Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pacific Rim

"Jaeger-Meisters of the Universe"
Gigantor versus Godzilla

Oh, man.  Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim may be the smartest dumb movie ever made, a direct descendant of the Japanese monster movies that became increasingly inane and family-friendly...but were not without their charms...and cultish admirers.  Del Toro is obviously one of the latter, expanding from the menagerie of Big Creature Movies of the 1950's and '60's to posit "if we're getting so many of these things in our midst," what would the World do to combat them?

Build really big, hurkin' robots to beat 'em up, of course!  

In a short explanation at the beginning, pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) says, "Whenever I felt lonely I looked at the stars. I was looking in the wrong direction." It turns out that we're not alone; there's a rift in the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean that serves as an inter-dimensional portal for creatures that attack coastal cities, starting in 2013.  The devastation wreaked by the increasing monster attacks compels the Pacific Rim nations—U.S., Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia—to form their own anti-giant lizard NATO against the "Kaiju," as they're dubbed, by using skyscraper-tall "Jaegers," huge piloted robot warriors to take on the huge lumbering monsters.

For awhile, the system works, the pilots becoming heroes, but the Kaiju get bigger and more resistant to Jaeger attacks and more sophisticated in their assaults, and Jaeger up-keep gets expensive.  World leaders start leaning towards defensive measures—thick walls to keep the invaders out—which, given the increasing abilities of the Kaiju, will eventually be a losing proposition.

Australians comment: "Funny, you don't look Kaijuish"

Parallels to current issues abound, and the film is a bit more subtle tackling other questions than one might expect in a robo-critter slug-a-thon: what are the Kaiju?  Where do they come from?  How does one fight an increasingly sophisticated enemy with the weapons you have?

Those are answered in the peripheries of the smack-downs that are the Jaeger-Kaiju battles, which have a giddy "Alley Oop!" quality to them.  There's an inherent goofy quality to seeing these lumbering mecha's—each with their own distinctive movement and swagger—planting hay-makers on assorted carapaces, using WWF moves on the monsters when it comes to close combat.  There's also something innately funny that these robots are so huge, as if they were walking Chrysler Buildings seeking revenge for past attacks.  It takes awhile for the Kaiju to figure out that they should go for the head (where the pilots are), but the Jaeger are so absurdly top-heavy one wonders why they don't just go for the knees in the first place.  Or double-team them by one sneaking up behind one (they have enormous blind-spots, being humanoid-inspired), and kneeling down, so that a front-attacking Kaiju can just push them over backwards—the fighting is that level of sophistication. But overlook that, and the basic concept of two people working in tandem for the movements—explained away by a hokum concept called "The Drift" that allows minds to merge—so that the minuscule puppet-masters can operate the stories tall rod-puppets.

That's in the foreground, but the basic concepts are deep and detailed, with the various Rim stations and individual fighter designs being incredibly complex.  There's also an optimistic "we're all in this together" spirit, despite all the expected competition and squabbling between the teams for most effective skills.

It's weird, inherently silly, but rather thrilling in conceptualization and realization.  And even though the Kaiju are not distinctive enough to be able to quickly ascertain who's who and what's what on first viewing, del Toro manages to keep all things clear—a bit like pulling off his own Jaeger juggling act.  

It's Kaiju-clobberin' time
Now, one would think that after a Summer of mounting indiscriminate screen carnage that has become increasingly boring to watch and numbing to the senses, that any more apocalypse would continue the trend of providing less bang for your buck.  But del Toro has managed to create a movie that has some impact, includes some awe-inspiring moments, and considerable humor to balance the package out, and one has to applaud the "togetherness" factor of individuals and nations forming a Corps of the Clobbering to take on the global threat (did I mention this movie is a complete fantasy?), in a way that doesn't feel militaristic, but is inclusive in spirit.  Hell, yeah, it's goofy, but it is also entertaining and points to how a particular vision can rise above pedestrian material to make something so enjoyable.

Pacific Rim is a Matinee.

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