For anyone who’s been living under a rock: Pacific Rim, the new Guillermo del Toro film, came out this weekend. I saw it tonight with a bunch of screenwriter buddies.
(and I wore these as part of my outfit…
So, Pacific Rim!
Short synopsis? Giant robots vs. Giant monsters
Slightly longer synopsis? (taken from imdb.com) “As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures [ed. Kaiju] wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon [ed. Jaeger] in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.”
And here’s the trailer:
Basically, this is Godzilla meets Big-O.
And it is an AMAZING pairing.
All right, let’s just get this out of the way right now: I loved this movie. LOVED. IT. I haven’t enjoyed a new movie in the theater so much since The Avengers last year. Before Pac Rim was even over I knew I’d want to see it again. When it WAS over I wanted to stay in my seat and tell the projector to ‘play it again, Sam!’
OK, to keep this review from devolving into an incoherent squee fest, I’m going to break this down into my 3 favorite elements in the film. Let’s begin, shall we?
The World-Building: The world-building on this thing was mind-blowing. Intricate to the nth degree. I feel like you could make a full movie about each separate element in the film: the pilots, the scientists exploring the Kaiju monsters, the people in the cities, the
black market traders in the Kaiju body parts.
It was ALL so well thought-out, detailed, and really interesting. You get just enough detail to whet your appetite but nothing felt didactic or unnecessary. I wanted to drop into the world (giant killer aliens and all) and just look around and play. This movie-world was just COOL. I would say almost on par with many of our other favorite make-believe universes like Star Wars or Star Trek. There are a lot of places these stories could go, and I am very excited for the inevitable sequels. I don’t write fanfic, and yet I want to write fanfic just so I can play in this world. (More pilots! More Jaegers!)
The Fights: Obviously, a movie that is basically billing itself as Giant Monsters vs. Giant Robots, you aren’t really going to go see that for the intimate character sketches. So, essentially, if the fight scenes don’t work then the movie won’t work. Also, I know there is a possibility, what with all the Transformers movies, that some of you might feel you’re burned out on Giant Robot Fights. Well, you’re wrong. So wrong.
These fights are incredible. They’re visually interesting and really creative. I think it’s also clear that the people working on these fights (the writer, the director, the special effects guys) were having fun, and that fun passes onto you as the viewer.
Another great thing they do is to make you think that things are basically as bad as they are going to get, the heroes are having their asses handed to them, how could this possibly get worse?
And then it gets worse.
They do that several times. There were twists in some of the fight scenes that actually made my mouth fall open in shock, in sheer I-can’t-believe-that-shit-just-happened.
These developments are, of course, shitty for the characters. But they’re really fun to watch as an audience.
Another good touch (and this is me being a bit writerly…) is that there are stakes in the fight scenes. There’s a danger when you’re using Giant Robots that you can make the characters too safe, too impervious to harm. That is not the case here. Our heroes are in the robot, and mentally linked in as well. When their robot gets pummeled, the characters take a physical beating too. Badly. It’s hard to care about a fight when you know the hero can’t get hurt. And the reverse is true. The more chance the character can get hurt, the more you care; the higher the stakes in a fight, the more you care.
Aside from the robot/monster fights there are also some really well choreographed/well filmed fights between human characters. The sparring match between the two leads, Mako and Raleigh, showed them as evenly matched skills-wise. Which I loved. And on a sub-textual level it was pretty much foreplay. Which I also loved. 🙂
The Characters/Cast Diversity: Do me a favor? Scroll back up and look at that poster at the top of the post again. This is a major motion picture, a summer tentpole for the studio and yes, the cute white guy is in the center but behind him is an Asian woman and a black man. (I’ve also seen posters that have Idris Elba as the center of the triangle, in fact. Which is awesome).
I would argue that in the film, the two non-white characters get just as much screentime/development as the white guy. Maybe more. Certainly, the focus shifts to the two of them more toward the end of the film. And they aren’t playing an Asian character or a black character, they’re just playing characters. I’d love to see more diversity/inclusion like this in other big budget films. It’s definitely what I aim for with my own stuff.
I read that the Idris Elba part was originally offered to Tom Cruise. I am SO glad Cruise turned it down. Elba was his usual debonair self, bringing wonderful gravitas and his usual dry wit. I also enjoyed Rinko Kikuchi as Mako who was the copilot/romantic interest for our hero, played by Charlie Hunnam. Kikuchi had a nice mix of vulnerable and tough. She didn’t have to lose her femininity to kick some alien ass. The romance was also nicely understated. There’s no kiss, but it’s clear these people feel something for each other. And the hero has a great non-declaration sort of declaration of his feelings right before the big fight.
I thought the whole cast worked well together. Good chemistry. The little girl, Mana Ashida, who played young Mako was amazing. Everyone I went to see this with agreed she was the best damned actor in the whole thing. The supporting roles were also really well cast with a special shout-out to the two hilarious scientist characters played by Torchwood’s Burn Gorman and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).
Other good touches: The bombastic score by Ramin Djawadi (he also did the first Iron Man score). Ron Perlman’s part, and the tag after the credits. The production design (I love the way the robots and aliens are designed and the way they move in the fights). And a very special shout-out to the not one but TWO gratuitous shirtless scenes they gave to Charlie Hunnam.
Now my very minor niggles: Nobody really gets much of a character arc. Nobody changes. The characters were good and I liked them, but some growth throughout would have been nice. Even Raleigh, the main character, who seems like he should have one of those down and out character finds his strength and learns to believe in himself again character arcs…doesn’t. He basically gets to the Jaeger base and he’s confident as hell and ready to go. Even though he should have some serious PTSD to get through first. EDIT: Upon later consideration and reading stuff online, I would say that Mako actually gets the character arc-stuff here. Raleigh helps expedite that, but Mako is actually the protagonist in the film. Which is AWESOME.
I do have to say, though, that I’m sad about the fact that as good as this film does with racial diversity it fails the Bechdel Test. Which, for the uninitiated is a test which, for a movie to pass, it has to have:
- At least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
The point of the Bechdel Test is to “…articulate…something often missing in popular culture: not the number of women we see on screen, but the depth of their stories, and the range of their concerns.” ~Neda Ulaby
Pacific Rim has two female characters: Mako and another pilot. But the second female character barely has a name, basically all we know about her is she’s Russian. And her pilot armor has awkward and really unnecessary boob plates because…ladies have boobs?
And Mako has no scenes with the other female character. So Pacific Rim isn’t a total fail because they have the bare minimum of two female characters, but 1/3 isn’t so hot either. Especially when any of the other characters (Idris Elba’s part, one of the scientists, or the control room tech, or more of the pilots) could easily have been female characters. They didn’t need to be men, and this left Mako feeling just a little bit like the token female. She’s a very strong character with a very strong, well-written arc BUT why did she have to be basically the only female character in the movie?! Fingers crossed the sequels have more gender diversity as well as racial. Like I said, though, this is a small niggle.
Overall I loved this film and I am going to go see it at least once more, but probably twice if I can squeeze it in. It was a very enjoyable way to spend two hours, and I highly recommend it.
Overall grade: ***** (I LOVED it.)