Tag Archives: Giant Robots

Giant Robots

It is no secret that I absolutely adore Pacific Rim. Granted, and watching giant mechs and giant mechs beat the crap outta each other is only a part of it. See, there’s the pure childish glee to it, the great speech, and, of course, its youthful and hopeful worldview. Pacific Rim is a movie about giant mechs and giant monsters, but it’s because it’s so much more than the battle between Jaegers and Kaiju that the movie made the impression it did, it’s why it matters more than you’d expect.

A sequel was up in the air for a while, and, eventually, Guillermo del Toro stepped aside from directing again and Steven S. DeKnight filled in as writer/director and the project officially went into production. There were rumors online about the studio ousting del Toro, but given that he still has a producing credit and DeKnight was in touch with him, it’s safe to say his vision is still there.

So naturally, I watched the trailer for the sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising as soon as I could. And man, it delivers on more giant mechs fighting giant monsters. And a multinational team, which is something very important to me, obvious. And it’s a glorious trailer, with new robots fighting new monsters in a city and stuff getting destroyed and swords slashing and all that cool stuff.

But all the same, it seems to me that there’s a bit that’s being lost.

Let me preface the following with this: It looks awesome. Mecha action is something near and dear to my heart, and getting to see a glimpse of those behemoths fighting is, of course, a joy. I’m here for it.

But.

Guillermo del Toro’s a self-described pacifist. He deliberately avoids making movies about war, and Pacific Rim was no different. The leader of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps isn’t a general, but rather a Marshal (named Stacker Pentecost, but the ridiculous awesomeness of that name is unimportant here). The Jaeger pilots aren’t Captains or Lieutenants, but rather Rangers. Pacific Rim avoids much militaristic imagery, and there’s no room for jingoism in a movie about an international team fighting monsters. This is all deliberate, as del Toro “…wanted was for kids to see a movie where they don’t need to aspire to be in an army to aspire for an adventure.”[*]

Even the action in the movie follows this trend. Sure, there’s epic destruction, but the operating protocol for the Jaeger pilots is to keep the Kaiju away from the city. When a kaiju attacks Sydney, it’s because it breached the wall that was supposed to keep them out. The fight in Hong Kong is after the defenders have been overwhelmed, and much ado (and a subplot) is made out of making sure civilians evacuate to shelters. When the punching and hitting starts, it’s a lot of punching and outlandish weapons. Gipsy Danger has an energy blaster and a sword, Striker Eureka rockets and knives, Cherno Alpha is really good at punching stuff. It’s fantastical, it’s fun.

There’s a shot in the Uprising trailer that looks like one out of the matrix, with empty bullet shells falling to the ground behind a Jaeger. It’s cool — because of course it’s cool — but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it gave me a measure of concern. Part of what made Pacific Rim so wonderful was it being removed from reality; once the Jaegers started going there wasn’t much in the ways of actual guns. All the violence was out there, fantastical, giant robots punching and giant swords and rockets.

I love Pacific Rim. And I wanna love Uprising too. But lightning in a bottle was caught once, and I’m wary of a followup. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe DeKnight’s got more going on than the trailer lets on. Maybe it’ll be as hopeful and idealistic as the first one. But as we get set to enjoy more mecha versus kaiju action, I want to remember how damn special Pacific Rim is, and how much a sequel has to live up to not only in quality but also in theming. Maybe Uprising won’t have the special sauce that made Pacific Rim so good.

But.

It’s still gonna be giant mechs beating up giant monsters.

And I’ll take it. 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In Defense of Giant Robots

I grew up on Power Rangers, giant mecha anime, and Transformers. I built giant robots with my LEGO’s (and spaceships, natch). Of course, all this was just cartoons and imagination for the most part.

And now we have Pacific Rim.

It’s easy, heck, it’s natural to brush aside the movie as being simple childish nonsense. After all, giant robots are the stuff of anime and Power Rangers. The stuff you enjoyed as a kid. You’re an adult now. You have grown up tastes now. Like The Great Gatsby. You like movies that are ‘mature’ and ‘grounded’. Like how dismantling MI6 is so much better than a giant space laser or how Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Science division doesn’t give their suits of armor nipples. Giant robots are impractical, the physics doesn’t add up, and how the crap would you power something that enormous? Come back when it actually makes sense.

This movie takes all of that and merrily laughs at it. Pacific Rim is unashamedly a movie about giant robots beating the crap out of giant monsters. Like any good story, there are shades of deeper themes and ideas throughout, but its focus is purely on the childlike glee that comes from watching 300 foot tall robots doing battle with similarly sized monsters. If you’re me, it means you get to watch your childhood fantasies in a cinema.

There’s no attempt to firmly ground the story in reality like some movies do. They don’t discover some new element or power source to make the giant robots work. Creating them is summed up in the prologue as being the logical thing to do. Because of course. The monsters are referred to as Kaiju, harking back to old Japanese monster movies. The giant robots are called Jaegers and given appropriately awesome names like Striker Eureka or Cherno Alpha. The Jaeger Gipsy Danger has an elbow rocket. It’s made very clear that Pacific Rim knows exactly what sort of movie it is and it embraces it wholeheartedly.

It’s terribly easy to do this wrong. The first GI Joe movie, Rise of the Cobra, tried to serious-ify the lore. What we wound up with was a movie that was laughable in its attempts to be dark. It just didn’t work. Conversely, we have Batman and Robin, a movie that made Batman something of a punchline. Unlike Batman: The Animated Series which aired only a couple years prior, Batman and Robin decided that sense and logic could be left at the door. Both movies were trying to be something they weren’t. Batman can be funny, but a Batcard is a mockery; GI Joe is meant to be fun, not a dark thriller-esque film.

Pacific Rim does it right. From start to finish the movie runs on sheer fun. The protagonists face no crisis of faith regarding their roles and there’s no humanization of the Kaiju. All that’s not the point of the story; it’s an earnest story about good guys fighting bad guys, Jaegers hunting Kaiju, and giant robots beating the crap out of giant monsters. It’s simple, but it’s not stupid.

Despite what Revenge of The Fallen might have made you think, giant robots aren’t drivel. Pacific Rim never feels childish. Guillermo del Toro and team give the movie its due; the plot may be thin but it’s cohesive, the Kaiju do have a goal, characters have motivations. As del Toro himself said, “It has the craft of a 48-year-old and the heart of a 12-year-old.” Yes, giant robots are freaking awesome and that’d be all there was to it, except that this movie does it so well. Described as a love letter to mecha and Kaiju stories, Pacific Rim is all the defense the idea of giant robots needs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized