Dir: Ryuhei Kitamura.Jap. 2004. 110mins.

Godzilla: Final Wars, director Ryuhei Kitamura's send-off to the Big G,going into retirement after a 50-year run, is like one of those documentariesof R&B greats - the old guys can still play the notes, but the heat left along time ago. They once shook the world - now they're delivering nostalgia.

A wunderkind with a gift foraction, Kitamura is the master of the cool move, the eye-popping fight sequence(see Versus, Alive, Sky High and Azumi forexamples). Here he uses his talents to the full in a feature which should gethim on Hollywood's radar.

In Japan, the film enjoyed astrongish two-day opening last weekend, taking $1.8m from 285 screens in thenine key cities against two tough competitors on more screens: Howl's MovingCastle, now in its third week, and The Incredibles, also on itsfirst weekend.

Toho, which aims to record1,750,000 admissions at home to push the franchise over the 100m attendancemark, has already concluded sales for China, India, Indonesia, Thailand andTaiwan among others. It has also been deluged with offers for North Americandistribution. The company's goal is to release the film on 6,000 screens inmore than 70 territories worldwide.

Final Wars begins with Godzilla being buried in the Antarcticice by blasts delivered from a futuristic submarine - part of the Earth DefenceForces, which the UN has organised to deal with monster eruptions. The EDFelite is the M-Organisation, a unit of mutants with superhuman fighting skills.One is Shinichi Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka) whose attitude is more vintage BruceWillis than his ostensible Hollywood model: Keanu (Neo) Reeves.

Shinichi encounters - andquarrels with - Miyuki Otonashi (Rei Kikukawa), a UN molecular biologistresearching a mummified monster named Gigan that contains a mysterious M-basecompound which is also found in the mutants.

Soon after Shinichi andMiyuki are transported to Infant Island, where twin fairies tell them that ifGigan revives the world will be threatened with destruction.

Monsters start springing upin Shanghai, Sydney, Paris, New York and other parts of the globe. The EDFswings into action, but the monsters are too much for them. Help arrives from agiant UFO piloted by human-looking aliens called Xilians. But though thenewcomers profess friendship, they have their own ideas for Earth.

Godzilla eventuallyreappears as an unlikely ally in humanity's battle with the aliens, whileanother plot strand appears with a planet on a collision course with Earth.

By its third act FinalWars has devolved into a mishmash of everything from The Matrix to IndependenceDay, Armageddon and Return Of The Jedi, not to mention manyan old Godzilla pic.

Kitamura attempts the sortof self-referencing humour formerly eschewed in the Godzilla oeuvre. Mostly,though, he plays straight down the middle, offering fans the best bits from 27past Godzilla movies, with more style and flair than they're accustomed to.

This is no doubt what Tohowanted - no major messing with the corporate symbol - but those expecting afresh, hip, post-millennial Godzilla will be disappointed.

As with much of Kitamura'swork, Final Wars is less an integrated film than a series of gonzoperformances that, after the initial rush of excitement, have much of asameness.

Kitamura doesn't filter thismaterial through his own sensibility, as Quentin Tarantino did with AsianB-movies in Kill Bill, so much as assemble it, like a club-mix of Motowntunes, all to the same beat.

Yes, he is a fantasticaction director, with a sense of style and a strongly individual look. And,like John Woo, he's used to getting a lot of mileage from low budgets and tightschedules. But with his own material he tends to hammer away all he can, toooften neglecting character and story development in the process.

In the past most of themonsters in the series, including the star himself, have have been played bymen in suits. Since the 1990s, Toho has improved the visuals tremendously,making extensive use of CG, but even this final episode, the biggest budget ofall, has its share of cheesy moments, including one when Godzilla tramples ontoy tanks.

Prod co: Toho
Japan dist:
Int'l sales:
Shogo Tomiyama
Isao Kiriyama, RyuheiKitamura
Takumi Furuya, Fujio Okawa
Prod des:
Deborah Riley
Special effects:
Eiichi Asada
Keith Emerson, AkiraIfukube
Main cast:
Masahiro Matsuoka, ReiKikukawa, Akira Takarada, Kane Kosugi, Kazuki Kitamura, Maki Mizuno