Watching trailers for Guillermo Del Toro’s newest trip into the realm of science fantasy, feels a little like watching a Transformers film without the vehicles and a “big bad” that consists of monsters that are not made of metal, but are just as big and a lot scarier looking. Sort of like Pacific Rim replacing Transformers for the next movie generation of filmgoers.
There are those of us that are of a certain age who remember watching the metallic “morphing” super-metal heroes on Saturday morning television. Autobots fighting the evil that was the Decepticons headed up by Optimus Prime and Megatron as the respective leaders of the opposing factions, in the form of a “kick-ass” cartoon.
Later as an animated film and finally a “live action” movie we older fans were along for the ride in every version of the Transformer verse. Younger film goers may adapt to this newer version of Transformers in the form of giant robots fighting a giant menace that doesn’t rely on its audience to be core fans of an existing verse.
Del Toro says that his inspiration came from a comic book creation that featured a boy and a robot fighting evil. He has said that his instructions upon making the film was that he did not want to make a homage to early “monster” films like Godzilla. He also wanted to make a clear distinction from the Transformer films and did not want to appear to be making a “pastiche” of the Autobot versus Decepticon world.
He has, to a certain extent done just that. But the comparisons will still be made, just because the man-made giant Jaegers (which is German for hunters) do resemble the Transformers in overall appearance. While there are no acknowledged leaders of the Kaiju, Actor Idris Elba could be seen as a human Optimus Prime.
In reality, Elba comes across as a sort of modern day Winston Churchill. Waxing impressively about humanity’s standing together to fight the giant monsters who’ve come from the ocean’s depths to destroy mankind. It is a hard hearted movie-goer indeed, who doesn’t get goosebumps from Elba’s “Cancelling the apocalypse” speech.
Some critics have moaned that the human “players” in the film are almost “generic” with the actors resembling each other to the extent that they could have been “made on an assembly line” and that they are almost identical to the point of being inter-changeable. Which is pretty much the point.
With a storyline that depends upon these giant “human-like” robots that are powered by a team of people who are extremely athletic soldiers, the autonomy of the soldiers needs to be there to focus on the team-work aspect to make the Jaegers seem more “lifelike.”
Of course there are characters who stand out in the cast. You cannot have actors of such a high calibre and not have them stand out. No assembly line in the world could mass produce Ron Perlman, Idris Alba or Rinko Kikuchi. The huge monsters, both man-made and “natural” are the real stars here and the FX that makes their colossal fights feel so very real.
There have been complaints that there are too many “tight-shots” of the action, making the film feel “small.” But as Del Toro himself has said, you cannot make a thrilling film with all the gigantic fights taking place in slow motion.
But you also have to focus on the soldiers who power the robots in order to see the effort expelled and the toll of the battles. It makes the Jaegers that bit more personal. Sure it’s thrilling to see giant robots “duke” it out with the monsters from the crevasse in the ocean, but, it is knowing that at the same time that the robot is taking punishment, so are its human crew.
This looks to be the big blockbuster of the summer. A film that may offer little in the way of human character arcs and deep insight into the actor’s roles, but it will be a bigger than life spectacle from the director who specialises in making magic happen on camera.
Pacific Rim may well be the Transformers of the next movie-going generation and it has already spawned a video game based loosely on the film and a graphic novel. With so much “branching out” of the film before its world-wide run has really started, it looks more like a success waiting to happen instead of a wild “shot in the dark.”
By Michael Smith