dir: Guillermo Del Toro
Now, I love me some Guillermo Del Toro. I love him in the way I love Abel Ferrara, Whit Stillman, Hal Hartley, Takashi Miike and other directors who make the either occasional or frequent shit movie: it's irrational, but heartfelt, and rests solely on the fact that they did one or two movies that I truly loved a long time ago.
The most curious thing about Del Toro movies is that I love the idea of them more than the movies themselves. With the exception of Pan's Labyrinth, and maybe Golden Army, I don't think most of his flicks work that well. I'm not sure if it's a cultural/language barrier thing (even though he speaks better, more articulate English than I do), or that he outgeeks me to an embarrassing level, or whether the visual level matters more to him than the storytelling aspect of his movies. Whatever it is, I don't totally get him even though I really, really like him. It's a strange relationship we have.
Upon hearing that he was going to make a movie with giant robots fighting giant monsters, I groaned out loud; a loud, protracted groan of soul-deep disappointment. Why, why waste your prodigious talents on something so stupid, so pointless, so masturbatory, so unnecessary? I don't care if it's your childhood dream to make something out of the Japanese monster movies and GI Joe action figures you loved an eternity ago, that you loved because you hadn't discovered masturbation yet, that doesn't make it right.
I loved Lego and Tang and Penthouse magazine as a kid: that doesn't mean I have to make a movie out of 100-foot Penthouse Pets wearing nothing but a smile fighting gigantic Lego monsters in a massive pool of Tang. No matter how erotic that sounds, it's not a valid premise for a movie, except to some of the stranger perverts out there. And there aren't enough of them to justify the potential investment.
Any time I heard more about its progress, the more I would die a little inside. I was fairly resolved not to see it when it came out, which is easy to do, since the cinemas aren't yet forcing audiences into their darkened spaces at gun point. Not yet at least.
I make sacrifices, though, for the people I care about. And the people I care about, in the filmic sense, are the people who casually ask me what I thought of the latest geek atrocity, wondering what a total geek like me thinks about a total geekfest like this.
And so I have to deliver. Of all the Japanese pop cultural obsessions, there are two that not only don't I get, but they are pretty much repellent to me. The one is the schoolgirl/tentacle/alien/demon 'thing', which I'm not going to go into but which I find utterly repulsive, and the other is the giant robot genre. Never been turned on by either, never been interested in either. I've watched thousands of hours of anime, but that stuff leaves me cold.
The giant robot thing especially triggers my tedium reflex, and makes me want to throw up oceans of boredom, lakes of tedium. So, in case it isn't clear already from this agonising preamble, I am not the target market for this.
Pacific Rim is a massive big budget enterprise, assembling an international cast to make this film try to appeal to the box offices of as many nations as possible. It rests upon a familiar premise, being alien invasion and the potential destruction of our planet, which is the premise of every film now, but the aliens are massive, the size of skyscrapers. The geniuses of the Earth decide the only way to combat these monstrosities is via the construction of giant robots.
Really? I don't think it would get my vote.
See, hundreds of thousands of years ago, even earlier, our ancient smelly ancestors discovered that beating other smelly guys with your fist did some damage, both to them and your fist. It was okay, and fun, but we could do better. Our big brains allowed us to think up ways to kill creatures with tools, newly invented and effective tools, which worked way better than just punching stuff. I mean, if violence is going to be an effective way to resolve conflict, you need good tools at hand, human history tells us.
All of human progress throughout the ages is the development of better weapons with which to kill people we don't like and take their stuff.
So the pinnacle of human endeavour, as envisaged by this flick and these types of flicks, is thousands of years of technological advancement resulting in the creation of a giant robot which can punch stuff? That's the best we can do, for crying out loud?
I'm sorry, it just strikes me as being absurd. It's not the implausibility of it that rankles, it's just the petty wankiness of it. It would make as much sense to me if they were using giant slingshots or giving the monsters wedgies as a combat technique, in the heat of battle.
Beyond that, it's also a problem for me that I've seen all this before, back when it was called Neon Genesis Evangelion. And so much of it looked like it was deleted scenes from the Matrix trilogy. No, that's unfair, I take that bit back. It all looks pretty impressive, I can't really fault the design or the 3D or the imagery, because, I guess, it all looks pretty impressive. If I was into this kind of thing, the scenes of giant robots fighting giant monsters in neon cities, totally tearing the place up, would have looked all kinds of awesome to me.
And though I wasn't really into it, I have to say, I have to admit that I found it a bit enjoyable. It's kind of the equivalent of getting head from someone you don't really like that much and aren't really that attracted to: sure, it's not great, but hey, you're getting head! Appreciate it, you ungrateful bastard.
As much as it all seems like it was cobbled together from dozens of other sci-fi action flicks, I mean the non-robot non-action scenes of dialogue and human faces and talking, I didn't mind most of that. It helps that Idris Elba is so completely wonderful in everything and in this too. In the ads for this the only quote they used of his was the risible "today we're cancelling the apocalypse" line, but in most of his other scenes, he does a beautiful job taking this seriously, far more seriously than it deserves, and thus lending it some (unearned) credibility. The udience I saw it with laughed loudest at a scene where he does a very basic set of things: looks at someone's hand after they've had the temerity to grab his arm, but he does it in a half-incredulous, half-'you expect to keep that hand?' kind of way, and then intones in a way only he can, "First of all, never touch me again. Secondly: Never touch me again."
Beautiful scene. The rest, well, it's standard, stock standard stuff. The young hotshot (Charlie Hunnam) who suffers a devastating loss has to be cajoled into coming back to the Giant Robot program, and has to be paired with a young Japanese rookie (Rinko Kikuchi), and they have to overcome blah blah, and Raleigh, as the young hotshot is known, has to cope with the distrust and blah blah of the other team of Giant Robot operators, including an Australian jerk who is totally modelled on Iceman (Val Kilmer) in Top Gun. I'd stake my life on it, or at least the life of someone else.
The young Japanese girl is traumatised by a Giant Monster attack which killed her family and nearly killed her. These scenes where she relives the trauma of the memory were the most affecting, for me, in the entire film, but that's not saying much. These days, since becoming a parent myself, watching a terrified child onscreen even when it's a flick about giant such-and-suchs, has a profoundly visceral effect on me. Whatever physiological/instinctual changes happen when you become a parent carry over to even fictional kids. So I was glad that things worked out for the little girl, who grows up to be named after a shark (Mako) and is paired with dream boat young hotshot Raleigh.
Will they be able to work effectively to save Hong Kong from wave after wave of giant monster attacks? Will they be able to kill thousands and thousands of people as collateral damage during their battles with the Kaiju, as the monsters are called, and yet no mention will ever be made of what probably happened? Will they be able to work together with the multicultural ragtag team of misfits and dreamers in order to save humanity one final time?
If these questions leave any room for doubt in your minds as to what's going to happen, and who's going to make noble sacrifices when and why, and who's going to fight with whom and eventually win their respect, then you clearly haven't been watching movies over the last forty years. As always, it's about whether you enjoy the hackneyed hackery along the way.
And I probably did. I probably shouldn't have, given the multitude of reasons I gave above, but I somehow did. The ending might have taken a leaf out of Battleship Earth's playbook (in terms of finding a not-very-likely solution to a seemingly intractable problem), which is about the nastiest thing you can say about a hybrid action / monster / sci-fi film, or any movie, for that matter, but that's how most scifi flicks end these days, so it's like complaining about the wallpaper or the weather.
But it was okay, and not as completely terrible as I'd feared/hoped.
Pacific Rim is not a complete waste of time, mostly because of Idris Elba. Put that on a poster to promote it, I dares ya.
"This is for my family" - no sweeter words ever spoken when you're killing a giant monster for Revenge! - Pacific Rim