Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pacific Rim: Front and Centre

Would you buy kaiju body parts from this man?
After the disappointment of Man of Steel, I was glad that I really enjoyed Pacific Rim. Often there's no substitute for a simple story told really well and that's what Pacific Rim delivers. What could be simpler than, 'giant monsters are destroying Earth, so we build giant robots to defeat them?' Actually the first few minutes of PR very effectively and economically set the scene and delivered the backstory in an enjoyable way that reminded me of the gold standard for info dumps - Joss Whedon's Serenity.

A lot of commentators are shaking their heads over why the director of Pan's Labyrinth chose to do what to the uninitiated looked like a Transformers rip off. Those guys don't realise del Toro also made the Hellboy movies and that Pacific Rim is giant robot head and shoulders above Transformers in evoking the Japanese giant monster 'kaiju' idiom as expressed through manga and anime. While PR delivers great action and a well-paced storyline, I also enjoyed those little nods to PR's anime/ manga roots like Idris Elba's suits, haircut and nervous grunting; Burn Gorman's apoplectic/ eccentric English scientist whose mugging recalled some of those strange anime expressions you see in older cartoons; and the whole Miss Mori flashback scene with the small girl holding her shoe while kaiju and mecha destroyed the city around her. It was all so magical.

The other thing that made Pacific Rim stand out was the photography and staging of the kaiju/ mecha fight scenes. Too often - and I'm looking at you Man of Steel - it's hard to follow the flow of the battles because of extreme close-ups and poor shot composition. Del Toro displayed his compositional eye to great effect with the fights and showed a natural progression with fight elements growing in complexity from battle to battle as the stakes rose higher and higher.

And who couldn't love a movie with Ron Perlman as a golden shod black marketeer? If you haven't seen Pacific Rim yet, get out to a cinema as quickly as you can. It's exactly what monster movies should be like.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Man of Steel: In a World of His Own

You'll believe a man can fly!
If there had never been a superhero movie made before in the history of cinema, then Man of Steel would have been the kind of movie they made. The film is filled with such static moments that 'allow us space' to ponder the true import of having a super man among us, that it reminded me of the tag line from the very first Superman movie, 'You'll believe a man can fly!'

But this is 2013, and not only do I believe a man can fly, I know it. I've seen Iron Man and Thor do it, and even Spidey and Hulk manage a pretty good approximation. It feels like DC are trying to reinvent the superhero movie. But that bus left long ago and Man of Steel, with its soft focus arthouse shots - that just seem out of place in this kind of film - doesn't add anything new to the superhero lexicon and doesn't stand up well against the worldly, sassy movies that are streaming out of the Marvel stable as Phase Two kicks off. By comparison, MoS has very little in the way of humour and the dialogue, particularly between Clark, Lois and Ma Kent, is dull and prosaic.

While I appreciated the whole Kryptonian genetic codex subplot, and I really liked Russel Crowe's Jor-El contribution, the 'super-smackdown' fights between Supes and a range of Phantom Zone Kryptonian baddies just felt like a rehash of the building crunching that went on between Neo and Agent Smith in the last Matrix movie a whole 10 years ago. And after breaking more than enough buildings in this first of the Superman reboot movies, one wonders what DC has left for the next outing, because if it's more of the same, or a rehash of the old Lex Luthor/ Kryptonite deal we've seen in two previous Superman movies then give me Iron Man 4, 5 and 6 anytime.