Saturday 3 January 2015

Films: Pacific Rim (2013), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

'Tis the season for undemanding entertainment, so I saw a couple of films that I hoped I could relax and enjoy without having to think about.

Pacific Rim had received some negative comments so I watched this one with low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised. There is nothing original in the plot, concerning mankind's battle with huge monsters – Kaijus – emerging from a portal in the Pacific ocean floor which connects to another world. Conventional weaponry proving ineffective, Jaegers – enormous humanoid robots, controlled by a pair of pilots stationed in their heads – seem to be the answer, until the Kaijus evolve to become bigger and more powerful. The hero is pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who pairs up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) in a final attempt to end the Kaiju menace. Idris Elba and Ron Perlman also feature.

While we may have seen this kind of thing many times before, Pacific Rim (written and directed by Guillermo del Toro) is a particularly competent example. It doesn't march Battle: Los Angeles for gritty realism, but is leagues ahead of the risible Battleship (both reviewed on this blog). The script is well structured, providing a good blend of tension, action, humour and other emotions, the acting is fine, while the Kaijus and the Jaegers are impressive creations and their battles are spectacular. 

It is of course necessary to work a little harder than usual to suspend disbelief, not because of the Kaijus (as SFF fans, we expect this sort of thing) but because of the Jaegers. Is the best way of dealing with enormous monsters really to beat them to death with giant fists or shove a huge sword through them? There are plenty of weapons in today's arsenals which would deal with them very easily. It was a bit silly seeing the latest jet fighters attacking with their little cannon, when they have laser-guided bombs and missiles which would handily convert the monsters into pet food from a safe distance. If that's not enough, then station a warship over the portal and revive the Cold War Subroc rockets, which carried a small nuclear depth charge to deal with Soviet missile subs. One of those fired at the portal whenever a Kaiju was detected coming through, and job done. It wouldn't be so much fun, though!

In contrast, Guardians of the Galaxy attracted good reviews when it came out earlier this year. I expected yet another superhero movie but in fact it's more in the mould of Star Wars. After a surprisingly serious and rather grim opening scene the action leaves the Earth, never to return, and the mood lightens. The hero is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) the only Earth human in the plot, a young man who has been brought up on a spaceship which is home to the Ravagers, a group of outlaws.

The adult Quill is first encountered when recovering an enigmatic artifact from an abandoned planet, one which attracts a great deal of unwelcome interest from some of the most dangerous beings in the galaxy. He spends much of the film being pursued, repeatedly losing and recovering the artifact, before its true nature is revealed. Along the way he collects an assortment of allies, including a green-skinned woman modified as a combat specialist (Zoe Saldana), a powerful warrior on a revenge mission (Dave Bautista), an intelligent, genetically-engineered raccoon, and a mobile tree (presumably channeling an Ent, but less chatty).

This odd assortment of characters travelling on a mission is faintly reminiscent of Farscape, but that was aimed at a more adult audience than GotG which has the style of the comic-book superhero strip it is based on, at the juvenile end of the spectrum. The characters are one-dimensional  caricatures and the plot is simplistic. What saves it for adults is the humour running through it – in fact, it is best enjoyed as a spoof; the kiddies can be wowed by the action and spectacular CGI while their parents have a good laugh.

As I had hoped, both films were enjoyable and did indeed provide very undemanding entertainment.

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