Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pacific Rim

Let's get something out of the way real quick: I don't like anime. I like Japanese animation (quite a few of Studio Ghibli's efforts stand as some of my all-time favourite films, along with the works of Satoshi Kon and Katsuhiro Ohtomo), but that particular genre has always eluded me. I've given it a go here and there, but even growing up, I preferred playing Pokemon to watching it. I gave up on Dragon Ball Z after a character spent the length of three episodes charging an attack just to miss and start charging again. I know I may have just listed two of the most non-anime animes out there, but if anything, it should just illustrate how removed from this brand of entertainment I am. That said, there are tropes within the anime genre I like, such as gigantic human-controlled robots breaking shit. I also really like big monster movies. And nobody does big monster movies like Toho. I fucking love Godzilla, so much so I even thought the 1998 American production was unfairly treated. When I heard a movie was going to be made about big robots fighting bigger monsters and that Guillermo del Toro, one of my favourite directors, was at the helm, I was over the fucking moon. Guillermo del Toro could bring his unique visual direction and quirky sense of humour to a genre bloated with stale narratives and cookie-cutter personalities. Turns out he's just a huge fanboy when it comes to this shit, and he's gone and made the No Homers Club: a live-action Neon Genesis Evangelion for him when he was 12, the couple of buddies he has that feel the same way and nobody else. Well, on ya Guillermo, but this is probably why everyone went and saw Grown Ups 2 instead.

I'm tired of seeing iconic monuments be destroyed in long, gratuitous, almost pornographic sequences. One of the best things Pacific Rim does is respect your intelligence with its premise; it knows you've already seen the White House get stomped on fifteen times, so it skips it. The movie begins with a very lean montage explaining that monsters came out of nowhere, destroyed a bunch of stuff and we made robots to fight them back. We get very quick flashes of the world going up in flames, but the movie actually starts right in the thick of it. Perfect. The robots themselves are also kind of interesting. The gist of it is they require two people to operate due to the incredible psychological strain involved in using one. These two people are linked mentally; their memories overlap and collide, and by the end of the process they're essentially operating as one. The unique and interesting elements end there. So two brothers (the guy from Sons of Anarchy and someone you don't need to know the name of because he'll be dead in five minutes) are the pride and joy of the military oraganisation defending the world from the monsters, if it weren't for their recklessness and tendency to disobey orders. It gets one of them killed. The Green Street Hooligan retreats into industrial work while the world slowly starts losing the war with the beasties. He's called back into the game for one last job, one last stab at saving the world. I'm getting bored writing this.

The biggest problem this movie has is that smack dab in the middle, there's over an hour of character development, which wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't so fucking boring. My gripes with the tropes of anime aside, this is unbelievably bad dialogue, entirely predictable character beats and just general bad storytelling. What's worse is it's clearly intentional. Guillermo del Toro is knowingly operating within the structure and expectations of the genre he's adapting, with all of the flaws that comes with. He knows it's a joke, but he refuses to let any of the actors wink into the camera. It's like a version of Airplane where the automatic pilot is a computerised system and not a blow up doll. One of the worst examples comes towards the end of the movie. There's two "Australian" (sporting hands-down the fucking worst attempts at Australian accents I've ever heard) robot men, father and son, who have an estranged relationship. Daddy didn't love Junior enough, and it's turned him into a dick. The final stand is approaching, and Dad's busted his leg. Junior has to fight without him. "I shoulda loved ya, ya billy gum drongo," Dad slurs tearfully with a tinny in one hand as he uses the other to give Junior the hug he's always dreamed about. As Junior walks away, Dad yells to his team mate, "Be careful with him! That's my son! That's my son..." Why did that need to be repeated? It's not like Junior's the one person who can save the world. He's not even the central protagonist. Why does his relationship with his Dad even matter to the plot, especially when all it took was a cuddle to fix? At another point, Idris Elba, playing a generic General, shouts, "Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!" In a movie full of self-referential, quirky humour, this would have been incredible. But it's in this movie, so it just sucks.

It's so disappointing too, because there's so much of this movie I like. Love, even. Every now and then, a tiny bit of Guillermo del Toro's style shines through and hints at what this movie could have been. Take for example a fight in Shanghai towards the end of the movie. The big robot's getting his arse handed to him. He needs a weapon. It just so happens he's at the docks, so he goes ahead and picks up a cruise liner. Physics be damned, he's got himself a fucking baseball bat now. Later during that fight, the robot's walking down the street and there's an overpass bridge in his way. If this was a Michael Bay flick, he'd run straight through it, and it would then probably explode. In this film, the robot carefully steps over it. Of course, he puts a decent sized dent in the road as soon as he puts his foot down, but that only adds to the charm of the act. Later still, the monster gets one up and pushes him through a few buildings, the last being an office. He grinds to a halt at the beginning of a cubicle, with just enough drag to gently start a Newton's Cradle on the desk. There's a lot of time devoted to this moment of calm in a sea of destruction. The other great part of this movie? Charlie Motherfucking Day. Until he becomes an exposition vending machine, he's the most interesting character in this movie, doing the most interesting things. Not only is he a scientific expert on the monsters, he's also their biggest fan. He's got two full sleeves of tattoos sporting his favourites, and he desperately wants to see one alive up close, which drives his theory that the same process used to merge the minds of two people for the robots could be done between a human and a monster. After it works, he's sent to find Ron Perlman, who plays a black market dealer of monster bits and pieces in Shanghai so he can repeat the experiment. Walking into his place of operations, the walls are a sea of reds and golds, with intricate details in the walls and disgusting abominations sitting in tubs of green liquid. Ron Perlman walks out in an over the top, Chinese-inspired suit. He's got black, circular sunglasses that are fixed to his eyes, one of which has a huge scar running down it. His shoes are gold-plated cowboy boots. It's like stepping into a scene from Hellboy, and like stepping way, way out of a scene from Pacific Rim.

About a third of the way through this film, Charlie Hunnam is merging minds with his new partner when her dark past comes back for a visit. She "chases the rabbit", as they say, and finds herself reliving the day her home town was attacked by a monster. She shuffles down a street awash with death and destruction. She's holding one of her shoes in her hands and is crying, overcome with grief at the loss of her parents and fear of not understanding what is happening to her and why. The monster hears her cries, and jumps from a building to chase her down. She runs into a narrow alley that the monster can't immediately get through, cowers behind a dumpster and produces a mixture of sobbing and screaming as the monster slowly starts breaking down the walls to get at her. It's a horrific, tragic and immensely powerful scene. That is, until Hunnam shows up in his high-tech robot control suit and starts shouting shit like, "It's all a dream, Mako. Ya gotta come back to the real world, Mako! Mako! Listen to me, Mako! MMAAAAKKOOOOO!" That's a pretty good summary of this movie for me. It's constantly teasing me with greatness before punching me in the throat with disappointment. This could have been the movie that stood triumphantly on the corpses of Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger, chest puffed out proud as this year's blockbuster superhero. Instead, they all just shuffle aimlessly around each other, slightly hunched over, grunting occasionally and shrugging their shoulders before they collectively shit themselves and pass out.
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