superpower elements to be so downplayed in the film that it felt like that I was simply watching highly stylized action scenes given the film's future setting, comic-book-like environment, and that there are aliens and giant monsters present.



The only character and performance in our squad of heroes who may not be all that interesting, but is so cool and over the top that it doesn't matter, it's Don Frye as Captain Gordon! He's like a live action combination between a video game character that you'd see in classic fighting games like "Street Fight" and a military sergeant from an 80s Saturday Morning Cartoons like "G.I. Joe”, for how tough and cartoony he is! You look at his mustache, long overcoat and military hat, angry animated expressions, and how this man is built as he speaks in a gruff voice spewing out one-liners, fighting the Xiliens with his Kitanna sword, and piloting "The Gotengo" that the two words that instantly hit your mind is nostalgia and badass! There's never a dull moment for how aggressively loud and manly macho that this character and performance is! He's the only one in the entire film, who speaks English, and rather than finding yourself questioning about how he and the Japanese speaking characters are able to understand one another, you overlook it since his performance and how he interacts with the characters is just so much fun to watch!



Another character and performance that stands out just as much as Gordon's are the Xilien race! They're overall goal and reasons to take over Earth in the long run is complicated and makes very little sense (much like how the original Xiliens were), but there are still plenty of cool things about them to hold your interest as foes. It's awesome seeing them having control over the many classic monsters, only this time they have more than 3 and use them to attack different parts of the world instead of just Japan (pretty much like the Kilaaks in "Destroy All Monsters"). They're new style while not all that original, still makes them look cool. The make-up design for what they really look like (even though we only see that before the 1 hour mark of the movie, and never see that design ever again) is admirable for how gross and ugly it is. And their Mothership, despite looking like "Spaceship Earth" at Disney's Epcot, is just as nearly unstoppable as the monsters are. Masatō Ibu as the Xilien General gives the character a calm, pleasant and yet calculating backstabbing vibe whenever he's present on-screen. But the one who steals the show on the Xiliens side is the young hot headed and insane Controller X played by Kazuki Kitamura. From the moment when I saw him disagreeing with his General's way of enslaving humanity, I knew that he was going to be our main antagonist out of all the Xiliens. Before he gets his position in power we see him arguing against his General alone, and making himself out to be a cool and trendy celebrity to the Earthlings with his bad boy attitude; but when he does take power, he goes from being cool and tough, to insane and ruthless to the point where he starts to look like the Goblin King from "The Labyrinth".  I do miss how laid back and intimidating he was before he gets his power. But he's still a riot to watch in the scenes that follow for how off the walls over the top deranged (and even childish) he is, where all he can think of is kill and destroy! It's silly for how cartoonishly evil it is, but still fun and at times menacing to watch.



Just for fun, ever think what New York would be like in an ACTUAL Godzilla film, well now's your chance to witness it. Before Rodan attacks, we see a pimp (who looks like that he was ripped straight out of a 70s blaxploitation movie) yelling and pointing his gun side-ways at cop for towing his vehicle (that also looks like it came from the 70s), as the cop just stands there looking and talking chill despite that’s being threatened, while a bum just watches all of this laughing and commenting. This is seriously what Japan sees New York, and IN THE FUTURE?! On one hand as a New Yorker I should be offended by this, and for its racist stereotype, and above all being a 100% pointless scene. But I can't help but find myself laughing at how ridiculous this sequence is for how abnormal it all is! Oh and here’s a little fun fact, if you watch the scene, you may notice that the cop's words don't match up with what he's saying. The reason for that is when this scene was filmed, the actor playing the cop constantly used the F-word (where you can even see him mouthing that word in a few shots). And in order for the film to appeal to a wider audience, the cop was dubbed over to sound less offensive by saying words like "freaking" and "I'm going to bust you up"...you know, like how a real cop would talk! And as if the scene can't get any more out of place, when Rodan finally arrives in the city we hear a far from subtle cartoon effect when the cop's hat flies off.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

"Final Wars" is a mess of a movie and I can see why people would hate it. The story and universe makes no sense; some of the effects and monster designs are bad; the majority of the characters are nothing special; the tone and atmosphere is all over the place; and the film has so much stuff going on that it all feels crammed and even pointless. But as messy of a movie it is, it's still an AWESOME mess for how much the film is drenched with extreme non-stop action at such a wildly fast pace! You can tell that Toho really wanted to end this era with a bang and they definitely succeeded through its large gallery of monsters; endless kickass action scenes; cool effects that still look fun to look at when they do come across as cheesy; a bizarre and colorful futuristic environment; fun over the top performances from Frye and Kitamura; and Godzilla being portrayed at his greatest! It's a film that never has a dull moment, and if you're looking for a Godzilla film that only wants to entertain and fully exploit all of its action, than this is your movie! I just hope in the future that if Toho ever does do another cross-over like this, they'd get half the cast of monsters that we've seen in the last two full eras, such as Biollante, Battra, Destoroyah, and Orga. Maybe even have Megalon join the fight since he hasn't been seen on screen since his debut film.

OVERALL THOUGHTS ON "THE MILLENNIUM ERA"

Image result for godzilla millenium era

Much like the previous two eras, this one is just as hit and miss. However, some of the series misses do pose as a consistent problem in most of these films. In all the other eras of Godzilla, Godzilla was always given some kind of personality for us to connect with him, as opposed to just seeing him as a giant monster. And while they give him an identifiable personality in a few films like "Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" and "Final Wars", he's boring and uninteresting in the majority of films that he's appeared in. As awesome and powerful of a monster that Godzilla is, it wasn't just his design and abilities that made many fans (including myself) adore this creature. It was the fact that he was usually given some kind of character and emotion to keep our interest in the creature himself. Whether he was portrayed as a neutral hero, a deviously smart creature, or a tormented animal in the franchise, there was always some kind of personality given to Godzilla for us to find him amusing. And the fact that we get very little of that in the majority of films from this era is disappointing. It'd be like taking away King Kong's confused and sympathetic personality. The scenes with him fighting monsters and climbing up the Empire State building are cool scenes, but it's the emotions surrounding the monster that hold our interest for how fascinating he is.

What also brings this era down is with the exception of "Tokyo S.O.S.", all the films are just stand-alone reboots. On one hand, since the continuity between the films in the last few eras hardly made any kind of sense, I can see why they went with this route. Plus I like that the majority of these films can stand out on their own, when in the previous era, you had to see the previous film by order to understand the film that you are currently watching, or else you'd be lost. But with the exception of "Godzilla 2000", all the other films give Godzilla the same 1954 origins, just with a few little tweaks here and there, and I'm sorry but I overall find that to be lazy and repetitive. Sure their attempt of changing Godzilla's origins in "2000" (that is if he even has an origins story) was lousy, but Toho seriously couldn't come up with a better idea of giving Godzilla a new background for why he exists in the later films? Well I'm not that surprised because the films not only mostly follow the same formula as many other Godzilla films, but they've also rehashed many of the plot elements and character archetypes that we've seen in many of their films. This series even rehashes the same order of classic recurring monsters from the "Heisei Era" by starting off with a few original monsters, to then having Ghidorah, Mothra, and MechaGodzilla appear in the following films. I'm not saying that other Godzilla films before these aren't as guilty of reusing plots and characters from their films because they are. The point I'm making is since we've seen all these stories and characters used countless times in the franchise before, it's now getting very tiring as if Toho is all out of ideas.

But as major as the flaws that are present in most of these films are, there's still plenty of good to them! There are many likable characters in the franchise, even if many of them aren't that memorable for how cliched and simplistic they are. The new monster Orga is a cool monster who I hope to see in later installments to the franchise. Some of the updated designs, back-stories, and abilities given to the monsters are cool and fit within this new age of Godzilla films. But the biggest praise that I have to give to the franchise as a whole is the effects and fight scenes! These are some of the best that the series has to offer for how grand they are, especially in the last 4 movies where they really shine. But that's not to say that they have their weak points too. The fighting in the first two films is boring, and there are still some clunky effects as well in all of these films. Ironically, even though the series has the most amazing use of practical effects, it also has the worst effect that I've ever seen used in a Godzilla film and that's the use of CGI! There is a few times where it'll look cool (like for Godzilla’s atomic breath), but for the majority of that effect being used in these films is plain dreadful. I mean as cheesy and fake as the practical effects can look in most Godzilla films (especially in the “Showa Era”), they at least feel there. The CGI here, especially for Godzilla, is so ugly, so video-game like, so uncanny, and so out of place with the rest of the effects used for these movies that it hurts my eyes for how much it sticks out like a sore thumb.

"The Millennium Era" has it's major problems like the previous two, but it's still has plenty of awesome entertainment value to it, where it really starts to kick in at "Giant Monsters All-Out Attack", as the two films before that go from fairly entertaining but slow-moving, to incredibly dull and boring with 1 or 2 good things that don't necessarily save the overall film.

And I am done with reviewing all three eras of Godzilla movies. Don't worry I still have a few other Godzilla related films that I plan to review in the future, so don't think that I'm officially done with reviewing these films yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment