This monster movie was released to mark Godzilla's 50th Anniversary, and has finally surfaced with optional English translations on a US Region 1 DVD.
Godzilla Final Wars came out in Japan at the end of 2004. I've been avoiding publicity, reviews and spoilers for the past year and have just watched the US DVD. I know the film is a departure from the usual approach, but I'm writing this review before reading any others, not knowing what other Godzilla fans think about It.
Personally I thought this was totally entertaining. I'd have to think twice before recommending it to any of my friends who are into, say, mainstream American movies, but I'll certainly try and coax anyone I know who's into Japanese action or sci-fi fare. It's an outrageous, epic monster movie, in keeping with other films from cult director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus and Azumi). The nearest movie comparison I can make is Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, in which the director obviously wanted to include all his favourite ingredients, destroy the world, but keep it humorous rather than grisly.
The homage factor rates almost off the scale - Toho Studio's back catalogue of giant villains is cherry-picked for a monster rally to rival Destroy All Monsters, some after forty years in offscreen exile. The director is obviously a fan of the 1960's and 1970's Godzilla films, as these seem to be where many of the monsters have been resurrected from. Past cast members and plotlines have been plundered too and thrown together into an epic two-hour stew.
But despite all the anniversary retro, the action and effects are cutting edge, for Japan. Yes, there's still men in suits playing the monsters, yes, there's a lot of model work, but these are occasionally supplemented by CGI for the impossible stuff. I read that the director preferred to keep as many of the special effects as possible physical (rather than CGI) because he doesn't like the CG look. That's also in keeping with the budget - Godzilla films are made for a fraction of Western action movie budgets - though Final Wars was more expensive than usual for the franchise.