Beautiful emptiness: the machine buries the human
How ironic that the charismatic eye candy English actor Charlie Hunnam has waited fifteen years for a big movie role (we won’t count the good, but forgotten Nicholas Nickleby) only to star in this gorgeous but completely vapid, ersatz toyland “masterpiece” by the Mexican fantasy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. It puts him in the limelight — fans of good cable TV shows already know him as the soulful bike club heir of Sons of Anarchy — but gives him no chance to act. Del Toro’s new megalith is an astonishingly beautiful (as the Guardian blog piece had promised) — and also astonishingly monotonous and repetitious interweaving of Transformers, Matrix, Blade Runner, and many other things, mostly by Michael Bay. Essentially just human-manned robots fighting monsters over and over for over two hours, Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, the “Transformers it’s OK to like,” as the Guardian wistfully speculated, turns out to have a less involving plotline than the mindless Michael Bay films, while carrying the CGI creation of giant Godzilla-esque city destroyers and man-powered motion-capture-ish giant humanoid robots to combat them to an extreme of complexity and beauty unlikely to be equalled in future films. And why bother? Only because Hollywood continues to feed the mass audience’s taste for expensive non-movies and the audience continues to gobble.
When I watched this movie, it was shown at the big Regal Union Square cinemplex in New York City in its Auditorium Number 1, the largest, which has a big balcony over the big orchestra section, and both of them were filled, every seat taken. An usher brought in a folding chair for me at the back of the balcony, to watch. At the end, there was applause. But I could barely stay awake.
As Pacific Rim begins, these things called Kaijus (from the Japanese kaiju eiga–“giant monster”– movie genre) are emerging “from an interdimensional portal on the floor of the Pacific Ocean” (Wikipedia) and attacking the “Pacific Rim” (whatever that is), destroying all civilization in their roaring, clanky wake. In response humans have mounted equally (they hope) monstrous machines called Jaegers, aka mecha (I’d thought Jaeger was a sweater, but no matter). These are manned by two people, to operate the two sides of their brains. In doing this they attempt to blend their separate consciousness’s into one, by a process known as “drifting.” The New Yorker’s film reviewer Anthony Lane quips that that’s what he was doing during most of the movie; I can say the same, only I called it sleep.
The early part of the movie focuses alternately on the apocalyptic destruction being undergone at the hands of the Kaijus, and on the planning supervised by a military chief called Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to mount a last-ditch effort using a super-giant Jaeger manned by they best they’ve got. This turns out to be the washed-up Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam), who’s been doing manual labour for years, who’s to choose a partner by engaging in martial arts combat with him — or, as it turns out, her. The demographic calculation shows up in the final choice of an Asian female, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) as Beckett’s partner. (Ron Perlman, del Toro’s Hellboy star and Charlie’s Anarchy cohort, is also featured in a cameo.) When they get it all together, what we get on screen is robots battling monsters over, and over, and over.
The Matrix-y element comes in how these humans are buried deep in machines, in ways that may confuse and bury their normal consciousness’s. But this burying also seems a suitable metaphor for the movie as a whole, which buries human beings in CGI and mechanistic gadgeetry, and the plot and dialogue in noise and an ever-increasing action finale designed to satisfy the younger and more Asian and less Anglophone global audience for which megamovies like this are designed no matter how fine the craft. And in some ways Del Toro’s craft is definitely fine. The gadgetry has never been more richly imagined, heroically proportioned, sharply photographed, or glowingly coloured. But I can’t say it any better than Anthony Lane: “the script is feeble, the plot is perforated, and the characters are so flimsy that you wouldn’t risk blowing your nose on them.” To make up for this — if it does for you — everything is pretty and humongous, and a fanboy’s delight; that is, for certain fanboys. But in the enthusiasm of his sci-fi comic book high-concept-presenting and frabjulous gadgetry and imagery-devising, del Toro has neglected to tell a suspenseful or involving story.
DIRECTOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORO
WRITER: TRAVIS BEACHAM, GUILLERMO DEL TORO
STARS: CHARLIE HUNNAM, IDRIS ELBA, RINKO KIKUCHI, CHARLIE DAY, BURN GORMAN, ROBERT KAZINSKY, MAX MARTINI
RUNTIME: 132 MINS APPROX