'Godzilla': friend or foe?

The latest addition to the film franchise gives audience something big to root for

Clichés by nature make films predictable — laughable even — but rarely do they contribute to a film’s success. “Godzilla,” however, is different. This film succeeds because it gives its audience exactly what it wants: an intelligent plot line that mixes drama, romance, utter destruction of civilization and, of course, monsters.

“Godzilla” proves these elements are not just clichés; they’re crucial aspects of any monster film. The 2014 addition to the Japanese franchise retains the necessary theatrical elements to thrill audiences, but this movie also involves more intricate scientific and emotional subplots.

The tale begins in 1999, when scientists Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) discover an enormous fossilized creature in the Philippines has released an offspring that has escaped into the ocean. The same year, a nuclear plant in Japan collapses as the result of intense seismic activity.

Joe Brody (“Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston), in a subsequent investigation, concludes the Japanese government is hiding something from its citizens — something not even a decade of research can pinpoint. Brody’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) reluctantly follows his father into a quarantined zone where they lived before the nuclear plant disaster.

Enter MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. This colossal insect-like creature is not alone; it seeks a mate and — unsurprisingly — cannot be contained by modern military technology. In fact, the only force strong enough to defeat MUTO and his female counterpart is — you guessed it — Godzilla. After all, doesn’t every monster movie need a monstrous battle?

Cranston gives a powerful portrayal as Brody. A strong force for unorthodox scientific experimentation, he is a passionate advocate for the existence of MUTO and his mate. His role in the emotional opening scene sets the stage for heartbreaking and gut-wrenching moments to come.

The complicated father-son relationship is familiar, but the circumstance is not. When Ford finds himself using his limited understanding of his father’s research along with his own knowledge of explosives as a U.S. Naval Officer, the outcome is not easily predicted. Three monsters (and some un-hatched offspring) demand military attention and the tactics involved in their defeat are just as compelling as the creatures themselves.

While her on-screen husband single-handedly defends his city, Olsen’s talents as an actress are — quite literally — kept underground. Elle Brody has the potential to save many lives during the attack on San Francisco (she is a nurse after all), but instead she spends the majority of the assault cowering in a subway station epitomizing the damsel in distress. With such a strong actress in tow, the film should have had a stronger role for Olsen.

Gareth Edwards uses just about every angle imaginable to display the MUTOs and Godzilla — bridges, buildings, boats and bomb squads all offer thrilling and chilling perspectives on the beasts who wreak havoc on San Francisco. As buildings crumble under Godzilla’s feet, the monster is made to appear as a sort of hero, the only one able to defeat the MUTOs and restore order to the city. In some ways the chaos seems perfectly orchestrated, the path of a 300-foot lizard somehow finely choreographed.

Godzilla becomes, as Edwards likely intended, a mildly sympathetic character. In some moments, Ford and the monster share glances and the creature pauses, just for a moment, before returning to stomping over skyscrapers to fight the MUTO beast. Godzilla’s dedication to defending his territory is akin to that of a good-natured protector and comforter, like a 12-story teddy bear that can spit fire and eat missiles.

In “Godzilla,” it is no longer humans-versus-monster or even monster-versus-monster — the plot is more complicated. The fight for humanity depends on strategy and brute strength. And it just so happens that that strength is on our side.

“Godzilla” may not have the emotional appeal of “The Fault in Our Stars” or the raw hilarity of “Neighbors,” but this summer would be incomplete without a dose of quality monster film.

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