July 15, 2013
Well, here it is, possibly the most anticipated geek film of the year. Even more than Star Trek, because with Star Trek we knew what we were getting. With this? All we could do was hope.
And I’m finding it really hard to talk about because I can’t separate the movie from my intense nostalgia for this kind of thing. I have no idea what this thing looks like to someone who hasn’t been waiting for a good-looking live-action mecha anime-style movie for pretty much her whole life. Because I have, and it’s beautiful.
The thing I really appreciated about Pacific Rim was the industrial weight of it. Water sheeting off steel as Gipsy Danger strides off into the rain. Sparks flying, gears turning, pistons pumping, being able to see it all work because the movie slows down enough to let us. Human beings clearly built these things, and you can see the bolts and welds. Jaegers require a small city of workers to maintain them. They take muscle to operate, a fleet of helicopters to transport. They are heavy and difficult, which makes it that much more impressive when one of them takes off at a run. The scale is consistent, and yet I was always surprised at how big they are, looking up at them, or across at them from the top of an industrial scaffold.
This is something the anime versions could never express. Anime mecha are beautiful, but they’re painted and weightless. Which means this movie is better than its source material. And part of me can’t believe I just wrote that.
Okay, time to shake it off and get serious. First off, the good: the 3D was fantastic — completely non-intrusive, if that makes sense. I forgot I was watching 3D, because it didn’t do any of that fakey “ooooh, you’re watching 3D” sight gag crap. The 3D added depth, and that was it — it helped increase the sense of scale and weight to the mecha and kaiju. This was a very deep world. Really, I loved the worldbuilding. The pilot culture, the world experiencing slow apocalypse. If I lived in this world (not that I want to live in a world being overrun by interdimensional kaiju) I would so be a Jaeger groupie. The film’s best action set pieces are not in in the trailers. There’s one in particular that made my Voltron fangirl heart soar. To say more would spoil it.
Second, this is a really good example of a story that’s filled with cliche characters and plot points — the grizzled veteran commander, the hero with a traumatic past, the untried rookie, the hotshot with the chip on his shoulder, the crazy scientist — and yet was done cleanly, competently, and engagingly. This is a really familiar, standard anime story — and that’s a good thing. Keep it simple so we have time for a story and to see beautiful mecha waging destruction on monsters. Well done. And some of it was very well done indeed: Mako Mori’s flashback, as observed by Raleigh, is probably one of the most striking, beautiful sequences I’ve ever seen in a genre film, ever. This was indeed a movie by the director of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Third, this is also a really good example of a movie that could have been made more inclusive by simply swapping out the gender of one of the existing characters. My pick would be the ops controller or the British mad scientist (if you think that’s crazy, picture this for a sec: an Amy Farrah Fowler type character in this kind of movie. Done swooning yet?). None of those secondary characters needed to be male for the story to work. Seriously, it isn’t about adding extra women characters — it’s about not automatically defaulting to male. (This was my same complaint with Inception.) Then maybe I wouldn’t be sitting there at the end thinking, “Wow, that was a very male movie.” At least we had a veteran woman pilot on the Russian team — that made me happy.
Before going into it, I thought this would either be brilliant, and I’d have nothing to say about it, or terrible, and I’d also have nothing to say. Clearly, I had something to say about it, so it might not have been absolutely perfect — but it really is the live-action anime I’ve been wanting pretty much my whole life and, I think I need to see it again.