Sunday, July 7, 2013

'Pacific Rim' (2013) directed by Guillermo del Toro

Holy shit.  Holy shit!  An apocalypse painted in messy splashes of blue phosphoresence!  Neon-soaked robot gods launching into martial arts mayhem!  30 stories of messy, graceful. beautiful, cathartic pleasure!  Destrudo, untamed and rampant, swelling up from within the Earth's unconscious being beaten back by co-operation, compassion and love.  Holy shit! Pacific Rim is just about perfect. Guillermo del Toro is a genius.  It's been a long time since I sat through a film with a stupid grin on my face the whole time.

One of Pacific Rim's taglines is "Go Big Or Go Extinct".  Del Toro has taken this philosophy entirely to heart.  This is a pop art cartoon bonkers end of the world.  Giant, destructive monsters - kaiju - from another dimension are invading earth.  They seeking out populated areas to ravage and kill millions.  The only effective way to fight them is "to create our own monsters" - Jaegers - enormous kung-fu fighting robots.  Each needs a two-man team to work to operate them, the pilots entering a neural link called 'the drift' where two minds become synchronised.

Gypsy Danger strides through the streets of Hong Kong
This is Saturday morning cartoon stuff.  A lesser film might try to play this down as much as possible, but, like the enormously under-rated Speed Racer, Pacific Rim embraces it.  It's a silly film packed with visual gags, over-the-top characters, hyper-kinetic fight scenes and, most importantly, a refusal to take this entirely seriously.  This is the kind of film where Idris Elba's gruff and ready Boss character will, with a completely straight face, introduce our heroes to his giant robot base that he's named "The Shatterdome".  Did I mention that Elba's character is named Stacker Pentecost?!  If the audacity of getting away with this makes you giggle to yourself then this is the film for you.

That I was enjoying this so much slightly confused me.  The bloody awful Transformers movies turned me right off the notion of big robots bashing into each other and the recent Man of Steel made me unexpectedly queasy about the casual pornography of destruction that runs right through modern blockbusters.  Pacific Rim contains these elements dialled up to eleven and the early trailers frankly looked a bit juvenile.  That Guillermo del Toro was directing went a long way to assuaging my fears, but even so there as I took my seat I was a bit apprehensive.

Ron Perlman as the fantastically named Hannibal Chao.  He has the best shoes I've seen in cinema for 10 years.
Well, very quickly I realised why those other two films turned me off, and why Pacific Rim jammed on the joy button in my heart quite so much.  Though the script is pretty damn expository and the dialogue works on the Ronseal principle, though the film works as the single-minded pleasure a child gets bashing its toys together, though it functions perfectly well as a beautifully fast-paced light show to sensorially overwhelm its audience, Pacific Rim is a film about how love, kindness and emotional intelligence is the only way to overcomes our destructive, selfish desires.

Central to this is the notion of 'the drift', which is defined over and over again as "letting someone into your head" or "total trust".  That the Jaegers need two pilots isn't the obvious cinematic choice, arguably one pilot per robot would let an audience translate their actions within the cockpit to the external battlefield much more directly.  But that wouldn't be what Pacific Rim is about - the importance of recognising that the only way humanity can overcome its dark, brutal and small-minded instinct is to work as one.  Everybody becomes one in Pacific Rim, man and woman, father and son, two brothers, triplets, boss and employee - then races, classes, nationalities, cultures and countries and eventually geography itself.*

Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori
This coming together is a necessity as the Kaijus attack humanity as a whole.  The twisted beasts emerging deep from within a crack at the bottom in the Pacific Ocean. This is pretty straightforward Jungian imagery, horrors of the collective subconscious, manifestations of human savagery.  Kaiju are id-monsters, tantrum throwing, self-destructive symbols of the worst aspects and desires of humanity. Del Toro makes efforts to get us to equate the Kaiju as a facet of us rather than entirely alien, most pointedly when he shows that they don't merely destroy - they pollute and leave vast ecological damage in their wake.  Like humanity even their unconscious presence upon the land corrupts it.  

This delicate, subtle and intelligent division between the heroes and the monsters they fight is somewhat surprising, considering this is a film that features a scene where a giant robot activates rocket-boosters on its elbow to deliver a high-octane building shaking slobberknocker to a giant glowing blue monster.  But then Guillermo del Toro was never going to make a 'dumb' film was he?

A kaiju - they come in a huge variety of forms.
There's a thousand tiny touches that demonstrate how humanistic a film-maker del Toro is, but my favourite is in the middle of one of the city-levelling bouts.  While searching for one of the Kaiju, our hero robot walks the streets.  There's a pedestrian bridge over the road in front of him, and without comment the pilots gingerly step over it.  It's perhaps a futile gesture, but it feels like a spit in the eye to Man of Steel, which would have smashed it up for the sheer hell of it.  There are tons of these tiny, almost subliminal, moments of human kindness running right through the film's DNA and they elevate it from sterile artificiality into optimistic, scrappy humanity.

I note at this point that I've spent about 800 words talking about a giant robot fighting film without actually mentioning what the giant robot fighting is like.  There's a sense of scale and weight to every single movement the Jaegers and Kaiju make.  When they collide we instinctively comprehend the forces involved, and del Toro is sure stage his fights with atmospheric disturbances around them that allow us to keep up with what's going on.  The sea crashes around the combatants, neon blue blood sprays, particles deep under water sway and move, bits of the monsters jiggle obsencely and clouds part as they tumble through them.  Both fighters are impossibly fantastical creations, yet the way they interact with the mundane renders them immediately believable.

There are shots in these fights that I hope will always stay with me, indelible cinematic images that suddenly appear in the chaos, seconds of epic, breath-takingly beauty.  In particular there's a moment where a Kaiju drags our heroes high above the clouds, where they desperately fight, lit by the golden glow of the sun setting over the curvature of the earth.  The only thing interrupting it is the glowing blue splashes of monster blood painting both combatants.  It's genuinely beautiful.

This is everything a summer blockbuster should be.  It's exciting, funny, warm-hearted and optimistic - intelligent without being exclusive and exhilarating without being dumb.  Guillermo del Toro again cements his reputation as a genius director.  I doubt this could possibly have been as much of a success as it is in anyone else's hands.  

Go and see this film - on the biggest screen you can.

Pacific Rim is on general release from July 12th

* To be honest, I find it hard to believe that del Toro hasn't seen Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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1 Responses to “'Pacific Rim' (2013) directed by Guillermo del Toro”

Unknown said...
October 8, 2013 at 5:21 PM

love every bit of it and nice review.thanks Guillermo Del Toro

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