Pacific Rim
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro 
Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo Del Toro

You can boil the essence of Pacific Rim down to two scenes. The first (see top picture) happens less than an hour into matters when a father and son's metal detector treasure hunt on a snowy beach is gate-crashed by a battle-damaged robot (called jaegers) stumbling out of the wintry mists and toppling on the ground in a heap of scrap. The second happens much later when a robot (that is, jaeger) fist in mid-combat punches through an office building and slides across the cheap carpeting, smashing through cubicles as it does.  Both scenes couldn't be more divergent from each other in terms of form and tone. The first is a frankly awesome extreme wide shot, momentous and grave, given its implications. The second is in close-up, extraneous almost but puckish and jokey. Both give you that crucial sense of scale that is god in kaiju as it is in mecha, the sub-genres being slavishly co-opted here and whose shared rubric is to make visceral the enormity of both the threat and the response. It becomes a leitmotif almost, this dissonance between sizes, not to mention the film's brightest moments, specially given the uncanny aptitude for detail that has made Guillermo Del Toro such a steadfast go-to when your dopey geek enterprises need leveling up: massive pincers slicing through a bridge, a section of HK that's called the Bone Slums out of how it's built around the ribcage of a decomposed monster, a glimpse of a cathedral built from a monster skull, a robot (again, jaeger) using a cargo ship in a tussle as if it were a baseball bat. 

Spiritually, philosophically, texturally, it's more Godzilla Versus Mechagodzilla than Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even then, there is far less fertile protein to build blockbuster cartilage from, toy lines for instance. The film wisely insulates itself within its B Film strictures, its lived-in density, resisting even an inch of deviation, matching it instead almost beat for beat, from the pulpy dialogue to the pseudo-science to the wartime gloom to the endtime metaphors, then pumping it up at all junctures, and with such a determined endgame that it becomes disingenuous to call it out for not going far enough with its characters, keeping nearly all of them, except perhaps Idris Elba's embattled leader Stacker Pentecost and  Ron Perlman's flamboyant war profiteer Hannibal Chau, within the tethers of their Hawksian archetypes and their Kirbyesque nomenclature.

Del Toro understands all too well how the heart can sweet-talk the head into succumbing to anything and, if nothing else,  he plays the inner child slash nostalgia card like a hustler. Come to this, then, purely on propulsion and the re-awakening of all your fancies as a boy and its dividends can be generous. It's a drag how the escalation in categories never manifests in the monsters' physiology, sure.  And a trifle distressing how the inside of the dimensional rift looks like a bad Uriah Heep album cover. Worst of all is how incoherent and sloppy the underwater climax is.  But, as with all the Ishiro Honda films it's obviously channeling, everything yields to the glorious skirmish between meat and machine that is what you and your inner Koji Kabuto really came here for.


Noel Vera said...

Now yer talkin my language

Unknown said...

i think i've been commenting using someone else's account. oh well. - tessa

Unknown said...

amazing review. very rich, i want to eat it.

del toro seems to be the most de rigeur name to affix in any creative endeavor these days, but i don't blame anyone for trying to borrow his influence.

i don't have much expectations for pacific rim (haven't seen it; i know, late again), and i normally end up really liking films that i don't set much standards for. but after reading this review, my imagination might just overshoot reality.

dodo dayao said...

Is this still you, Tessa? :)

Del Toro's cool. I really much prefer his Spanish language films but what really sets him apart is that he was weaned on cinema and his geek compatriots seem weaned instead on videogames. He's the only active Hollywood-based filmmaker with pedigree when it comes to geek pop cinema, with the exception of Joss Whedon. There are handfuls as good outside of America, of course. There are handfuls as good in Asia alone.

Unknown said...

yes, still me.

well, he's our modern monster-man. and great observation regarding what makes him different from other filmmakers.

what asian films of the same genre would you recommend?

and would you mind cross-posting this?

dodo dayao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dodo dayao said...

Oh ok. Wonder why blogger keeps identifying you as "unknown" . . .

Similar Asian films? Oh lord. Where to start? Godzilla Versus Mechagodzilla is, if memory serves, probably the only other kaiju/mecha mashup out there although purist friends insist Pacific Rim is really riffing off Ultraman more.

There's also not much in the way of live action mecha but there's heaps in anime form: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Patlabor are my favorites.

As for kaiju films, the old Godzilla films are a blast but your enjoyment may depend on your predisposition for it. A lot of people think they're clumsy and cheesy, which they are, but I love 'em. The new Gamera films (three from the 90s and one from 2006) capture the spirit, improve a little on the SFX and are a hoot. I also love the Korean inversion The Host