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Go, Godzilla!

December 15th, 2005

This week saw the US DVD release of what is alleged to be the final entry in the Godzilla series, 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. I consider it “alleged” because we’ve heard this one before, most recently after Godzilla’s fatal meltdown in 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. (They’ve made six Godzilla films since then, not including the disastrous American remake.)

Like most of the post-Destoroyah films, Godzilla: Final Wars reboots previous continuity. Godzilla has made numerous attacks since his first appearance in ’54, but hasn’t been seen since he was buried in polar ice in a battle with the flying submarine Atragon. (In addition to numerous nods to past Godzilla episodes, Final Wars includes elements from the ’60s Toho Studios sci-fi stories Atragon and Gorath.)

Meanwhile, a variety of mutants, both human and monster, have cropped up. The human mutations have banded into a fighting force against the giant horrors that continue to threaten mankind. This allows for a lot of X-Men meets The Matrix martial arts action that’s strange to find in a Godzila film, but leads to a fun sequence in which humans battle hand-to-claw with the oversized lobster Ebirah.

If anything, Final Wars most resembles the magnum opus of the ’60s Godzilla series, Destroy All Monsters. Both films open with a worldwide series of attacks by an entire menagerie of Toho’s classic kaiju. However, this time humanity is saved by the intervention of aliens from Planet X. Soon, the Xiliens have ingratiated themselves upon the Earthlings, and the UN is redubbed “The Space Nations.” Of course, it wouldn’t be a Godzilla film if their intentions were truly peaceful…

This film is a loopy love letter to the ’60s/’70s Toho monster fests, and much of the action recalls the rubber-suit wrestling matches common to them. One of the highlights is a four-way scrap in which Godzilla, Rodan and King Seesar use the armadillo-like Anguirus as a makeshift soccer ball.

In other respects, Final Wars is something entirely new to the series, with its rock-music soundtrack, fast-paced editing and Adam Ant alien leader (Kazuki Kitamura in one of the great scenery-chewing performances). And for the first time, Toho ventures outside Japan with brief location sequences in Sydney and New York.

The monster roll call is a treat for old-school kaiju fans, with nearly the entire roster of classic Godzilla friends and foes: Minya, Godzilla’s offspring; Rodan the supersonic pterodactyl; Mothra the (what else?) giant moth; the aforementioned Anguirus and King Seesar (the latter a humanoid foo-dog last seen in ’74’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla); Manda the sea serpent (from Atragon); the crustacean Ebirah (Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster); cyborg whatzit Gigan (who once teamed with the cockroach-like Megalon); Hedorah, the walking pile of sludge (Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster); Kumonga the spider and Kamacuras the mantis (both from Son of Godzilla).

The most amusing inclusion is that of the American Godzilla, now downgraded to another Xilien pawn and renamed “Zilla.” The fight between Godzilla and the pretender to his throne is kept deliberately short.

One of the most common complaints is that the majority of Godzilla’s opponents are dispatched too quickly, but given that there are seven distinct battles, not to mention numerous other scenes of mayhem, it’s probably for the best that they weren’t dragged out. After all, the real showdown is the final four-way tag team match with Godzilla and Mothra against Gigan and the mysterious Monster X.

It’s all giddy, nonsensical fun, not to be taken seriously for even a moment.

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