Saturday, July 27, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Pacific Rim

2013, Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) -- cinema

Squeeee!!  OK, this is not one of the requisite paragraphs but I had to get that out.

Yesterday I saw it as I had hoped to see it, in AVX with good sound and a great big screen. But not 3D; I am not a fan of 3D and really, it makes me uncomfortable after about 20 minutes as the signals get scrambled going into my damaged eye, i.e. kaiju sized headache. But finally, after some false starts and reschedules and misprinted times and another weight that kept on interfering with my excitement, I got to see it.

Squeeee!!  Yes, there it is, I was extremely excited to see this movie, like a 14 year old on his way to see the big blockbuster based on his bestest, most favouritest cartoon. But am I really that kid? I was never really a Godzilla fan, being cheezed out by the rubber suits and thin plots. I often felt I was the generation after the proper fans, sort of like kids of today roll their eyes at Star Wars. But the idea of giant monsters tromping about smashing things, fighting other monsters and making a nuisance of themselves, well, THAT always interested me. From anime to remakes to Cloverfield, I enjoyed the spawn of the original kaiju flicks. I was probably one of the few who enjoyed the terrible American Godzilla and yes, I do own Cloverfield.  So, it is not surprising this movie is the singular bigsillygrin movie of my summer watching.

Did I enjoy it? Was I disappointed? Was it what I expected? Yes! No! Pretty much! More!!

OK, this movie won't be for everyone. But, really, you should give it a chance! Summer blockbusters should be about over the top heroics, big sounds and bright colours. If you are already going to give The Wolverine a chance, considering how lame the first was, you are ripe to come into this one and have a great time. This is well paced, exciting and engaging giving you characters to cheer for despite the limited (character) development and almost non-stop focus on the action. Del Toro does have a knack for the well rounded movie, something I feel is lacking in most blockbusters these days.

OK, so what is it about, in case you have not seen the trailers and over-hype? Simply, it's about a world not long from now, where a dimensional rift forms in the Pacific Ocean releasing big monsters (called kaiju in Japan) that wreak havoc on the coastal cities. We are able to fight them with conventional means but the cost is too high and it just takes too much time tossing planes, tanks and bombs at them. Something new was needed. The Jaegers (hunter in German) are created -- giant humanoid robots piloted by two people linked through a neural bridge; a single human brain could not withstand the scale. The Jaegers are successful but costly (collateral damage and building) and as kaiju get bigger and nastier, funds are shifted to building a wall. The Jaeger Program is being mothballed.

This is the world we are dropped into. The attacks are currently only on coastal cities but are escalating and its only a matter of time before they overrun the defenders and make their way inland. But something else is going on, something more dire. And that is the plot of this movie, apart from the world it has established. The Jaegers have one last chance to do their part in saving the world before all the money goes into building walls that people will hide behind.

OK, by now you have realized I am not getting away in only three paragraphs.

This movie has the classic elements of a hero story -- the damaged veteran scarred by his past, the incredibly skilled recruit who has to prove herself, the aging leader filled with wisdom but a sense of mortality, his own and the world's.  Sure, these are all melodramatically presented, occasionally cheesy and over the top, but it just works here. Charlie Hunnam is surprisingly not channeling his biker anti-hero from Sons of Anarchy but playing a fresh, truly heroic character haunted by his past.  Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost is already bigger than life, based on his roles in The Wire and Luther, but here he sits upon the Jaeger Program throne with a heavy crown and an unyielding agenda. Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) are the comic relief, dueling scientists each with an idea of how to finally defeat the monsters. Rinko Kikuchi is Mako, Pentecost's adopted daughter and the perfect Jaeger pilot, despite her sensei's misgivings.

And this movie just looks good. From the soaring heights of the wall being built in Anchorage to the grungy, wet decks of the Shatterdome in Hong Kong, I was taken by a tingle of a thrill for the practical effects del Toro used. Think of a key scene in Avatar when Jake Sully leaves the shuttle and rolls across the tarmac of the base -- its all CGI, the background, even most of the movement and characters in the background. When we see Raleigh leave the helicopter, upon arriving at the Shatterdome, there is a sense of tangibility to everything he passes -- dirt, oil, wear & tear. Sure, Hong Kong in the background is digital but there is so much he has to pass that is real. And that is just one example of the sweet sweet use of practical effects, with the interior of the Jaeger heads sitting on the mountain peak -- everything in there is tangible and interactive. Incredible!

And the battles? Wow. The sense of weight and speed and destruction is incredible. We saw Superman bash through buildings in Man of Steel with a sense of dread at the collateral damage that was intense. But here, we don't suffer that, perhaps because the buildings stand mostly unoccupied, citizens evacuated to shelters, but more its because the world is on its last legs and the heroes must defeat the creatures despite the cost. So, shiny beautifully lit Hong Kong gets quite a wallop as Gipsy Danger has a knock-out brawl with the kaiju.

I am sure this movie had its flaws, but to be honest, I am not finding them yet. Most of what people would complain about -- cheesiness, melodrama, pseudo-science worked completely for me.  Completely.  Time to see it again.