crap i have watched recently #17

godzilla and ishiro honda

WARNING:  Giant metal robots fighting space shark SPOILERS below!

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Pacific Rim (2013):  This giant monster movie/mecha extravanganza is directed by Guillermo del Toro, stars no one you’ve ever heard of, and owes a GINORMOUS debt to Japanese film and animation, one that it somehow manages to subsume beneath copious amounts of breaking glass, flashing red lights, shaky camera work, and digital sea water.  It’s not a bad film, as these things go, but I can’t help but feel I’ve seen it before.  A lot.

The movie starts with a bit of rather slow exposition.  Giant aliens appear from a rift in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  Called kaiju (Japanese for strange creature, but usually taken to mean “giant monster”), these monsters go all Gojira on major coastal cities.  The entire world comes together to support the Jaeger program, which builds giant fighting robots to combat the aliens.  For a time this program is fantastically successful but eventually the kaiju adapt to the mecha fighting styles and begin to win.  The world loses faith in the program and decides instead to build a giant wall all around the Pacific Ocean  (yeah, for real) and the Jaeger program and its remaining mecha are exiled to Hong Kong.  Somewhere in there Our Hero, who is a mecha pilot along with his brother, loses both a fight and his brother to a kaiju, and wanders around aimlessly for five years.  When his former team leader finds him doing construction work on the wall and brings him back to Hong Kong to pilot his old Eva…er…Jaeger, he’s bitter and snarky, yet intrigued by Team Leader’s adorable, ass-kicking Japanese assistant.

Of course the kaiju go through the wall like it’s paper and it is up to the handful of remaining Jaegers to face down the aliens, defeat them, and save Earth.   At this point the real business of the movie gets started.  The pilots suit up, step into their rigs, sync up their psyches, and head out to kill them some monsters.  The movie is pretty exciting most of the time, although there are some humorous distractions involving a mismatched pair of scientists and a gold-bedecked dealer in blackmarket kaiju parts.  It is visually very dark.  Once the monsters start coming the only colors are dark blues and blacks and grey, which are sporadically brightened by the flashing red of the robots’ warning lights and the neon blue of the kaijus’ various body fluids.  With all the thrashing around in water and breaking glass and flying masonry it is usually impossible to tell what is going on until the dust settles around a fallen kaiju (or mecha, as the case may be).

Basically, if you’ve seen Neon Genesis Evangelion you’ve seen this movie, just without all the religious and philosophical trappings.   It is so similar that I swear the first time a mecha dropped I expected Eva Unit 01 to come out of the chute.  The mechas come complete with hand cannons, chest burst missiles, and giant swords.  The Jaeger program stands in for Nerv and it has its technical division feverishly predicting and tracking monster outbursts.  The rift that spawns monsters mimics the Second Impact that opened Earth to the Angels.  Hong Kong is Tokyo-3, where humanity makes its last stand.  The kaiju are the Angels and like the Angels they are all given code names.  Not only do the kaiju resemble several of the Angels, they behave like them, becoming faster and stronger each time they arrive on earth and getting harder and harder to kill.  They seem bent on destroying humanity but their motives are obscure.   Jaeger pilots must sync not only with each other but with their machines, which is fairly common in the giant robot animes.   At one point, when one of the pilots loses focus and starts powering up her plasma cannon, a technician actually unplugs the mecha.    del Toro even manages to put a cute Japanese woman with blue hair into a plug suit.

The are some differences of course.  The plug suits are a sexy black instead of being multicolored (and sadly, there are no cat ear radios).  All the mecha are primarily dark and ominous, instead of the more fanciful and brightly colored versions appearing in anime like Eva and Gundam.  The head of the program is not a cruel father sacrificing his own son for selfish reasons, but a kind and dedicated man who would willingly give his own life to save humanity.  The pilots are adults but nearly all the teams are related (father/son, brother/sister, a set of triplets), thus sustaining Eva’s idea of psychic melding with a loved one (in Eva, it was the kids’ mothers).  The one unrelated team is Our Hero and the aforementioned cute and extremely tough Japanese woman.  Since Team Leader is also able to pilot the mecha with an unrelated co-pilot apparently the familial bond isn’t necessary for the robots to rumble.

Although there are several moments of sacrifice and bravery and lots of mano-a-tentacle monster smacking action the movie lacks the emotional depth that animes like Evangelion and Full Metal Panic and movies like the original Godzilla  manage to evoke.  This is because those shows and films have actual themes, deep and universal ones, that far surpass the weird plot turns and the cheesy old special effects.   Pacific Rim studiously avoids all but the barest hint of psychological introspection; its big message is teamwork.  That said, though, it’s a pretty good popcorn film and if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you mashed Godzilla and Rodan together with any number of giant robot animes, this is the movie for you.  Once it gets started the action is pretty fast-paced, except when the scientists are involved.  The movie, which clocks in at just under two and a quarter hours doesn’t feel nearly so long.  Its ending is never really in doubt but the ride getting there is fun.   All the characters are likeable and the two leads work well together as a team.  Plus, you really do root for the robots, which in Eva-esque fashion all portray in some way the characteristics of their pilots.  Of all the sturm und drang epics this summer this is the best one I’ve seen so far (caveat: due to circumstances beyond my control I have not seen the Star Trek movie yet.  My bad.)  And there is at least one utterly incandescent scene with a little Japanese girl, a giant monster, and the mecha that saves her.  The smile on her face when her hero climbs out of his huge robot in the smoking ruins of Tokyo makes the whole movie worth seeing.  It encapsulates perfectly what all the fighting is really about.

At the very end of the credits, if you stay long enough, you will see that the movie is dedicated to the memories of Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.  I’m sure we all know who Harryhausen was.  Ishiro Honda was the director of the original Godzilla movies and more or less the inventor of the kaiju film genre.   It is the only homage to any Japanese artist that I could find anywhere in the credits outside of the list of actors.  It’s kind of weird to dedicate a CGI-fest like this to the godfathers of stop-motion animation and man-in-a-monster suit movies, but it’s still a nice touch.

Also, yes, that is the voice of GLaDOS you hear as the mecha’s AI.  I kept waiting for a cake joke but none was forthcoming.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on July 15, 2013.

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