Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pacific Rim

Somehow, I managed to know next to nothign about Pacific Rim before it came out. I hadn't really seen most of the trailers, and mostly all I knew was that there were giant robots and giant monsters.

To be honest, while that sounded fun it didn't sound like something I was going to go out of my way for, unless I just really wanted to go to the movies and that was the best thing playing. But a special trip to see it wasn't in the works or anything.

Until my friends went to see it. This is the power of word of mouth - so many people I knew were so in love with this movie, and people who's opinions I respect. So basically I decided that I had to see it on the second weekend before I learned anything else about it. No spoilers.

It was a really good decision, because I really liked this movie. Honestly, yes, it is a movie about giant robots and giant monsters (called kaiju, if you're a fan of Japanese monster movies and Godzilla you already know this term). Yes, that is the center of the story, and also at the center is the fact that it is a film for, by, and about people who just seriously really love giant robots and kaiju.

But there is so much more going on than that, and that's what elevates it past other recent giant robot/sci-fi action pictures. Is it the plot? No, not so much, the plot is kind of paint by numbers and more than slightly predictable (sorry guys). But I didn't care, not because the action or effects were awesome, they were.

It was because the characters were just that darn great. And how many times have I wanted to stand on rooftops and yell at Hollywood that it's the characters that make or break their projects? Raleigh manages not to be the angsty emotionally damaged and thus closed off and cranky reluctant hero. He pays some lip service to not getting back into a jaeger (the giant robots) but at the end of the day he's got a good reason and he doesn't really hem and haw. He changes his mind and decided to go fight again and then he just does. Thank goodness for small favors.

Idris Elba is always amazing, but his role as the leader of the jaegar program gives him plenty to work with and he does what he does best. A lot of reviews are talking about how great the wacky scientist sidekicks are, and they are pretty great but didn't steal the movie for me or anything. Even the cocky pilot who thinks he's God's gift and the only one who can save the world who is destined to be taken down a peg by the reluctant hero is a bit more complex and interesting than he seems at first. And del Toro actually took the time to make a racially and ethnically diverse cast, because these people are saving the WORLD, not just America. What a concept, having representatives from all the nations bordering the Pacific? Who would have thought.

But the movie belongs to Mako Mori, and we all know it. I've seen a few people arguing about how they wish that she was the lead instead of Raleigh and I'm not entirely sure which movie they were watching. She's not a supporting character, so what else is she but one of the two lead characters? Even her fans are having a hard time breaking out of years of Hollywood conditioning. Yes, Raleigh spends part of the movie trying to convince people how great she is but there's no "but she's a woman" coming from any single person in the entire film. It's the experienced pilot urging people to give the young hot shot a chance, and that narrative is age old if you make it two men instead.

Quite frankly, I haven't seen a female character this good on a movie screen in a very, very long time. So many weaker writers and directors have felt like when you put a woman in an action movie you have to make sure to make her more feminine so that we don't forget she's a woman or something. We skip right over that here, and if anybody is being the more "feminine" character, emotionally, it's Raleigh.

And I can't wrap up this review without mentioning Mana Ashida, who plays young Mako in an extended flashback. She's barely even in the movie and she is, without a doubt, the most memorable actor in the entire thing. She is so raw and so emotional and so compelling that if you don't feel for her then your heart must have been pulled out or something. She was eight years old, and I can't even imagine how good she's going to be when she's older. That girl is going to rule Japanese cinema.

Overall, the basic takeaway from Pacific Rim is that it's a daring movie that tried a lot of things. It's got very few big name actors in it, and they're mostly supporting characters. It's not America-centric and most of the action takes place in China instead. Del Toro even has said that he made sure to establish that in most of the big destructive action sequences that all the civilians are safe and the streets are clear so you can enjoy the explosions without guilt about innocent bystanders. It's like a movie about world peace with giant monsters and robots, and it has a racially diverse cast with a woman in one of the lead action roles. And it's based on an original screenplay and a new idea the revitalizes a beloved older genre. Even if the movie wasn't any good, it would be worth your attention just for all those things.

But the truth is, it is really good. It's fun, it's funny, the actors are good, and the characters are amazing. It's going to be a tragedy if this doesn't earn some more money at the box office because everybody involved should be rolling in cash just for trying something new and succeeding.