Friday, 13 November 2015

Pacific Rim: The Shadow of the Kaiju

Okay, so I know I did a del Toro movie in my last post, and it's pretty obvious that I love his films which some of you may be tired of hearing about, at least in such quick succession. However I think it's better to get these sorts of things out in the open rather than keeping them hidden. That path leads to fanboyism and illicit anime use.

Let's get this out of the way, I loved Pacific Rim. It was like the culmination of every mecha anime and kaiju film in one gloriously loving tribute/homage/ripoff. Essentially, it was a movie that the 12 year old boy who wears my skin as a suit never knew he wanted until he saw it.

I couldn't imagine why.

Just in case it wasn't clear, that is a giant robot slicing a giant monster in half with a giant sword... in space. The awesomeness of that sentence cannot be underestimated, if it could be estimated at all. All I know is that I couldn't barely comprehend how excitably giddy that moment of nerdgasmic splendour was when I first witnessed it.

That's what this film is. Guillermo del Toro's A Series of Awesome Events. Including scenes like, The Badass Beginning and The Exquisite Exposition, not to mention The Fantastic Fight, The Carefully-Crafted Characters, and The Superb Sword.

"This is the story of the four Jaegers: Gipsy Danger, Striker Eureka, Coyote Tango, and Cherno Alpha.
My name is Guillermo del Toro and it is my duty to tell you their tale."

The thing is, hearing me gush about Pacific Rim, and I have barely began to gush yet, you may be under the impression that I think the film is a masterpiece or a perfect film. It's not. Well, it is a masterpiece but a certain type of masterpiece, the type that requires a qualification.

Because Pacific Rim is a dumb film. It really is. There are so many stupid action movie moments or things relating to plot or logic that leave you with a "wait, why?" in your throat and itchy feeling on your head.

Wait, why does a Jaeger need to be piloted by two pilots who have to be neurologically linked? And if each pilot controls one half of the Jaeger howcome both pilots move in tandem to walk or throw a punch which makes no sense if the pilot on the left controls the left arm and the pilot on the right controls the right arm. Also, if they control a half each how does walking work? Does a pilot have to take two steps for the Jaeger to move the leg they control? And on that subject...

The point is, I'm not under disillusion or are wearing any holographic blinders. Pacific Rim is a stupid action movie. This is thing that is true. But holy nuclear fallout is it an amazingly awesome stupid action movie.

Every moment of palm mark on your head stupid is counterbalance by a moment of sheer exuberant awesome (I mentioned the giant robot sword, right? Because holy macaroni cheese and crackers, giant robot sword!).

I think the thing that differentiates Pacific Rim from standard dumb action movie fare is the amount of care and thought that's been put into the film, even if the plot has holes or the science is more flaky than Cadbury Flake.

This care can be seen with the Kaiju, the Kaiju being the giant monsters that are clearly the bastard offspring of Godzilla and Cthulhu. As soon as you think you've got the monster sussed and know what they can do, del Toro adds a twist or a little something that makes them unique. And the most impressive of these is Otachi.


"Oh, hi guys."

When Otachi first appears on the scene with another Kaiju, Leatherback, she initially appears to be a regular category 4 Kaiju like the ones they've seen before but then she uses her tail like a third arm. So you're like, "okay, I get this one's gimmick, she has a tail that can be used as a weapon".

Naturally she proceeds to spit acid from her mouth. Acid which dissolves anything it lands on within seconds.

Okay, that's fine. You reevaluate and note she's the Kaiju with the weapon tail, that also spits metal dissolving acid. Cool. Got it. Gipsy Danger eventually breaks off her tail by using cooling agent to freeze and shatter it while simultaneously ripping out the acid sack in her mouth. Stripped of her downloadable content, you think that's that.

Then she spreads her wings.

"Surprise bitches!"

What could have been uninspired monster designs are instead filled with inventive touches that add character and it is those types of little touches that elevate the film from standard blockbuster fare.

Talking about character, each of the characters have their own arc of some sort and while those arcs might trade in cliche, there was enough thought put to give each character some sense of development which is rarer than you would think.

For example, even though by all rights he shouldn't have any character development aside from being an unnecessary bully character who serves to be dick to the protagonist Raliegh for reasons lost to mankind, the Jaegar pilot Chuck actually ends up having something close to a character arc.

"I cannot believe that an one-note character like you has a legit redemption arc with an actually touching reconciliation scene with your father" - Raleigh 

But it is the three leads that are the most impressive since there is no reason they should be anything more than stereotypical character tropes in a dumb action movies. Superficially, they are stereotypes. Raleigh is the angst ridden protagonist who's the best at what he does but has a tragic backstory, Mako Mori is the female romantic interest, and Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost is the no nonsense square jawed marine authority figure for the young protagonist to butt heads with.

However, that's not how things play out in the film. Let's focus on Raleigh for a moment. As Very Sharp Teeth puts it,
Raleigh was a character that any director but del Toro would have sent down the stereotypical path of “has angst from unspeakable loss, has authority issues, gets into a pissing match with anyone he crosses, has the only female in the movie fall in love with him through sheer manliness”. Thankfully, not so was Raleigh. 
Rather than taking out his dick measuring tape at every confrontation, Raleigh is almost passive throughout the film. Perhaps passive is the wrong word, understated is better. Instead of asserting his masculinity at all points since he's a hot shot but he gets results, goddammit, Raleigh restrains himself. Because he has respect for others.

"While I completely disagree with your decision, I respect you as a person and your experience as my superior officer, so will begrudgingly follow your orders."

To be honest, in a standard blockbuster, Raleigh would have been like Chuck without the unnecessary asshole factor, a braggart and maverick who resists authority. However, the thing that really distinguishes Raleigh from typical action hero character is that he kinda is a supporting character to his love interest.

Now, before I go any further, while others might suggest otherwise, Raleigh is the main character in the film. While Pacific Rim does give a lot of time to Mako Mori's storyline, which isn't given any treatment that would indicate it was a secondary character's story, rather the opposite, Raleigh is still the primary protagonist.

The film is framed by him and he serves the focus for the film since the story, including Mako's, is told by his relation to the narrative. He provides the opening narration and is the character needed to be pulled back into the story for the plot to progress. That said, Pacific Rim is kinda Mako's movie.

"Go on."

There is a lot that's been said about Mako Mori since she is a fantastic character, so I'll try not to reiterate any of that here. Essentially Mako is so badass that they invented a test named after her which can be used as a barometer of how independent a female character's narrative in a film is.

As The Daily Dot states,
In the film, Mako struggles to asserts her independence despite the protectiveness of her stern father figure, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). She is strong, smart, and perhaps most remarkably, her goal of fulfilling her dream of being a Jaeger pilot is a major part of Pacific Rim's storyline.
Recognising her innate awesomeness, Tumblr user chaila proposed the Mako Mori test which is passed if a movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.

"That doesn't sound like it would be too hard to pass."

In fact, Raleigh ends up supporting Mako's story, he is the conduit through which she can face her tragic backstory while they are in drift, is unabashedly in awe of her, and continually insists she be his co-pilot.

He also treats her as an equal throughout the film. Probably the real reason that Raleigh serves as support for Mako's story is that his grief/angst following his brother's death is resolved pretty early on. When they drift for the first time, it was his memory that initially got them to fall out of drift but he gets back in pretty quickly since he's already resolved his shit and can deal.

However this triggers Mako's own painful memory and leads into her backstory, which to be honest is more rich than Raleigh's relatively standard "loved one lost in tragic accident". The image of a young Mako walking, red shoe in hand and crying, through a deserted street is a powerful one which gives such weight to her character.

Hey, it's okay. It'll be alright. You're gonna grow up to be a badass.

It also establishes her father-daughter with Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost. Firstly, can we just establish what a ridiculous, yet completely appropriate, name Stacker Pentecost is? It somehow conveys exactly who his character is while sounding like something a preteen boy would come up. Which actually describes the names of the Jaegers too but let's not get distracted.

Oh, Idris Elba is amazing of course. The man is a wonder. He actually is the reason I wanted to rewatch this film (I mean aside from all the giant robot versus giant monster stuff). He brings such an authority to the role that also comes with a sense of responsibility.

Just look at all that authoritative responsibleness going on. 

Guillermo del Toro apparently hired Elba based on his performance in the BBC detective drama Luther, which is a legitimately good show and will get its own review at some point.

In del Toro's own words,
Idris is one of those actors that is capable of embodying humanity, in almost like a Rodin sculpture-type, larger than life, almost like a Russian realism statue, you know, big hands, all the turmoil of humanity in his eyes. I wanted somebody that you could have doubts internally, and very few guys can do that.
And boy, does Elba have those doubts internally. You can just feel the internal struggle behind every decision he makes in the film, what he thinks is right to save to the world and the fear of being wrong, dooming us all.

"I'm just so internally filled with doubt despite my assertive leadership qualities."

So that's about it. I'm sure there's more I could say about the look of the film (which is stunning with a sharp colour palette), the wonderful diversity of the cast, or exploring the film's direct appeal to the 12 year boy inside all of us in a more analytical fashion but I'm good.

I understand that Pacific Rim is not a film for everyone. Some people hate dumb action movies, regardless of quality. I can't say I fully understand that since when a movie is this much fun, I don't mind if it is dumb. Sometimes I suppose it can be hard to let go of one's prejudices in order to accept something different.

I mentioned there was a freaking giant robot sword, right?


References:

Pacific Rim (film) Wikipedia page

Kaiju Wikipedia page

Otachi (Kaiju) - Pacific Rim wiki

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