In this FandomWire Video Essay, we explore the WEIRDEST Godzilla movie you’ve never seen: Godzilla Final Wars.
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Why Godzilla Final Wars Is The WEIRDEST Godzilla Movie
THIS……. Is the WEIRDEST Godzilla movie ever made. Two hours and five minutes of utter insanity featuring Marvel-esque mutants doing Matrix-style parkour and an alien supervillain whose personality constantly shifts between Agent Smith and The Power Rangers’ Rita Repulsa. Depending on who you ask, 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars is either a masterpiece of camp and spectacle, capturing everything that makes the franchise great, or a nightmarish onslaught of sensory overload that revels in its worst tendencies. The film was meant to commemorate the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary and had some huge build-up behind it, but it would ultimately bomb at the box office and become the final Godzilla film for TEN YEARS.
Even today, all these years later, it continues to polarize critics and audiences; with some like Kevin L. Lee of Film Inquiry praising it as “the mother of all monster rumbles,” while others like Tim Brayton of Agony and Ecstasy slammed it as an “unholy hybrid of Godzilla, The Matrix, and Star Wars.” But what makes Final Wars such a unique and divisive oddity? In a franchise that’s been around for almost seventy years across nearly forty films with no signs of slowing down, what makes this 2004 entry stand out from the pack, for better or for worse? Well, ready your atomic breath and brace for impact as we explore what makes Godzilla: Final Wars the WEIRDEST Godzilla movie ever made.
Final Wars was released as the sixth and last entry of the so-called Millenium era of the Godzilla franchise. Beginning with 1999’s Godzilla 2000, each of these films existed in their own continuities separate from all prior entries and even each other, with only the original 1954 film being considered canon to any of them. This era was defined by creativity and experimentation, such as when 1990s Gamera trilogy director Shusuke Kaneko effectively turned the King of the Monsters into a hundred-foot-tall slasher villain in 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. While this experimental approach was received well by fans, the box office of each Millennium film would always end up lower than the last and it soon became clear that change was coming. Toho was starting to sense that everyone’s favorite nuclear-powered lizard would likely be going on hiatus soon so, with the fiftieth anniversary coming up, they recruited acclaimed Japanese director and Godzilla super-fan Ryuhei Kitamura to send the series off in style.
Kitamura grew up loving the 1970s Godzilla films in particular and prior to its premiere, compared Final Wars to a “Greatest Hits” album saying “We picked lots and lots of the best elements from the past and combined it in a new way. It’s what I love about Godzilla.” And that much is certainly true. Despite only considering the 1954 original as canon, Final Wars incorporates monsters and other story elements from nearly every previous entry up to that point. Expected heavy hitters like Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan all make appearances alongside more obscure monsters like Anguirus from Godzilla Raids Again, Hedorah returning for the first time since 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and even Godzilla’s son Minilla, first appearing in the aptly named Son of Godzilla, though he’s just called Milla here. With many previous suit actors also returning to reprise their roles and the overall plot serving as an homage and escalation of 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, it’s easy to see why many view Final Wars as the love letter Kitamura initially described it as. However, there is another side to cramming so much previous Godzilla lore into one movie.
While statistically speaking, your favorite kaiju likely makes an appearance in Final Wars, it’s just as likely that they’re not actually in it for very long. Most previous Godzilla films had the titular Titan go up against at most three other monsters, usually one or two. And Godzilla would face off against his opponent or opponents in multiple elaborately choreographed fight sequences throughout the story with enough slower moments in between to make each individual fight that much more impactful. However, to accommodate the sheer number of monsters Kitamura wanted to include, the fights in Final Wars happen significantly faster and in quicker succession; with each monster other than Godzilla himself getting two fight scenes AT MOST throughout the film. To many, this breakneck pace works to make Final Wars that much more exhilarating compared to previous entries and the now iconic scene where Godzilla slams his 1998 American counterpart into the Sydney Opera House before immediately atomic breathing them to death just to show who’s boss wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it dragged on too long. But this does arguably give each confrontation less and less stakes. Godzilla facing off against Mecha Ghidorah in the climax is still effectively exciting, but we would probably be more invested in the outcome if we hadn’t just seen Godzilla take down five other monsters in rapid succession, and thus essentially already know how the fight was going to play out.
Of course, this is only covering about half of the story in Final Wars. Quite literally since Godzilla is actually defeated in the opening and doesn’t show up again until about halfway through the film’s runtime. The rest of the movie is dedicated to the shockingly elaborate human storyline; wherein the Earth Defense Force trains mutated humans a la Marvel’s X-Men in futuristic military camps before the planet is invaded by an alien race called the Xilians who seek to replace important human leaders in a pseudo-Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario, as well as using humans as a food supply. Their leader X even refers to people as cattle constantly throughout the film. Also, the Earth Defense Force has a fleet of spaceships that they use in several aerial battles against the Xilians and our main hero Ozaki even does a Death Star Trench Run towards the end because why not also have a Death Star Trench Run in the movie?
However, the real end of the human narrative comes when Ozaki and X both awaken their mutant superpowers as The Chosen Ones of their respective species and duke it out using parkour and martial arts highly reminiscent of the Matrix franchise. This combined with Don Frye as a katana-wielding American general, the aforementioned space battles, and what can only be described as a motorcycle shoot-out make the human storyline in Final Wars certainly one of the more…… interesting ones in the series, but it does arguably take away from the stakes of the monster action once again. Much of the tension in previous Godzilla films came from seeing the consequences of the carnage from a grounded and human perspective. While some of that is still present in Final Wars, most of our on-the-ground heroes seem about as powerful as the larger-than-life monsters, relatively speaking. As such, there’s not much of a reason to care about how these people’s lives will be affected by the monster attacks; since, by all accounts, they’ll all probably be fine.
Godzilla: Final Wars had a massive amount of hype leading up to its release. In the US, the film premiered at the famous TCL Chinese Theater, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, on November 29, 2004, with the King of the Monsters receiving his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a special ceremony in front of said theater earlier in the day; which he was gracious enough to attend in-person alongside his longtime rival Mechagodzilla. However, despite the lavish US premiere, Final Wars never received a full theatrical run in the West, and back in Japan, it was massively overshadowed by Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Pixar’s The Incredibles, leading to Final Wars ultimately underperforming at the box office, and as Toho predicted, being the end of the franchise, at least for a while.
Godzilla: Final Wars was the last entry in the series to be filmed on the classic Toho soundstage, the last one to use traditional suits, and the last live-action Japanese entry to be part of any ongoing or preexisting continuity, at least until 2023’s Godzilla Minus One. The poor box office performance and overall finality of Final Wars would lead to Toho giving the franchise a decade-long break. It wouldn’t be until Toho would lend Godzilla out to Legendary Pictures for an American reboot in 2014 that was thankfully a lot more faithful than the LAST American reboot, that the King of the Monsters would grace the big screen once again. The success of the 2014 film would lead to Toho finally trying again on their own with 2016’s Shin Godzilla and these days both the American and Japanese incarnations exist side by side, a far cry from the forceful show of dominance seen in Final Wars.
While Godzilla: Final Wars would ultimately NOT be the ending of the franchise many expected and some even wanted it to be, it has developed a cult following in the nearly two decades since its release. Many have praised its fast pacing, goofy one-liners, over-the-top action, and homages to previous films as adding up to a perfect movie and a perfect finale, the Avengers: Endgame of Godzilla films if you will. While just as many others have derided the film as too silly, too overstuffed with references, and too convoluted in its plot structure; and have been increasingly thankful that this supposed black mark on the series was not the way it went out. Regardless of whether or not you think its cavalcade of monsters, ridiculous sci-fi action, and campy cast of characters make it rank amongst the best or the worst of the franchise, one thing we can all agree on is that Godzilla: Final Wars is without a doubt the WEIRDEST Godzilla movie.
Now, we want to hear what you guys think. Do you agree that Godzilla: Final Wars is the weirdest Godzilla movie? Do you think there’s one that’s even weirder? And what’s your favorite entry in the franchise? Let us know in the comments below, remember to like this video, and be sure to subscribe and hit that bell so you can be notified of great videos like this as soon as they go up. Until next time, thanks for watching.