If you grew up in the late 70′s and early 80′s… like a certain wee Catgirl did… then there’s a real chance you too got to spend your Saturday Afternoons glued to the TV watching the plethora of Japanese “Kaiju” films that played endlessly here in the US for the entertainment of children (and more than a few adults, no doubt…. ) with a day off from school and faaaar too much free time on their hands. Godzilla… Gamera… Rodan… Mothra… King Ghidora…. a seemingly endless horde of giant “rubber suited” monsters whose main mission in life seemed to be to pop out of someplace, be it the depths of the ocean, some arctic deep freeze, or the cold endless void of outer space to find a city and kick the living crap out of it while smashing the mightiest of human armies who were powerless to do much more than even slow them down. Ahhhh… the memories…
Well now…. it’s been… **ahem**… a “few” years since wee lil’ Miyuki gleefully squealed with joy at the apocalyptic antics of all those rubber suited monsters as they stomped and kicked the freaking beejeebits out of Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama and all points east, but thankfully it seems, this wee Catgirl wasn’t the only one enjoying the guilty pleasure of watching that mayhem all those years ago. Our blogging friend Stephen aka Elpeevio of “Things Fall Apart” remembers those old films fondly as well… and when the new Blockbuster Sci-Fi film “Pacific Rim” promised to give all us nostalgic monster movie fans a heapin’ helping of Kaiju fun, it wasn’t hard to convince a crazy Kitten like me that Carolyn and I needed a “Movie Night” out for a change so that we might do another “Dual Review” on this one.
Actually my relationship with such movies and ideas is a little more distanced. As you know, in the UK during my **ahem** formative years, we only had 3 TV channels (and one of them was very part time, the others only broadcast 15 hours a day at best), and so we really didn’t get much imported Children’s programming, and a Godzilla movie would have been incredibly unusual to be shown (yes, believe it or not people, there was a time before downloads, before DVD, before VHS). I do remember really loving “Battle of the Planets” (The Americanised version of “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman”), which had a little bit of Mecha going on. However, whilst I did not know the whole world behind them, I did get a bunch of Macross model kits as a present (other kids got Airfix Aeroplane kits, I got giant Robots… I think a formative parenting choice there), which I adored and played with until I was far too old to admit. The Monster movies was actually more likely to have been rooted in my childhood obsession with Dinosaurs (what young nerd isn’t?), which led to me finding a big picture book about these films in the local library. So my younger experiences was about Movie Stills, Posters and ideas.
I always forget just how saturated the American people are by media compared to the rest of the world. Even before the advent of Cable TV we still received about a dozen broadcast channels just in our area when I was little. Probably why this girl turned into such a movie geek…
Anyways, Gentle Visitors… if the idea of “Giant Robots going all MMA wrasslin’ on gnarly alien mega-monsters to decide the fate of all Humanity” also sounds like your idea of fun family entertainment, then maybe you’ll wanna let Stephen and I tell you all about it. So then…. Watcha waitin’ for? “Let’s get ready to Rrrruumble!!”
It wasn’t hard to convince my sweetie to want to watch this one. She’s a real Sci-Fi fan… although “Star Trek” is more to her taste than the Anime flavored action I expected to get from “Pacific Rim”. But hey…. it’s in English… and for us that’s a rare thing unless we take a night out at the cinema together so she was definitely looking forward to an evening of subtitle free popcorn crunching fun. If nothing else, I expected this one to be a big bombastic “take-no-prisoners” CGI filled extravaganza… and darn it if that wasn’t exactly what we got.
Seen a lot of Japanese Sci-Fi Anime? Well… the writers of “Pacific Rim” certainly have. They really paid attention too… and it shows. Got a problem? Alien Invaders… Giant Monsters… whatever. You need only one thing to fix a problem like those and that’s robots…. and not just any robots… you need big freakin’ robots. With big freakin’ guns…. and a bunch of pilots not afraid to mix it up hand-to-hand… errr…. “hand-to-tentacle”… or whatever it turns out to be. Now mind you, if this was a Japanese anime, they’d have to be piloted by sexy High School girls, but here in America you just gotta go with rough, tough manly guys…. sort of a cross between the guys of “Top Gun” and “Navy Seals”.
As I said before, I am not super-versed in the inspirations here, but listening to some interviews, I got the feeling there were plenty of moments especially for those fans. I was somewhat hoping for some more sexy High School Girls though.
That would be our film’s main hero Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam). He all rough and tough alright… and as our film starts, we get that almost prerequisite tragic “backstory” all these stories have as he and his brother… both pilots of one of these Giant Robot “Jaegers”… engage one of the horrendous monster Kaijus that have mysteriously started popping out of an inter-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific ocean to raise Hell on earth. We get a quick intro… they explain all the pseudo-scientific stuff about “the Drift”…. a neural interface tech that allows puny human brains to survive the trauma of controlling the battle robots by sharing the load between two individuals with such a close personal bond that while piloting the machine allows them to share thoughts and feelings.
There’s a big fight…. and Raleigh’s brother is killed… mentally scarring him and forcing him to abandon the fight, even as the heroic Jaeger forces begin suffering their first losses as the “war” between Humanity and the Kaiju becomes a losing one.
So… you say… you know what’s next in our story? Yep. After a few meaningless years bumming around the edges of things, our hero gets drawn back into the fight just as it becomes evident that humans are going to lose the war, and the Kaijus are simply going to overrun the planet. Yeah… yeah… he’s going to find that new partner… patch up those old wounds… and lead the pathetic remnants of the Jaeger forces in that big “last stand” battle that always happens in one of these stories. Nope… there really aren’t going to be any surprises here. “Pacific Rim” has read the “playbook” on the Kaiju Film Genre and stays right there where you expect things to roll.
However. That’s not at all a bash at the film. Director Guillermo del Toro is definitely a fan… and seeing this one tells me he spent those hours watching all the classics too… just like me. Apparently he likes Anime too…. from the way he embraces the whole “Mecha” theme and the whole Japanese fascination with militaria and all things “Germanic” (The “Jaegers” are named from the German word for “Hunters”… it’s also been used as the term for many elite special forces types since WW2 onward…. One of Japan’s big obsessions seems to be with a revisionist desire to somehow “sanitize” the nastiness of that conflict and cast both their wartime own actions as well as their German allies in a more “heroic” light… Turns up as a plot element in a lot of Anime… but that’s fodder for another time…). For the most part, though he manages to combine all the elements in a very cohesive whole to make the story work…. even if it’s a goofy idea at heart.
Ahhh! That explains something that was bugging me, “Kaiju” makes all the sense in the world, but I was confused why use a Germanic term for those Mecha!
Goofy master plan? Why yes… Super darn goofy… downright silly even. After all… if giant monsters are invading from a single easily identifiable spot in the ocean, and you have a Tom Swift “gee-whiz” high-tech early warning system to spot them, why not simply surround that area with a constant multinational Naval task force of Aegis cruisers and attack submarines with carrier air cover all armed with nuclear missiles? God awful nasty thing pops up… you blow him to bloody glowing bits with a cruise missile or two… back to patrol, no muss no fuss. Sure beats building stupidly expensive, difficult to operate robot gladiators to fight them hand-to-hand…. especially since they always seem to engage them only after they let them attack a populated city. Even Carolyn thought this had to be the biggest thing you had to swallow in the whole “suspension of disbelief” area. Oohhh… and “Plan B” is building a big wall to keep them out? Seriously?!? Jeeze!! Did the Kaiju poison our water with “stupid juice” as part of their big plan or what?
This isn’t my normal style, but I think I can defend this one. Well maybe not the Plan B (although I did wonder why everyone didn’t just move inland, there’s plenty of places in North America, Asia and Australia that are a long way from the Oceans, and staying in Hong Kong seems particularly foolish. However, I believe there was a prequel comic that addressed your nuke idea, and it was the initial pre-Jaeger result. The problem is, Nuclear weapons are all fine and dandy, but even out at sea, they are going to cause much ecological havoc if it is used time and time again. Not only that, but we have the basic issue of how to stop them coming up in the first place. But yeah, it is the kind of movie where you have to replace some of your cerebellum with heated corn kernels.
You are probably right…. but having them try it at least before going straight to big robots would have been nice to see in the prologue. I know, I know… leading to bloated run-time for the film…sigh. But anyways…. all those sensible questions aside… this wee Catgirl does have to admit that watching big robots smack the snot out of monsters is fun… just as much fun as it was watching them all those years ago. No mistake there… and our film understands that, lavishing all the CGI goodness it can on the many set piece monster fights we get to see. Scattered here and there is also that standard “anime inspired” attempt at character development as our mentally and emotionally scarred hero meets Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi), cute Japanese engineer and robot pilot. She’s our story’s love interest… and comes with her own heavy back-story baggage. It’s a nice attempt at making a love story… but even with the whole “Drift” thing letting them meld consciousness and all, there just isn’t enough effort to make the romance seem real. Things just happen too darn fast for any of that, and there’s a whole lot of monster stomping that the filmmakers wanna cram in at the expense of such tender story ideas. A pity really, as both Carolyn and I really liked her character.
It was a real shame so much of Mako was left unsaid, preferring to hide behind the rather predictable twist explaining the relationship between her and Pentecost. I really felt much more could have been made of the “Drift”, and that final embrace seemed a little too much.
We do get this weird subplot instead as the Defense Force Geeks in charge of Kaiju research war with one another over just who’s got the better handle on the upcoming apocalypse, but even though this plot idea also comes right out of an Anime story, I found the two boffins, Dr. Newton Geiszler (played by Charlie Day) and his nemesis Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (played by Burn Gorman)… well… pretty darn annoying. Yes.. yes… they are important to the story, sigh… but trust this wee lady, a little of these guys goes a long way.
I think these two really split opinion. I enjoyed their banter as a pause in the action, but to be honest one of them would have sufficed, and there was something about the whole Geiszler subplot (his linking both ways with the Monsters) could have been used a little bit better than as the reason for the Hong Kong setpiece.
Hmmm? So what else? Ahhh… there’s also that patented rivalry between our guy Raleigh and the two Aussie Robo-jocks picked by Marshall Pentecost to be the lead team in our combat plan. Yep… that means plenty of tension as the boys sort out that whole “alpha dog who’s in charge” thing… some more “testoterone-y” moments as Raleigh and his smart-ass rival Chuck Hansen (played by Robert Kazinsky) both lust after cute Mako’s romantic interest… Yep… live action though it all is, I could swear I’ve seen this one all animated and with subtitles somewhere before…
God, the whole Aussie Father and Son really riled me. I can’t help feeling that it might have worked in the early days of the conflict, but we are down to the final days now. I might have actually preferred to see more of the Chinese crew, who had the coolest Jaeger but almost zero screen time.
Yep… and those two Russians… in a Japanese Anime Mecha TV series they would have hung around lots longer before getting dramatically killed, but in a single movie that’s a wee bit hard to manage in under two hours.
So do our heroes save the world? You really have to ask, silly? Let’s just say… if there’s a “Pacific Rim 2″ somewhere in our sequel future it’ll have to be with a whole different bunch of alien invaders and leave it at that….
Well it is in Development! But, I believe it has been a much harder sell to the public than was thought, so I suppose it depends on the numbers. I’d actually but some kind of Pacific Rim 0, that first 15-20 minutes would have made a rather super movie in and of itself.
So… after all is said and done, how do I rate this one? It’s a really simple story… and a not too original one either… but it is done well. Really, really well…. If you are also an old time Kaiju movie fan and can get a chance to see it, I’d say go for it. At the least it’s a visually stunning film with some great set piece monster fights and is done with a lot of love and respect for that old genre. With that, I’d say a fair rating of a firm 3 “Meows” out of 5 would be right. Had the film managed that level of melodramatic romance that the Japanese always seem to manage to weave into these stories, I’d have even gone another “Meow”… but that would have required another few scenes, pushing the run time to almost overly long. There’s a reason those old Japanese Anime Mecha stories were always done as 14 or 15 episode OVA TV series…..
I think 3 out of 5 is fair enough, in fact, just to be contrary, I might give it another 1/2 of a meow, because it was put together with so much love, and wasn’t a horrible cash in like some other Giant Robot franchise I could think of.
Other Giant Robot franchises? Hmmmm? They have one of those? Hehehe…. Anyways… that’s it for this time out… and as always, it’s been fun trading options on these with Stephen…. and proving once and for all that yes… we do both watch other things than Korean films… Hehehe!!
Fun as always Miyuki, and I am already looking forward to next time. It is your choice, but I am still calling an embargo on Korea… but maybe we could go back in the past and do something a little more “classic”? Toodle pip for now.
Most definitely… and maybe something truly different that time out. Let me think on that…
Ahhh… and…. as always, to make things complete, let’s take a look at the Trailer, shall we?