Direction: Ryuhei Kitamura
Screenplay: Wataru Mimura and Isao Kiriyama
Music: Keith Emerson
Special Effects: Eichi Asada
Executive Producer: Shogo Tomiyama
Any G-fan worth his sushi knows where he stands regarding GFW, perhaps the most controversial Godzilla film ever released. Some laud it, some loathe it, but a few simply like it. I fall into this latter category.
In many ways, GFW seems familiar the first time you see it, and no wonder -- it attempts to take the best of traditional kaiju eiga (think Destroy All Monsters) and integrate those elements into a modern-day action movie (think The Matrix, among others). Watching the monsters attack cities around the globe is great fun. In two standout sequences, Rodan buzzes New York City in a splendid sonic assault as Angilas trounces Shanghai like a bull set loose on a Toho backlot. Of course, the obligatory fleeing crowds panic in the foreground while the various kaiju raze the real estate behind them. Great stuff, to be sure. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the over-abundance of fantasy martial arts mayhem.
Plotwise, GFW liberally borrows story devices from Destroy All Monsters and Monster Zero, as well as any number of alien invasion films, if not to mention a pinch of The X-Men. The reason for the aliens' invasion seems shaky at best (G-FAN editor J.D. Lees critiques this at length in his highly recommended GFW review in G-FAN #74).
Of course, the most interesting subplot concerns the mutants' war against the monsters. We only see one instance of the mutants taking on a specific kaiju (Ebirah), and these scenes prove both exciting and different from what we’ve seen in previous kaiju eiga. In fact, it would have been interesting if teams of mutants has been custom-trained to attack specific kaiju -- the R-Team could take on Rodan, the A-Team Angilas, etc. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the movie. Instead, the mutants' basic purpose is to stage various Matrix-inspired fight acrobatics.
Here, the film falters badly. We see too many Matrixy-type battles, and they go on far too long. In addition, the motorcycle chase sequence is overextended. Instead of these overdone human action sequences, it would have been nice to have seen more of the monsters, especially considering that some scenes of Hedora and others wound up on the cutting room floor.
Still, all that said, GFW makes excellent use of its monsters, although their screen time is scant. For example, Godzilla's battles with his fellow kaiju are too short. Some of his opponents -- such as Kumonga and Hedora -- amount to little more than cameos. Meanwhile, the movie spends a lot of time monster-wise on Gigan, who surely isn't the second most popular kaiju in Toho’s monster stable. But it was nice seeing Mothra come to the Big G's aid and decisively defeat Gigan.
Probably the most expansive battle pits Godzilla against Rodan, Angilas, and King Seezar at the same time. This scene plays more like a bout between colossal athletes than a war between monsters, but I have to admit the whole thing is exhilarating fun -- yes, even the seventies-inspired touches such as King Seezar kicking Angilas like a soccer ball. And how about the Big G’s flying leaps?
Sadly, for the final bout of kaiju combat, Keiser Ghidorah fares the worst design-wise; his four-legged incarnation is awkward and unwieldy, with stunted wings, bizarre vinyl-like skin, and none of the majesty of the original King Ghidorah.
On the other hand, the new incarnation of the Gohten-go (a.k.a. Atragon) is sleek and inspired, a worthy mecha opponent for Godzilla.
Non-thespian Don Frye radiates a gruff likeability as the fighting vessel's captain, and he is entertaining, but with a seasoned acting coach, he might have been really good.
As for the technical aspects of GFW, they are a bit disappointing. The budget was reportedly $18 million, far more than has been spent on any other Toho Godzilla film. But some of the military miniatures are incredibly obvious, such as in the opening scenes. In fact, overall, the effects work is more erratic than that seen in Godzilla’s previous 21st century movies, which is a shame.
Also, director Ryuhei Kitamura keeps things moving at a brisk pace (some say too brisk). But a few of his directorial touches are silly. Example: the whizzing cartoon sound effect of the cop's and pimp's hats flying from their heads. Still, Kitamura certainly attempted to take the Godzilla series in a different direction, but fans of Matrixy action films probably aren't interested in giant monsters, and vice-versa -- GFW was a major box-office disappointment in Japan. And perhaps it will remain Toho’s final Big G movie, despite claims to revive Godzilla in the next few years.
GFW plays like an enjoyable combination of both "new" and "old" kaiju eiga. The film is flawed, but nonetheless entertaining. As I said at the outset, I like it.