Guillermo del Toro: Nerd Hero

Pacific Rim is a dream come true for nerds everywhere. No movie since The Avengers last year has had more Nerdgasms-per-minute than this one. It should cement Guillermo del Toro’s status as Nerd Hero of the Highest Order, on a level with Saint Joss Whedon. And, as with World War Z (and The Avengers for that matter), I consider it a minor miracle it even got made in the first place.

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It would have been so easy to screw this up. I think it’s safe to say that there are perhaps a fair number of people out there (myself included) who would go to see a movie about giant robots duking it out with giant monsters regardless of the talent involved. It really is somewhat miraculous that A) this movie got the nine-figure budget required to do this sort of concept convincingly, and B) the movie got a director who actually knows what the hell he’s doing.

 uncle guillermo

Guillermo del Toro is a respected filmmaker with an Academy Award under his belt (Best Foreign Film for Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006) but he hasn’t really been known as a big-budget blockbuster sort of director. Sure, he’s directed action movies and comic-book adaptations (Blade 2 and Hellboy 2 are my favorites) which have been well-received and modestly financially successful, but until now he hasn’t made a megabudget tentpole blockbuster.

If you’ve seen any of del Toro’s other films, you know he’s got a thing for monsters.

Monsters like this…

 hellboy-2-monster

Or (nightmare fuel alert) this…

 nightmare fuel

Seriously, the scene in Pan’s Labyrinth where this guy shows up is one of the most terrifying scenes I have ever witnessed in any movie ever. Being on the set of a del Toro movie must be like walking into another dimension.

hellboy2 set

Just another day on the job.

But what is so great about del Toro is that he doesn’t let the monsters overwhelm the story. Pan’s Labyrinth is an incredibly, heartbreakingly human film despite the fantastical creatures, and Hellboy 2 in particular really makes you feel for the big red guy, because he’s such an outcast. A lot of people can identify with that.

What I’m trying to say with all this is that GDT was the perfect choice of director for Pacific Rim. He’s a talented filmmaker, he knows how to direct an action scene, he’s got a vivid imagination, and, come on, he clearly loves this stuff. His enthusiasm for the material is pretty infectious.

Well now that I’ve waxed eloquent about how great GDT is, let’s get on to the movie, shall we?

Yes, Pacific Rim is a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face, and vice-versa. But there is more to it than that.

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Okay, backstory time. I won’t say too much about the plot, but I think a bit of explanation is appropriate.

The giant monsters are called Kaiju, which, as the movie informs us, is a Japanese term for “giant beast.” The giant robots are called Jaegers, which, as the movie also informs us, is German for “hunter.” Some years ago, the Kaiju started appearing out of some sort of dimensional rift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The first one annihilated San Francisco (the poor Golden Gate Bridge is always the first thing to go in these kinds of disaster movies) and blazed a path of destruction before us humans managed to finally bring it down.

We killed the beast, but the cost was just too high. So, when more Kaiju started appearing, we had no choice but to create the Jaegers and deploy them in the ocean where the Kaiju appeared and attempt to kill them before they could reach any major cities. All of this is shown to us in the opening few minutes of the movie.

The way the Jaegers work is that there are two pilots in the cockpit of the robot, which is located in the robot’s head. The pilots are connected to each other via a kind of neural link in a process known as drifting, and they control the robot together. The stronger the bond between the pilots, the better the robot is able to fight. Two pilots are required because the Jaegers are so complex that they are too much for just one pilot to be able to handle.

This has some pretty significant drawbacks, of course. Piloting a Jaeger is still almost too much for even two pilots to handle, and the neural link between the two of them can be problematic. Also, they are so connected to the robot and to each other that they are surprisingly vulnerable. Basically, when the robot gets hurt, the pilots feel it too.

 hurt robot

So it’s not just the robot who is hurting here, the pilots are also in pretty bad shape.

I love this because it makes both the Jaegers and the pilots vulnerable. I mean come on, you’d think a couple of guys encased in several thousand tons of steel would be pretty safe, right? But no. They’re not.

When I saw the trailers for the film, for some reason I had assumed the pilots were controlling the robot from a distance, like they would hang back and control the robot from base or something. I really don’t know why I assumed this. It wasn’t until a few minutes into the film itself that I realized the pilots were actually in the robot, which makes so much more sense in just about every way.

It’s also brilliant because del Toro clearly realizes that it might be just a bit difficult for audiences to care about characters who are safely encased in a giant monster-killing deathbot, so he makes them vulnerable in a way that makes sense in the world the movie creates. If you care about the people in the robot, then you care about the robot, too. Well played, Guillermo.

I’m not going to say much about the actual plot, since the plot itself isn’t really all that special. Suffice to say that a former Jaeger pilot who quit after his brother (who was also his co-pilot) got Om Nommed by a Kaiju in the movie’s opening battle scene is called back into battle by his former boss, the wonderfully-named Stacker Pentecost, to help in the final battle blah blah. You can probably see where this is going, and the plot follows some familiar paths that aren’t all that surprising.

But hey, who cares when the movie is this much fun? The effects and action scenes in this film are pretty stunning, brought vividly to life with the help of that nine-figure budget. A large budget does not always equal a good movie (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay) but it would have been pretty damn hard to make a movie like Pacific Rim convincing with anything less than $200 million.

The movie’s battles are similar in special-effects powered destructiveness to those in Man of Steel, only on a much bigger scale because the combatants themselves are, you know, much, much bigger.

 Pacific-rim pwnage

Like, getting-chucked-through-a-building-demolishes-the-entire-building bigger.

The robot/monster smackdowns in this film are truly epic, and no words I can use to describe them will really do them justice. They deserve to be seen for themselves, in all of their fantastically-realized glory.

Another thing I love about this movie is how well thought-out it is. I’m sure if you really wanted to you could poke holes in the plot, but I still think that this is one of the most fully-realized sci-fi films in some time. The world it portrays is very convincing, and del Toro and his co-screenwriter Travis Beacham really did a stellar job exploring different aspects of the giant robot/monster world that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of.

For example, there’s a slum in Hong Kong called the Bone Slums, which is built around the skeletal remains of a fallen Kaiju. There’s also del Toro regular Ron Perlman (he played Hellboy in both Hellboy movies and has been in several of del Toro’s other films) as a dealer in black-market Kaiju body parts named Hannibal Chau. It seems that Kaiju bone powder is good for the, ahem, male potency, and even Kaiju crap makes damn good fertilizer. It’s details like these that make the film’s world seem really genuine and easy to get lost in, despite the film’s far-fetched premise.

There’s also Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost (how’s that for a winning combination of actor and character names?), the Commander of the Jaeger program. Elba is a darn good actor, and he effectively conveys the world-weariness that comes with all those years of punching giant monsters right in their ugly faces.

He’s also suave as hell.

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Cuts a pretty great figure, doesn’t he? This film has me firmly convinced that Elba is one of the smoothest, most badass mofos on the planet. He was also easily the best part of Prometheus last year. Just sayin’. (Also, check out a little movie called The Losers for another fun Elba performance.)

Pacific Rim won’t be for everyone. It’s very BIG and very LOUD, with lots of monster-screeching and metal-tearing. It almost borders on sensory overload at times. Not everyone out there will find this sort of thing appealing. That’s fine. I get it. Not everyone really wants to watch robots punch monsters in the face. Which, again, is totally fine.

HOWEVER, if you do think robot/monster beatdowns sound like a good time at the movies, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. You will not be disappointed. It’s extremely well-made by a director who clearly loves the material, it’s got a surprising amount of depth, and it is simply a blast to watch.

 awesome-imax-poster-for-guillermo-del-toro-s-pacific-rim

I mean seriously, people. Adam Sandler doesn’t need any more freaking money. Support Guillermo instead. That might become my new slogan.

SUPPORT GUILLERMO 2013!!!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

 pacific rim monster

Seriously. He’ll eat you if you don’t see his movie.

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