Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

17 July 2013

Monsters. And Robots. And That's All You Need to Know

Guillermo del Toro's new film Monsters vs. Robots is really excellent. Okay, so its real title is Pacific Rim, which – as I am sure everyone you know has already remarked at least once – sounds like some kind of (gay) (Asian) pornographic video, and has almost nothing to do with Monsters vs. Robots, which is what this movie's real title ought to have been.

But back to the movie itself. There are these giant fucking monsters called kaiju and they are coming up out of the ocean through a portal from another world or dimension or somesuch. And the monsters are really, really cool looking. I mean, the design on these things is absolutely incredible. They are terrifying but sort of beautiful – vaguely dinosaur-esque but also have a kind of alien sludge/slime thing happening. And they also have this radioactive blue goo that coats their mouths and innards and spills out of them like monster blood when the kaiju are slain. And the monsters evolve, so after some are killed, new monsters keep showing up, and they have uniquely different and enhanced abilities and body types. It's all very exciting.

The same goes for the robots (a/k/a jaegers), if you can believe it. By the time of the film, the robot/monster war is in its seventh year or something like that, and so the technologies, though they are really cool and obviously better than anything we have in 2013, are actually sort of dated. The paint is chipped. The operators are practiced and even a little bored. No one thinks these robots are cool. The jaegers aren't slick like Iron Man; the people who run them treat them like a day-job. In other words, this art direction is absolutely excellent: it is detailed and studied, and every single room looks suitably tired, with the slight dishevelment and carelessness of bureaucratic banality.

Okay, so the side plots in Monsters vs. Robots are not very interesting – your generic heterosexual love plot, your generic father/son narrative, your generic father/daughter narrative – and the acting is not really very good (Robert Kazinsky as the hero's bitter rival is particularly painful, and Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Hunnam are not much better). But Clifton Collins, Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are always welcome sights, and their performances are great.

I want to say, too, that Del Toro has managed to make a film with giant robots that (unlike Transformers 1-3 or Real Steel or Iron Man 2) does more than show these robots punching one another. Del Toro's robots fire weird plasma blasts and wield giant fiery swords and do all kinds of other cool stuff. Because if ever in the future, we as a people decide to invest in giant robots, I hope we give them more firepower than the simple use of their enormous metal fists.

But look. It's all about these monsters and these robots. That's really all that is important about the movie. I found the plotting tight and fast paced, the narrative just unpredictable enough to keep me totally engaged, and the finale just plausible enough to keep me from scoffing. I think Pacific Rim is worth seeing for its awesome sound effects, its absolutely fabulous production design, and its riveting action sequences.