Saturday, 18 February 2012

Godzilla: Final Wars (Film Review)

Final Wars can probably be summed up in the sentenced which entered my head as the credits rolled: “This is what the American remake would have looked like if Roland Emmerich had actually done his job.” No, seriously it is: Its story is basically one big excuse to get lots of explosions, it has prominent human characters, has destruction of key locations around the world, it is a departure from the series' status quo, there is visible presence of the human military and even the American Godzilla shows up.
There’s just one ever so important difference between the two – this one didn’t entirely suck.

The story, ironically enough, is surprisingly complicated for something which is effectively a line linking together the various battles.
Set in the far future, mankind’s continuous battles with giant monsters have forced them to repeatedly advance their technology until they can effectively fight kaiju. Using mutant supersoldiers and flying battleships, human military forces have been able to take down and contain monsters in isolated battles whenever they appear. Despite this, when every monster on the planet starts attacking major locations across the world the Earth Defence Force is nearly overrun and only the sudden arrival of an alien fleet, who targets and seemingly vaporizes the monsters, saves them.

The aliens introduce themselves as the Xilians and state they come in peace. The heroes are unconvinced and sure enough they’re revealed to be behind the monster attacks; trying to weaken humanity so they can subjugate them. With their cover blown the Xilians opt for an all out attack and release the supposedly destroyed monsters upon the human race. Using their remaining battleship, the remnants of the EDF head for the South Pole to awaken one of the few monsters not under the aliens control, the cryogenically frozen Godzilla.

Have you got all that? Good, because that’s about half the film right there, Godzilla doesn’t properly show up until quite some way into the film. This means Final Wars is stuck relying heavily upon its human characters with mixed results. On the one hand in comparison to other films where humans take the spotlight over the title attractions like Alien Vs. Predator or Michael Bay’s Transformers etc; these ones aren’t teeth-grindingly annoying or a waste of time.
They’re perhaps a little bland, and have some occasionally facepalming dialogue, but they’re not making constant masturbation jokes and rather than stealing the spotlight by killing the villains their battles are used to show just how outgunned they really are. The problem is that as fun as it is to see wireworked gun battles and flying laser equipped battleships fighting monsters, they only serve as a nice distraction and aren’t what the audience came to see. We end up getting far more of these fights than we do monster battles and as they’re not the main attraction they just feel like padding to the main event. When the film does actually get to a few monster battles, they end up making it worthwhile.

A lot of the ones seen in the film are monsters who have not been on screen for the better part of a decade and have undergone some major visual upgrades. You can visibly see the time and money that’s been put into making each one look good and best of all almost all of them are depicted through practical effects.
The only time they’re not is either due to them having been originally a CGI creation, limitations due to their overall look or when they’re pulling off something which is easier to depict with the use of computer generated imagery.  Rather than using it purely as a crutch to try and hold itself up, the film primarily uses it as a method of improving fights.
The only problem is that the quality of it isn’t all that great, frequently you get moments which manage to look even more fake than the men in monster costumes.

What’s more is that there are two other things which have the habit of undermining the fights, specifically two characters. The first is the commander of the alien invasion force, the Controller. He’s built up as being a major threat and despite having obvious fighting prowess he’s depicted as a childish, tantrum throwing kill-crazy failure of a general. At frequent points he’s shown to be throwing hissy fits over his losses meaning awesome scenes like where Godzilla takes down his American namesake without breaking a sweat are utterly crippled by being intercut with him. The closest thing he can be compared to is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer in the second Iron Man film - annoying, unfunny and ultimately the weakest part of Final Wars.

The second is the inclusion of Minya. If you don’t know who that is, he's the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise. A monster that appeared in about three films back in the 1970s, was universally hated, and quickly ditched as soon as possible. And yet the writers decided to bring him back for this, giving him his own subplot and intercutting him into one of the film’s best fights – removing a lot of the entertainment value for a lot of the latter half.

These last two points really are two massive detractors which end up dragging the film down and Final Wars would have greatly benefitted from a fan edit to omit most of their scenes from the runtime.
Ultimately Final Wars' biggest problems, aside from the above mentions, stemmed from its director trying something different. Most Godzilla films from 90s onwards had followed the same formula and rarely deviated from it in any way. Final Wars seemed to be an attempt to try to take a film in a new direction while at the same time celebrating the franchise's history, but with mixed results. As it stands, the film’s not bad – when it’s good it’s outstanding and when it’s bad it replicates the worst parts of the 70s films.
It’s clunky, overstuffed and was overambitious but it’s entertaining enough to warrant a look if you’re curious.


Godzilla: Final Wars and all related characters and media are owned by Toho.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree to you saying that the humans aren't teeth-grindingly annoying. the "fights" are as awful as the controllers tantrums.