Thursday, 8 August 2013

Pacific Rim Surprised Me

I watched Pacific Rim a few weeks ago and it's still lurking around in my head like a shadowy figure under a street lamp. It probably doesn't help that my tumblr feed is full of fan art, reviews and general ravings about the movie. The most surprising part of all this is; I was not expecting much at all from the film itself. Even after leaving the cinema I thought "hey, that was a cool aliens being clobbered by machines movie". But I was wrong folks. It's much more than that.

Keeping spoilers to a minimum, the premise of Pacific Rim is that a dimensional vortex has opened deep under the ocean, and humongous creatures are coming through, wreaking havoc and generally going all godzilla as soon as they come across a city. After much destruction and the realisation that these beasts are not going to stop appearing, humanity unites and creates the Jaegar programme, building equally humongous humanoid mecha's, which require two humans to mentally merge and control from within. So far so almost every anime series ever. But again, it is so much more:

- Affirmative message: so, so, so many films go for the dark, tortured soul tale. The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, even Spider-man. Don't get me wrong, I love a dark tortured tale as much as the next homosapien, but there are times when it all gets a bit... dull. Pacific Rim is a wonderful antidote to this; its message is one of hope, or human decency and loyalty, of victory in the face of terrible odds.

- Subverting the male gaze: The amount of female ass and side boob I have had to witness in one visual medium or another... It can get to the point of not even noticing it anymore because it's so common. Pacific Rim is the first film I can remember in a long time that not only doesn't have this trope in clear evidence but actually turns it on its head; instead of the camera admiring the form of women it's the male protagonist who is admired/objectified by the female protagonist in a brief moment that is only noticeable because of how unusual it it.*

- No love story: The male and female protagonists go through a lot together, they fight together and they both lose a lot before they can even think of victory. Though Mako has a moment in which she clearly approves of her colleague's body, there is no suggestion that she's in love with him and at no point do they fall into each other's arms and do the dirty. Instead there is a deep friendship between them, an understanding that is made all the more meaningful with the absence of a romantic sub-plot.

- An original story: With a huge swathe of remakes and sequels flooding the cineplex Pacific Rim was a welcome change. Guillermo del Toro was inspired by Japanese kaiju films like Godzilla and ramped it up x1000 for his take on robots vs aliens. But he didn't forget the characters, making their personal struggles as big a part of the story as the smashy, crashy moments.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a deep and meaningful film - it is still essentially a larger than life action/sci-fi movie that includes a lot of punching. But it has something films of that type normally lack: a heart. Highly recommended.

*I am not saying here that the male gaze shots are wrong - only that there's too many of them in too many films. I don't want it to go too far the other way, where every film has a male character being represented purely by their abs and buttocks, but it's nice to have a balance. Pacific Rim is the first film I recall in recent times that seems to be reaching for that balance.

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