…because honestly, not that much thought is required. This movie turned out to be exactly as awesome as it looked, no more and no less. No surprises, but no disappointments. It did exactly what it set out to do, and didn’t try to be more than it was. I can respect that. I like the 2009 version of My Bloody Valentine for the same reason.
Two-sentence review: Three out of five stars. Spend the fifteen bucks, because you’ll want to see this on the big screen.
Want more? Below the fold.
Backstory to the movie: sometime right around now (Barack Obama is still president) a dimensional rift known as The Breach has opened in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We learn this when a giant monster comes out of it and attacks San Francisco. Conventional weapons eventually bring it down, but only after enormous damage and loss of life. The world grieves and returns to normal…until another one comes out.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, if there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s turning our predators into our victims. After the first few giant monster attacks (the monsters are referred to by the Japanese word kaiju, which most readers of this review will know simply means “strange creature”, but which the movie defines – incorrectly – as “giant monster”), the governments of the world build giant warbots called Jaegers (which is German for “hunter”, but that doesn’t matter much). Jaegers are controlled by hooking the pilots into some sort of psychotronic setup that allows them to control the Jaeger with the movements of their bodies, as if it was a giant suit of armor instead of a vehicle. And yes, it does have to be “pilots” and “them”, plural, because the psychic strain is too much for one person to handle. Thus, an important qualification for being a Jaeger pilot is psychic compatibility – relatives, couples and close friends tend to work best.
Don’t ask me how they develop this technology by the time this movie is set, which is next Tuesday.
For a time, the Jaegers defeat the kaiju easily – kaiju become a joke, and Jaeger pilots become rock stars.
Unfortunately, Our Protagonist (one Raleigh Becket) is at Ground Zero when that changes. The biggest kaiju on record (a “Category 3”) (I like that touch, by the way, treating kaiju attacks like natural disasters) smashes his Jaeger to flinders and kills his co-pilot (his brother) before he manages to kill it and get his Jaeger to shore on his own – an almost unheard-of feat.
Five years later, the kaiju have adapted too well to fighting Jaegers, and the governments of the world have decided to stop funding the program, putting their faith in a giant Coast Wall. But since all of the kaiju coming out of the Breach are now “Category Fours”, you can imagine how well that works out.
Meanwhile, Our Protagonist is working as a migrant construction worker, helping to build that wall. It turns out that being in psychic contact with your brother when he’s torn apart by a giant monster will mess you up a bit. Who knew?
Anyway, Our Protagonist is approached by his old commanding officer, one Stacker Pentecost (yes, really. Check IMDB if you don’t believe me). Raleigh refuses at first, but soon agrees.
Once at the single remaining Jaeger base, Raleigh meets Stacker’s assistant/foster daughter Mako Mori.
Our Protagonist’s story is pretty by-the-numbers from that point on:
1) Obnoxious asshole questions Our Hero’s abilities and is proven wrong. I must say, I like the scene where they come to blows. In so many movies like this, the Obnoxious Asshole wins the physical altercation because while the Hero might be an experienced brawler, he needs to learn “control” or “precision”. Nope. Not this time. Our Hero is an experienced warrior, and he has precision and control.
2) The co-pilots offered to Our Hero prove to be insufficient, and Our Heroine (Ms. Mori, of course), proves to be right. The Authority Figure tries to refuse, but the fit is so obviously correct and necessary that he has to relent.
3) A serious setback (the psychic connection gives Mako flashbacks of her family being killed by a kaiju, almost causing her to plasma-blast the control booth) grounds Our Heroes, but an emergency (two kaiju attack Hong Kong and defeat the defending Jaegers) forces them into the fight, where they prove themselves.
4) The Stern But Reasonable Authority Figure continually chews out the insubordinate hero, but never actually punishes him. (Justified in this case because they’re not technically in the Army anymore, and Raleigh is irreplaceable).
Note that I’m not actually complaining about this. I went to this movie to see giant robots fight giant monsters, and by God that’s what I got. It is glorious. Though I have to ask: Ms. Mori, why the fuck didn’t you deploy the swords sooner? They’re much more effective than punching the giant monster in the head over and over! That’s why we invented swords in the first place!
Still, in some ways, it’s the secondary characters who have the more interesting – certainly the more original – story. I appreciate that. I like that the ground crew is clearly necessary and, in their way, just as brave as the Jaeger pilots. During the aforementioned near-accident with the Ms. Mori’s first run in the Jaeger, the ranking officers of the ground crew stay behind after their subordinates have been evacuated, working to take the weapon systems off-line…weapon systems which are pointing right at them.
Of particular interest are The Scientists. In movies of this sort, scientists come in two flavors: useless eggheads who annoy the Heroes while interfering with what really needs to be done, or The Real Heroes, who end up solving the problem themselves. These are both. Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, anal retentive and generally nonfunctional human being, is the mathematician who predicts when the kaiju will be emerging from the Breach, and how many will be coming. Dr. Charlie Day is the kaiju-groupie biologist who has the idea to mindlink with a kaiju brain, which gives them a key piece of information: the kaiju are merely bio-engineered weapons of mass destruction, sent by their masters beyond the Breach to cleanse the Earth of vermin (us) so they can colonize. Note that it requires enormous courage for him to do this: it inflicts the same damage as trying to pilot a Jaeger alone, and has the unfortunate side-effect of making him a specific target of the kaiju (since it turns out they have a hivemind, they know what he knows). When the two of them, working together like Jaeger pilots, perform a second mindlink, they learn another key piece of information: the existing plan to close the Breach will not work. So Our Heroes come up with a plan that does.
In other words, the annoying eggheads make the saving of the world possible. Nice mix, Guillermo.
I have only two problems, and they’re small:
1) Maybe it’s because they’re all so completely immense that it’s easy to lose sense of scale, but it seems that the size of the kaiju varies at random, regardless of “Category”. The first kaiju to attack San Francisco looks bigger than the Category 4 that breached the Coast Wall in Australia, and the Category 5 at the end doesn’t look significantly bigger than the Category Fours that accompany it.
2) It’s good that Del Toro gives us badass female characters in the form of the Mako Mori and one of the Russian pilots, but he doesn’t go all in on it. The Russian pilot is little more than a background character, and Ms. Mori isn’t as badass as she could be. When Raleigh and The Asshole get in a fight over her honor, she stands meekly by and doesn’t contribute one way or another. When Raleigh looks like he may be dead, she cradles him in her arms and pleads “don’t leave me”, rather than, say, peeling his armor off and starting CPR. That’s what I would have liked to see.
On the plus side, at least they don’t force the love story. There’s attraction, and there’s companionship, but for now there’s giant monsters to fight.
Like I said, small problems. Overall, as awesome as it promised. Let’s get some butts in the seats so we can have more giant monster vs. giant robot movies in our future.