Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J.P. McCarthy) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Pacific Rim [2013] (director by Guillermo del Toro [IMDb] screenplay by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro, story by Travis Beacham) must have been an irresistable project for an auteur like Guillermo del Toro [IMDb].  Envisioned for the biggest of screens, at it's core, the film is basically a "mash-up" of 1950s era Japanese Godzilla [IMDb] movies and more recent Japanese inspired Transformers [IMDb] movies.  Central to both story-lines are ENORMOUS Monsters (one class mutant/biological, the other robotic) capable of raining down ENORMOUS amounts of destruction on puny/bug-like human beings in comparison.

Now that kind of a storyline OUGHT to be at least partly unsettling.  And IMHO, J.P. McCarthy, the CNS/USCCB's reviewer of the film laudably if then only partially makes reference to the genre's "blind spot" of never really giving proper due to the presumed level of human suffering caused by the city shattering destruction depicted in these films (at the hands of the films' "Monsters") prior to "someone or something saving the day."  It's a laudable point and we can ask ourselves how many times will we see the White House blown-up (Olympus Has Fallen [2013], White House Down [2013]) or 9/11 cinematically re-enacted (Sucker Punch [2011], Star Trek: Into Darkness [2013] among others) before we'll be able to let these cataclysmic images/anxieties go?  Yet, it has been also said that the Godzilla story actually originated as a post-WW II Japanese cultural expression of its experience of the enormously destructive Allied bombing raids in the final stages of the War, raids that even before the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had leveled and incinerated entire Japanese cities.  The atomic bombs added mutation producing radiation to the cultural anxiety mix.  And the 2011 post-tsunami meltdowns of 4 nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on the banks of the Pacific Ocean will probably continue to fuel a fair amount of anxiety into the future. 

Yet even as we can fairly wonder why seem to enjoy/flock to movies depicting "Monsters" crushing people like us like "bugs," the challenge of the "auteur" like Guillermo del Toro [IMDb] (or Ridley Scott [IMDb]/ James Cameron [IMDb]) is to turn a sci-fi-ish "Monsters/Aliens attack" story (Alien [1979], The Terminator [1984]) into "something more." 

It is obvious that part of Guillermo del Toro / Travis Beacham's vision in this film is that the humanity threatening Godzilla-sized monsters called "Kieji" (or "monster" in Japanese) materializing in the depths of the Pacific Ocean after passing through some sort of an "interdimensional portal" located there (presumably at or near the fissure of the Mariana Trench) are best defeated through cooperation:  (1) All the nations of the world / Pacific Rim join together to fight these horrendous city destroying aliens, and (2) even the "weapons of choice" to fight these aliens -- Giant, human driven Transformer-like robots called Jaegers (or "hunters" in German) -- require two people, neurally connected to the robot and to each other (serving as the robot's right and left "brains"),  to successfully operate them.  The Monsters and even the "weapons systems" (Jaegers) designed to combat them are simply too big for a _single person_ to defeat them.  Coordinated / collaborative action is required.

The film then explores various types of "two person teams" employed to drive the "Jaeger robots" in order to fight the monsters.  There are two identical twin brothers Raleigh and Yancy Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff respectively), there's a father and son team of Herc and Chuck Hensen (played by Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky respectively).  Late in the film, after one or another of the "team members" has been killed or incapacitated, there's a "male/female" (spousal/Jungian? ;-) team assembled featuring Raleigh Becket and an Asian woman named Mako Mori (played who Rinko Kikuchi) who had lost her parents to the monsters as a child and a team of "old timers/veterans" comprising of Herc Hensen and the by the book commander of the whole Jaeger operation Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba).

Each of these two person combinations offered possible advantages and disadvantages with the "neural connection" between each other and the robot they were required to drive).  Additionally there was also a two person team of scientists/advisors, Dr. Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb (played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman respectively) who offered the Jaeger commanders/operators differing perspectives on how to combat the Kieji.  At one point, Dr. Geiszler also found himself having to enlist the help of an utterly non-scientific Hong-Kong area mobster named Hannibal Chao (played by Ron Perlman) for critical (and somewhat surprising) assistance as well.

All this cooperation was required to defeat the monstrous Keiji, who despite being "monsters" Dr. Geiszler and Gottlieb discovered were also working together and learning from each other in how to attack and defeat us.

So in the underneath of this Titanic battle between Humanity and "Monsters" bent on destroying us is this story about cooperation with the message that our biggest threats can only be "defeated" if we work together.  We may be individuals with individual gifts but as humanity, we are also to be a team.

That's a message not altogether far afield from that of the Catholic Church that sees all of us as children of the same God who loves us all.  Ultimately, we too understand that "we're all in this project of Life together."  Still, one has to question the story's over-the-top glass smashing, indeed skyscraper/skyline smashing violence ...

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