Is it me or did my subconscious let out a big fat WOOOOAH!
Characters with traumatic pasts – check √
Pseudo-scientific jibber-jabber cloaked in kewl catch-all terms – check √
Meme-worthy dakka-laden power speech – check √
That subconscious is me…revisiting a carefree childhood when Japanese giant-robot anime were all over local TV (and in English!!!). Mazinger Z simply made-of-fucking-awesome OP theme. Voltes V mowing down Boazanian beast-fighters with his Ten-Kyu-Ken (Sword Of Heaven/Laser Sword). Daimos dispatching the Brahmin/Baam-Seijin threat with amplified karate moves and an arsenal that can make a samurai crap in his pants.
Thank you Channel 7. Thank you KBS 9.
Pacific Rim is that all rolled down into one – and transmuted (thank you, Battle Of The Planets!!!) for the post-Transformers generation. Gulliermo Del Toro – the puckish genius behind Blade II, the Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth – allowed his inner fanboy to be bankrolled by Warner Bros. & Legendary Pictures (who have both tapped a gold mine in DC Comics franchises). Such indulgent pandering of auteur impulses can sometimes blow up into studio heads’ faces (remember Sucker Punch, part steampunk, part Sailor Moon, all WTF)
For someone who, paraphrasing the immortal words of Sir Mix-A-Lot, likes big ‘bots (and cannot lie), Pacific Rim is like a fucking godsend from the heavens. Whereas many invasion-themed SF flicks would dwell on the calm before “the storm”, Pacific Rim picks up the pace early on, in a crucial run where the hero’s Jaeger (er, uhm…mecha) gets badly damaged mid-fight, costing him the life of his co-pilot. Fast forward 6 years later, where our hero, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) is called once again to work an upgraded version of said Jaeger, the Gipsy Danger (for a mech supposedly representing the US, wonder why they stuck with the British spelling of “Gypsy”)
Well, the mech…oops, I mean the Jaegers are truly giant robots, built by humans to combat the otherworldly threat of the Kaiju, equally giant, wholly organic creatures launched from an inter-dimensional rift deep beneath the western side of the Pacific Ocean (Getter Robot reference much?) Piloting the Jaegers can take a sizable psychological toll on a single man; that is why their propulsion and control are two-man affairs, and the ground crew maintaining these iron behemoths is pretty formidable.
Getter Robot (original ep1 pt 2) – original Japanese, English subbed
Beckett’s CO at the Shatterdome, one Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who has inherited a nosebleed and painkillers addiction from his past runs as a Jaeger pilot (does that make him a Jägermeister?), implores him to seek a new partner to “drift” or neurally link with (shades of The Five Star Stories). He spots Makoto Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) at Pentecost’s side and implores Pentecost to partner her up with him. During the drift, he finds out something about Mori’s relationship with Pentecost. Meanwhile, there appears to be some sort of rivalry between him and Australian Jaeger pilot Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), who’s never without his bulldog on-base.
The Five Star Stories mortar headd fight – original Japanese
Meanwhile, the frequency of Kaiju invasions escalate to the point where the US Government threatens to cut off the Jaeger programme and have walls built around the world’s port capitals to ward off the beasts. However, researcher (and self-proclaimed “kaiju groupie”) Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day from Horrible Bosses) finds a way to tap into the beasts’ enormous brains (or secondary ones). Not only does that get him into an uneasy alliance with a shady dealer in blackmarket kaiju body parts (Hunnam’s Sons Of Anarchy co-star Ron Perlman, delightfully chewing scenery like a gold-reinforced Godzilla), he formulates a plan to have the Jaegers go to the “Breach” (as the inter-dimensional rift is called) and drop a bomb (yeah, a Jägerbomb!!) in order to seal it shut.
The acting is par for the course, given the genre that it is in, but the standouts here should be the above-mentioned Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau, playing him as a pseudo-Chinese con artist, and the kid playing little Makoto, wandering the rubble of a kaiju-blasted Tokyo.
The VFX work here is stupendous; one feels justified about world governments continuing support on the Jaeger project, given the sheer enormity of these mecha. One cannot help but feel awed at the agility of the Jaegers in combat (not to mention their awesome weaponry), but when you witness the resources expended in maintaining these buggers, you won’t need to wonder why super-robots like Mazinger Z, Voltes V and Voltron can only exist in anime. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to find out these kaiju bleed fluorescent blue blood – could be an auteurial trademark, given that the monsters Hellboy faced in both his cinematic outings bled similar.
(credit to PEx member deltashock for the pic)
Though by no means an out-and-out triumph (hardly noticed the presence of Japan’s Coyote Tango, tsk tsk tsk), I commend Señor Del Toro and his team for pulling off an above-average effort. Now let see if any Japanese film studio would be brave enough to meet the challenge.