Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim (2013)



Thank God I'm on tumblr. When I saw the trailer for Pacific Rim (and I only saw it once, which in this day and age is shamefully poor promotion for a summer blockbuster), I thought, "What are wonderful actors like Charlie Day and Idris Elba doing in this Transformers meets Evangelion* knock-off? And why would del Toro direct it?" I wrote it off as another mind-numbingly violent CGI copy of a copy of a copy.

And that's where tumblr came in. All over my feed I saw fan art for Mako, Raleigh, Newt and Pentecost. I saw quotes from del Toro about making the movie for his daughters, and discussions regarding the subversion of the average action movie tropes. It got to the point where I HAD to see this movie that I never would have gone to based on its advertising (or reviews) alone. (Spoiler-ish stuff ahead.)

I went to a 10:20pm showing last night, and not only liked it, but loved it. I cried, flinched, laughed, cheered, and blissfully lost myself in the story. As a fun, entertaining summer action film, I was reminded of Top Gun, Gandalf's battle with the Balrog, Jurassic Park, and some of the endearing corniness found in the original Star Wars movies. But it was a happy surprise to see there was more to it than that. I've not studied psychology in any real capacity, but I was intrigued by the theme of trauma, and the impact/benefit of sharing your traumatic experience with someone you trust. In the film two pilots man a super robot (jaeger) by connecting their minds, each operating as right or left hemisphere. When this connection (a 'neural handshake') takes place, they see and enter each other's memories and can relive their own in the mental space between them called 'the drift.' I loved that the film showed how vulnerable this makes each pilot, and how much their connection needs to be strong on an emotional level, not just in terms of combat instincts.

The character of Mako Mori was also a revelation for this kind of film. While the film doesn't pass the Bechdel test, Mako's character is given more than one dimension. It was so sweet to see her bond with Pentecost as father and daughter. The little girl who played young Mako--Mana Ashida--was unbelievably excellent. I sobbed through her whole scene. As a co-protagonist Mako isn't just the token hot chick who shows up to inspire the hero and prove what a badass she is. Mako does have her moments of impressing the audience and other characters with her abilities, but we get to see multiple sides to her: and none of them are a slow-motion pan of her body! In fact, as you can see from the pictures I posted above, the male gaze is subverted. Raleigh's body is given opportunities for ogling 5x more often than Mako. The most revealing thing we see her in is a non-cleavage-bearing tank top in one scene, whereas we see a shirtless Raleigh often (orphan?).

The choices for Mako's character (played by Rinko Kikuchi) were deliberately feminist. Guillermo:
"Thinking about it for girls, I have two daughters. One is 16, one is 12. And what I want to give them is the role model that can be a real character...We didn't just load the heaviness of the picture on Charlie. We gave everyone a moment. And we made a choice as we processed the movie to go for a friendship story, not a love story. So girls can also dream about not just falling in love with every guy who just seems to share something with them. It's a great story of friendship and respect and love, but the love of a colleague, of a pilot to a pilot...I was very careful how I built the movie. One of the other things I decided was that I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the male leads. She’s not going to be a sex kitten, she’s not going to come out in cutoff shorts and a tank top, and it’s going to be a real earnestly drawn character..."
"I wanted to show that men and women can be friends without having a relationship," says del Toro of the relationship between the two main characters Mako and Raleigh. "Theirs is a story about partnership, equality, and a strong bond between partners. It's important for little girls to know not every story has to be a love story and for boys to know that soldiers aren't the only ones to triumph in war."
But if you haven't seen the movie, don't be misled, the majority of the film is robots fighting monsters, which is what initially caused my disinterest. I get sick of CGI so quickly. I'm fine with it in video games, but I miss the feeling of models and prosthesis and life-size mechanical props. But every now and then a world is created in CGI--ones that I've never been to before (so places like Middle Earth and the Enterprise don't count)--that feel real and exciting in their own right, despite (or because of) their CGI. Two past examples: Asgard in Thor (2011) and The Grid in Tron: Legacy (2010). I was not distracted by the CGI in these movies, but rather my experience was enhanced by it. Pacific Rim managed to do the same thing. And I think a huge reason why is explained in this quote by Guillermo:
“We spent approximately five months directing the film, the live-action portion of it, and another nine or 10 months directing the animation. Every time an animated piece would come in, I would comment on the weight, the physics, the placement of the camera lens. This is a not a movie where an effects house does everything. We were working as creative partners. That’s a big difference...I wanted the robots and the Kaiju to have the weight of their stature. Basically, we’re animating buildings — they’re 25 stories high. The way they move needs to reflect that mass, and that’s the thing (filmmakers) have the hardest times with. They don’t know how to root or anchor the model in gravity."
I get as annoyed by physics-defying CGI as I do by actors lightly handling coffee cups that are supposed to BE FULL OF HOT COFFEE. But the kaiju in Pacific Rim moved through space like beings weighing 2,500 tons would. They actually felt anchored in gravity. There's also the Doctor Who-esque question: who are these massive beasts we're killing? The film dealt with that as well: cloned colonialists**; not helpless, scared animals sent to a world where they're beaten to death just for defending themselves. But beyond that, the jaeger pilots and engineers weren't treated like military poster children. Guillermo:
“I carefully avoided the car commercial aesthetics or the army recruitment video aesthetics. I avoided making a movie about an army with ranks. I avoided making any kind of message that says war is good. We have enough firepower in the world."
But should we cheer as whole cities are rampaged by the kaiju? This is an uncomfortable aspect of action films. Watching New York be wrecked in, well, every action movie is not entertaining.  Our comic book/sci-fi films are hard to enjoy and eat popcorn during with innocent  unnamed people dying left and right. The trauma and effect that would have on a city is rarely addressed (though I felt young Mako's scene helped with that in this particular movie). Guillermo had an answer for this too--how do we enjoy a fight between a huge robot and a huge monster without ignoring the human cost?
"Well, kaiju movies by definition bring a completely escapist fun in these type of fights. When you’re a kid and you’re watching Godzilla stomp a bunch of tanks or jets or cut through a city, the proportions of these things are so enormous that you cannot correlate them to anything real. What I do is I then bring in visually a very different sense of style from reality. I have these super-colored lights illuminating the rain, so it looks like a living comic book or a living anime. And the thing that I do very, very consciously is I vacated all the streets so they would be empty of people. So you’re never thinking, “Oh, the kaiju just crushed 600 people.” Because the streets are vacated and everybody’s in a refuge, all they can destroy is buildings and vehicles when nobody’s there."
I was also much more engaged with the jaeger pilots than I have ever been when Tony Stark is in the Iron Man suit. I love him as a character, but I completely tune out once he's in the suit. Just seeing a close-up of RDJ's face reacting to things is not enough. The power between two people collaborating and looking at each other's real faces and encouraging one another is so much more compelling when it comes to people-in-metal-fighting-machines. And no, J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn't count.

I can't wait to see it again. Next time will definitely be in 3D.

(Sources:  x / x / x / x / x )

*I watched the first few episodes of Evangelion and was intrigued but I couldn't really get over the less-than-realistic portrayals of the female characters and their huge, bouncing, gravity-defying breasts.

**But then I guess that makes us move on from the Doctor Who question to the Battlestar Galactica question...

1 comment:

Allie said...

I have such a girl-crush on Rinko! And I agree: seeing posts about the movie on Tumblr made me really want to see it. It's on my list!