Through Alien Eyes

Scarlet Johansson is more than human, but less then she appears.

Scarlet Johansson is more than human, but only under the skin…

The difference between a film that makes me frustrated and a film that makes me think is often simply whether it feels by the end as if something has been left out, or if that thing feels like was in it the whole time and you just need to go back and examine it more carefully (Donnie Darko belongs to the latter, The Fountain is in the former). Under The Skin is a film that would regularly be frustrating owing to how many of the events that occur are not explained by the end, but the moment a pinhole of blinding light on the screen resolves into an unnerving eyeball the film announces itself as less of one person’s story, and more of one person’s experience. Where Under The Skin differs is that it doesn’t just deal in symbolism and allegory, but comes through meaning naturally as we are made to identify with another who shares our form, but not our humanity, at least at first.

Though Isserly appears in control, when she veers off task she finds herself in a literal dark forest.

Scarlet Johansson walks among us. But what walks among the walls of her thoughts…

Based on a novel by Michel Faber, Under The Skin is not so much the story of, but the experience of a unearthly woman (Scarlet Johansson) as she drives around the Scottish countryside, picking up strangers and engaging them in conversations that often end in offers to come back to her place. What happens back in her place is not what you you’d expect, but it creates a haunting and foreboding picture of her mission that permeates the rest of the film with a tangible sense of the otherworldly rather then relying on some convoluted backstory to anchor us to the mission.

How long can we look at the face we wear before we begin to believe it is truly ours?

How long can we look at the face we wear before we begin to believe it is truly ours?

She is the ultimate outsider, a being who looks human with her red lipstick and fur coat, but views the society she passes through with a strange uncomprehending eye. This woman (Known as “Isserly” in the novel) is a watcher whose purpose remains enigmatic, yet what is clear is that being among “us” is causing a barely imperceptible change in her demeanor. Though she’s introduced practicing her enunciation, she appears adept at interacting with her targets, as well as having knowledge of many of the human customs, which makes her status as an outsider less about how she acts and more about how she DOESN’T act.

The most most obvious symbol of her growing consciousness is the warm color of the shirt she wears later on.

The most most obvious symbol of her growing consciousness is the warm color of the shirt she wears later on.

What makes her performance unique is how good Scarlet Johansson is at portraying emotion in a way that feels so alien, and how she gradually expresses a growing bewilderment with this. Her character is subtle, and so she makes each glance around and each step she takes into one of importance, all while showing discomfort and discovery as she immerses herself in a world she feels like a tourist in. As she observes human behavior, some of it appears to be irrational, but as the audience we understand the emotions implicitly, and yet Isserly’s inability to grasp it both gives us an idea of what perhaps makes us human, and subtly gives us an idea of why this very thing is unexplainable even to ourselves. Is human a thing we do? Or something we feel? Isserly can do many of the same things that humans do, but she it’s clear that she does not feel human. So what is she, “under the skin” so to speak?

Like her actress, Isserly begins by taking on the role of another

Like her actress, Isserly begins by taking on the role of another

This sense of looking at ourselves from an outsider perspective is helped by a series of eerie compositions by Mica Levi that saturate the film’s atmosphere with a truly unnerving sense of the the uncanny. A frenzy of frantic strings accompanies the titles like Vertigo fed through a deep space subwoofer, and a seductive melody involving a violin plays out whenever Isserly enters into her strange black canvas that men walk into like the deep end of a pool and do not emerge from. All of it contributes to the sense that she is a creature wholly unlike any on this earth, and by allowing us into her view of the world we form an unlikely connection with a being that we would regularly have no way of empathizing with.

Isserly's men do not live long, but before they die they witness something unearthly...

Isserly’s men do not live long, but before they die they witness something unearthly, and horrifying…

The incidents that occur during the film range from mundane to meaningful, but none of them feel artificial in the same way most symbolism tends to come across. The theme they share is an immersion into a situation where human emotion is at its peak, and how the more she finds herself in these circumstances the more unsure she becomes about who she is. One particular scene has her stalking a man until he enters a club, only (in a bit of silent comedy) to be swept in by a gaggle of woman who seem to instantly accept her as one of their own, adding to her confusion about whether she is supposed to identify as human or not.

Isserly is waylaid by the most dangerous of all predators, the club girl.

Isserly is waylaid by the most dangerous of all predators, the club girl.

At one point the paradox becomes too much for her and she retreats to the Scottish countryside where she encounters a new feeling, attraction. Given how her previous actions have been so focused on luring men via her form and seductive manner, it’s highly significant that her attempts to understand the feeling are the inverse of how she began the film. Though Scarlet Johansson is definitely beguiling, her charms are subdued so that she’s less like a femme fatale and more of a lure on the end of a hook, but what happens when that lure begins to have feelings?

Scarlet Johansson in deep hues of feeling.

Scarlet Johansson in deep hues of feeling.

In the end, Under The Skin is a strange and unique film that defies genres and expectations, and in doing so asks some truly personal questions through the experience of its central actress. It does not answer these, but it also does not pretend that they have definitive answers either, and this willingness to honestly explore them without ending with a Hollywood style epiphany lends the film a more meditative quality that stays with the viewer even after Isserly has come to the end of her journey. If our humanity is more then just the skin we wear, then could some other creature that looked nothing like us, but felt like us, identify as human? And how can we know for sure, when that skin we see in the mirror is so connected to our idea of who we are, and the fear of “The Other” looms large? An existential crisis is one thing, but a crisis of biological and alien existence? Now that’s something that will get under your skin.

His Ghost, Her Machine.

Johnny Depp's TED talk leaves a little to be desired...

Johnny Depp’s TED talk leaves a little to be desired…

Where exactly do we draw the line between high and low culture? This question is one that has become increasingly relevant in the Internet age thanks to the collective group-think of things like twitter or facebook becoming legitimate measuring devices for the movie and television industry. This need to rank the quality of their products has always felt natural, a kind of reflection on art and our desire to achieve a lasting impact with it, but a cynical sort of detachment has gradually developed that creates a superficial barrier in our minds between what is thought of as “entertaining,” versus what will stick with us as the pinnacle of visual art.

But we also recognize that there is an overlap between “High Art, Low Art,” and this is the territory of films that straddle the line between entertaining us and genuinely making us pause and consider their ideas in a wider scheme of things. This was the difference between Total Recall the Schwarzenegger version, and glitzy Minority Report cum Blade Runner derivative that slunk away into obscurity the second it was kicked out of theaters.

All the details are there, but it's still a work in progress.

All the details are there, but it’s still a work in progress.

If there was a line charting this, then Transcendence would fall somewhere between “The Purge” and “Dredd,” more idea driven then the former, but not utilizing those ideas as much as the latter. It would exist in a place where the narrative really belongs to the action thrillers where helicopters explode and people talk in matters of urgency rather then actual speech, but the characters and the soul of the movie is more akin to the introspective character driven drama that populates most indie science fiction flicks.

Unfortunately, Post-singular Will has all the warmth of a

Unfortunately, Post-singular Will has all the warmth of a sponge.

For all the “science gone amok” trappings it appears to have, Transcendence is a surprisingly subdued film that begins with a water droplet, reminding us of the natural world and the beauty we often lose when we turn to technology and it’s advances as ends in themselves. Our central character (Though not our protagonist per se) Will Caster, seems to share this view, opting to create a “Dead Zone” for him and his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) so that they can get away from the electronic signals that otherwise absorb both of their lives as scientists.

Morgan Freeman has become the go-to actor for playing smart characters who have to impress upon others the gravity of the situation.

Morgan Freeman has become the go-to actor for playing smart characters who have to impress upon others the gravity of the situation.

A highly ranked cast of actors compliments their lives, starting with Will’s slightly less technologically optimistic friends Max (Paul Bettany), and an aged professor named Joeseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) Both are there for them after an anti-technology group led by a mysterious woman named Bree Evans (Kate Mara) conducts a coordinated attack on several high ranking professors, seemingly of belief that the creation of a self-aware artificial intelligence is not only hubris, but dangerous due to its inability to grasp human concepts of ethics or morality. The attack fatally injures Will, and he’s forced to face the reality that his dream of humanity achieving Transcendence is fated to die with his degenerating body.

But like Mary Shelly envisioned death giving birth to a new form of life, Evelyn realizes that she can at least try to give her dying husband a new one by transforming his biological information into digital information, and in doing so create the fabled “Ghost in the machine.” But can a machine translate a soul? How much of her husband will be translated? And if a human is able to transcend the body and become pure intelligence, what purposes will they chose to serve?

Next-generation Ipad app?

Next-generation Ipad app?

These speculative questions are the subject of both real and science fictional research, and perhaps predictably Transcendence engages with them on a level that most likely won’t satisfy either crowd. Whether Will is an accurate portrayal of what the first transcendent being might be and do isn’t really as important as how the rest of the characters react to his existence. The interesting thing about the film is how it gives both sides of the argument pretty decent reasons to believe he’s a destined for destruction, or the trans-revolution, but it’s actually hard to tell which way Will itself is leaning.

Does this look like the face of a someone who is the next step in human evolution?

Does this look like the face of a someone who is the next step in human evolution?

Because Evelyn sticks by his side, believing her husband has truly achieved transcendence, she views him as an unequivocal good, developing technology with life improving applications and is unable to understand the suspicion that Max and the anti-tech groups harbor. It’s a prime example of how splitting a narrative can create ambiguity between its character rather then painting one as right and the other as misguided. Will claims that “They won’t understand me,” and it’s true, because all those who are not privy to Evelyn’s firsthand knowledge see an alien intelligence, instead of a human who has taken on a non-human form.

Will's transformation into SIRI is shocking to his close friends.

Will’s transformation into SIRI is shocking to his close friends.

This gets at perhaps the greatest tension that pervades the film, that even though scientists talk of The Singularity and life without bodies as something we should embrace as the natural progress of advancing technology, when faced with the actual prospect of a consciousness that is more than human, we can’t help but fear it because of what it represents to us. All natural life is thought to comes about not from human intervention, but through whatever force existed before us that led to our creation, yet here is a contradiction; a consciousness, thought to exist only in biology, but manifesting in a man-made device that is still fundamentally separate from the human body. How exactly are we supposed to react when man becomes his own God?

Evelyn Caster is every bit as brilliant as Will, but suffers because only she can recognize his "Ghost in the machine"

Evelyn Caster is every bit as brilliant as Will, but suffers because only she can recognize his “Ghost in the machine”

In Transcendence’s case, we see this dilemma in Evelyn Caster, and to the film’s credit it makes it more then just a love story with her playing the wife blinded by her emotions to the truth. Evelyn sticks with Will, but slowly comes to realize that a face on a screen, even one that can recall where they first met for a date, is not a true relationship. Unlike Scarlet Johansson in last year’s “Her,” Will needs to be more then just a companion to talk to, but a human being Evelyn can feel a bond with. In one scene he attempts to comfort her after scanning her vitals and deducing that she’s upset, only for her to react in horror when she realizes that the what had until now been a sacred place of privacy is now open to a being that is motivated by logic, rather then feeling.

Cillian Murphy could be playing a Digital Freddie Kruger, but instead he's stuck as some forgettable FBI guy.

Cillian Murphy could be playing a Digital Freddie Kruger, but instead he’s stuck as some forgettable FBI guy a la’ Michael C. Hall in “Paycheck”.

Give the military some credit too, because for once they don’t react to something strange and potentially dangerous by nuking the damn thing. Led by Agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy, essentially just filling the place of the standard FBI guy, albeit with a impeccable American accent) they chose to listen to Joseph and Max and bring in breech-loading cannons that lack electronic components. Though it’s hard to see the military as a credible threat to Will’s advancing techno-omniscient powers, it makes for a surprisingly old-fashioned showdown.

Will and Max (Paul Bettany) may appear to hold opposite beliefs, but both hope for a brighter future.

Will and Max (Paul Bettany) may appear to hold opposite beliefs, but both hope for a brighter future.

As Will, and later the transcendent intelligence that takes his form, Johnny Depp plays him as low key and without the scene-stealing you might expect for a scientist whose ambition is essentially to become a God. Scruffy, but deeply driven and sharing a tenderness with his wife that underlines their relationship rather then stressing it, JD’s primary strength in the role is playing Will in several stages. At first we have only scrambled voice catches which sound eerie and inhuman, but he eventually assembles a face like a motion-captured video game character, until he finally achieves the unnerving image of a person who looks like they’ve learned how to smile from observing people in pictures, but has no real understanding of what it represents.

The digital resurrection of what may or may not be Will is one of the film's high points.

The digital resurrection of what may or may not be Will is one of the film’s high points.

As his wife and witness to his transformation, Rebecca Hall’s role is the archetypal “what if?” scenario, and she’s good enough in displaying her mounting unease that you can forgive the character for being a little one-dimensional. Hall may look like Amy Acker, but her gaze is more intent and less wide-eyed even in the face of the miraculous discovery she and Max make. Her belief that Will has survived, that the person he was is the same consciousness that now exists beyond physical reality, is either touching or grating depending on whether you believe her performance or just the idea of the thing. Evelyn plays the believer till the very end, and that’s great for Will, but maybe not so great for her.

Mara as Hacker chic.

Mara as Hacker chic.

The last actress of note is the Kate Mara and there’s something clever in how the film sets up Evelyn’s opposite as another woman, though one with less to lose then her. Though the Bechdel test isn’t passed, Bree Evans is a decent female character who isn’t sexualized or made a love interest, and is quite capable of leading her anti-technology group RIFT to locate Evelyn and Will. Having been witness to a previous attempt by her former professor to transcend consciousness with a non-human subject, she convinces Max that the other possibility of uploading a person’s soul is more akin to the legendary short story “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.”

Bree knows the easiest place to pick up AI researchers is in a bar, after a couple Long Island Iced Teas.

Bree knows the easiest place to pick up AI researchers is in a bar, after a couple Long Island Iced Teas…

Sadly, her place in the movie is largely as a distant threat, and we’re prevented from getting any greater insight into her personality outside of Kate Mara’s white-blonde hair and black hat hacker jeans. It just goes to show that you’ve got to do more then just write diverse parts for women, you need to transcend the past and write parts and women who do more then just what the story tells them to do.

What is the cost of technology, and what is the cost of technology on the human soul?

What is the cost of technology, and what is the cost of technology on the human soul?

But at the end of the day, all you can really do is try to take your idea as far as your ambition will let you, and for Transcendence this means a future that may not be philosophically challenging or scientifically revelatory, but affirming that when we do achieve something similar, we may have a better idea of how to react to the uncertainty and fear that surrounds it. Time will tell if the theory of The Singularity and Transcendence will resemble anything like it was depicted here, but as a film that’s more idea then effects driven, and more skeptical of man’s desire to push the boundaries of what makes us human then remind us that we are human only to the extent that our ideas are humane. Everything else is just data.

A Winter Princesses’ Tale

Elsa and Anna share a warm bond, despite the former's chilly powers.

Elsa and Anna share a warm bond, despite the former’s chilly powers.

Disney has long been maligned as merely making “kids movies,” characterized by their fairytale logic as well as presenting an unrealistic picture of the world meant to provide children with entertainment rather then making them think. This attitude is rather unfair when examined, since most of the themes of past Disney films are just as present in live action films, and it’s only the absence of talking snowman and spontaneous musical interludes that differentiate them. Disney works in allegory, and any lover of literature will readily defend this approach to material.

Frozen is one of the Disney films for the new era of children who have already seen these aforementioned tropes enough times for the nostalgia to wear thin, and who are looking for a message more insightful then just “true love can transform a beast into a man.” It is also the first Disney film to feature two female leads who are sisters, making it one of the more feminist films the company has produced.

Elsa is a nICE girl who discovers her powers are both a blessing, and a curse.

Elsa is a nICE girl who discovers her powers are both a blessing, and a curse.

It is a subtle film, so subtle in fact that the lack of grandiose set pieces and clear villain marks it as almost the polar opposite of previous works like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid. It is instead part of their new every oeuvre, just updated from the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Ice Queen” from which it takes inspiration from.

The setting is the slightly Norwegian looking kingdom of Arendelle, surrounded by snowy mountains but nondescript enough to pass for any fairytale setting. A snow dragon could just as easily fly into town and demand the hand of the princess as a wicked stepmother could plot to usurp the kind through a magical flute or some other mcguffin.

What happens in Frozen however is far simpler, the oldest daughter of the king and queen named Elsa (Idina Menzal), is gifted (or cursed) with the power of Glaciokinesis (Control over ice) which provides initial fun for her and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) in the form of conjuring snowmen, but turns tragic when she loses control and accidentally inflicts a near mortal wound on her sister.

Anna and Elsa meet the Duke (Alan Tudyk) of the suspiciously sinister sounding "Weasleton"

Anna and Elsa meet the Duke (Alan Tudyk) of the suspiciously sinister sounding “Weasleton”

Though her sister survives through intervention on their parent’s part, her memory is wiped and from then on Elsa isolates herself for fear of losing control and hurting her sister, while Anna cannot understand why she has suddenly drawn away from her. After the traditionally Disney deaths of the meddlesome parents (Seriously, these films sure like to break families up considering how much they contain messages about the importance of said family) the two sisters grow apart for ten years until Elsa’s christening as the Queen forces them both into the world.

While Anna is ecstatic at the thought of going into the outside world, as well as meeting her “one true love,” Elsa struggles with the fear of losing control of her icy powers. When the fait accompli event happens and Ana meets the neighboring kingdom’s prince Hans, she thinks it’s love at first sight, and they ask for her sister’s blessing. Unable to take the stress of repressing her emotions as well as her sister’s painful frustration with her, Elsa finally reveals her powers, scaring the citizens of the city, and retreating to a palace of her own icy making; inadvertently plunging Arendelle into an early winter.

    It's love at first sight for Anna and Hans, which in a Disney movie usual means an upbeat montage is soon to follow...

It’s love at first sight for Anna and Hans, which in a Disney movie usual means an upbeat montage is soon to follow…

From then on Ana makes it her goal to bring back her sister and thaw the kingdom, though she remains naïve about the exact way to accomplish this. She is joined by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a wry but good hearted ice merchant, as well as his reindeer Sven, and later, an oddball talking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) who harbors dreams of sun on his face and wants to “Do what snow does in the sun.” A paradoxical dream to be sure.

The conflict of Frozen is thus not about defeating a villain, saving the princess, or recovering some magical tableau, but about whether Anna will be able to reach her sister, and whether Elsa will find a way to control her powers and stop pushing her away. As an allegory for family relationships this is a powerfully realized one, particularly with the double language concerning a “frozen” heart and the way Elsa’s attitude appears so cold on the surface, while the audience senses her desire to be warm.

What's a Queen without her castle?

What’s a Queen without her castle?

The film is equally adapt at deconstructing fairytale conventions while remaining true to the light hearted tone of the movie, such as the idea of love at first sight, any problem being able to be overcome by working together, and the need for romance to be the primary motivator behind the female characters. Passing the Bechdel test is just one of the things the film does by the nature of it’s narrative alone, it also refrains from judging Ana for her belief in “love at first sight,” and goes to great lengths to show Elsa as not an evil snow queen, but a girl blessed with tremendous power who is struggling to understand it.

Whether Elsa's powers are a symbol for puberty, homosexuality, or mental illness, Frozen celebrates the ability to "Let it go" and be free to express ourselves without reserve.

Whether Elsa’s powers are a symbol for puberty, homosexuality, or mental illness, Frozen celebrates the ability to “Let it go” and be free to express ourselves without reserve.

Indeed, although it’s clear that Elsa’s powers are a danger to those around her, her most powerful character moment occurs after she has fled the castle and feels the warmth of freedom for the first time in her life. In a sequence that is just as important emotionally as it is visually, Elsa transforms herself from a repressed girl with hair pinned back and drab attire, to a fully fledged Snow Queen whose voice rises to a fever pitch as she sings “Let it go/let it go/can’t hold it back in anymore/turn away and slam the door” It is the first time we truly understand how much she has been hiding herself from the world. It is glorious and uplifting in a way that we haven’t seen Disney do in some time, and will certainly be up for an Oscar as this years best original song.

FROZEN

Kristoff AKA the Abominable Snowman isn’t taken with Anna as Hans was, but a journey together can change a lot.

Of the supporting players, Kristoff is likeable and kind without stretching into pushover territory, and early on serves as a kind of audience surrogate for the questions that Anna seems to be ignoring. One of his more amusing quirks comes when he stages conversations with his reindeer, almost certainly a parody of the traditionally “talking animal” schtick of past films. It’s both hilarious and meta, and actually works with his character being a bit of a mountain man, albeit one who has adjusted well enough so he’s not viewed as an outsider.

Olaf is ecstatic about telling his new friends about his passion for all things HOT.

Olaf is ecstatic about telling his new friends about his passion for all things HOT.

Meanwhile, Josh Gad as Olaf the snowman is a hidden gem of the film, as he provides just the right amount of enthusiasm to lift the characters up, instead of simply being cute and cracking jokes. Providing some of the best physical comedy, he nonetheless identifies with Anna’s desire to connect with her sister, as well as her feelings towards Hans. He’s a hopeless romantic made endearing by his lack of sense about basic natural laws concerning thermodynamics.

Visually the film is superb, with snow and ice used to wonderful effect, and Elsa’s prism-like ice castle a standout. From the opening shots of twirling snowflakes (A special program was created to make them all unique) and the introduction to the kingdom via ice harvesting, the film has the mark of classic Disney. While the songs from Robert Lopez (Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) may feel like icing on the cake rather then generation-defining melodies, they also nicely express the characters feelings.

Elsa-Frozen

In the typical Disney film, Elsa would turn evil with power and become the antagonist. Frozen subverts this, to both its success and detriment.

In truth, if Frozen has one weak point it is in its haste to deconstruct some of the fairy tale tropes from previous animated films it sometimes forgets that its central character dynamic is the most compelling aspect of the film. Though every plot point has meaning to the characters, by making Anna and Elsa’s conflict very much felt rather then experienced it avoids pitting the two girls directly against each other the way traditional conflicts take place. In doing so it avoids demonizing either for their actions, but also ends up robbing the films 3rd act of stakes and while we are happy at the genre-defying resolution, it feels—if not too easy—like it would mean even more if the audience had better experienced the conflict between the two sisters instead of just the internal one.

Pictured: Tangible conflict of character.

Pictured: Tangible conflict of character.

But that resolution really is in some ways more important, because it represents a more meaningful take on fairy tales without having to completely reinvent the genre. Disney has been a significant part in shaping the ideas of children concerning what makes a hero, what makes a villain, and what exactly constitutes “true love,” and while we enjoy these tales, we also recognize that they come from a different time and mind. It is only when a movie like Frozen makes the relationship between two sisters the driving force of the movie that we see how this aspect of relationships has gone unnoticed, and after witnessing the Anna and Elsas’ emotional bond, it’s hard not to wonder why we dismiss princesses when Frozen reminds how they are always more then just pink gowns and tiaras. There’s also a woman—or a little girl—under it all.

Two By Two, Hearts of Blue

Adele (Adele Exarchapolous) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) weave a warm love story.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchapolous) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) weave a warm love story.

Stanley Kubrick was said to be interested in directing a pornographic film during his latter film days, with the implication being that a man with vision like him could somehow elevate what was thought of as a dirty medium into something transcendent. An attempt to perhaps normalize sexuality in our pervasively puritanical society, but it also says something about what place sex has in a visual art like film. Sex is for the viewers, not for the characters.

This leads to a paradox; nothing is more natural or representative of human existence then sex, and yet within Hollywood it is both vilified as a corrupting force, and celebrated in excess that strips all meaning or human connection from it. In a way, sex in movies is not obscene in itself, but it’s the way the act is repeatedly referenced and then hid with quick cutaways or made to cater to the male sexual desire that make it taboo. When filmmakers frame this aspect of sex as “the forbidden act,” then viewers make a clear distinction in their minds about what they should and should not find normal about it.

No qualms

Adèle and Emma have no qualms about the openness they feel for one another.

Blue is the Warmest Color is unique in it’s approach to both love and sex, and though this uniqueness can seem merely the product of a culture gap (The film is from French director Abdellatif Kechiche) it is still a remarkable feat to put these images onto film in such a strikingly straightforward fashion. Pun intended. Blue is a coming of age story of sorts, but it is not anchored by the events that occur during that story, but to the feelings and emotional progression its central character undergoes. Loosely adapted from a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, it is the story of 15 year old Adèle, played with touching grace and desire by Adèle Exarchopolous, and her relationship, both emotional and sexual, with a blue haired artist named Emma.

Emma helps initiate Adele into the LGBTQ community.

Emma helps initiate Adèle into the LGBTQ community.

As the same named character, Adèle Exarchopolous conveys emotional uncertainty and compelling curiosity with subtle expressions that are far more evocative of youth then any amount of makeup (Neither actress was allowed to wear any) or needless dialogue would. At times she disguises her beauty by pulling her hair into a pineapple top that sends ribbons of brown hair cascading over her face, but this gesture feels more like an actual teenage girl still trying to discover who she is rather then a traditional Hollywood toning down of natural beauty. When she smiles she resembles a more coquettish Lena Dunham, and when she kisses Emma, her face lights up in a way that expresses unbridled passion that is identifiable to anyone who has experienced something they call love.

On the outside, Adele fits in, but she still finds herself missing something...Blue.

Adèle fits in at school, but privately feels she is missing something…Blue.

As her co-star and lover, Lea Seydoux perfectly embodies the more self-assured lesbian whose refusal to be anything other then what she feels gives her an indomitable spirit and sense of belonging in this world. Her hair the color of soft flower petals that have matured over many years, she is at once nothing alike Adèle, and yet her blue eyes reflect the same curiosity and love as Adèle’s. She introduces her to the overwhelming tide of sexual exuberance in a way that is stunning to watch, yet does not convey the possessive lust that would mark her as a philanderer. Emma is not a Don Juan; she is a teacher who takes pupils as much to teach them what she knows as to learn from them in turn.

The blue in Emma's hair is a mark of her youth and passion...

The blue in Emma’s hair is a mark of her youth and passion…

This bond is challenged in subtle ways, such as when Emma hosts a garden party for a group of high-class friends and Adèle finds herself alone and talking to people about her sexuality in such a frank way it unnerves her. Blue is refreshingly devoid of the standard punishing beats of the gay love story (A significant change from Julie Maroh’s novel), and apart from one scene of painful homophobia, the movie treats Adèle and Emma’s romance as no different from a heterosexual couple. Whether this, or the actresses not being gay in real life detracts from the message is up to the viewer, but it is notable how the story’s lack of these points allows the characters to define themselves by more then their sexuality, thus coming across as three-dimensional people instead of stereotypes.

All passion must eventually fade and be replaced by hard reality.

But all passion eventually fades through the songs of age and experience.

Another way Blue breaks the mold of standard love fare is its utilization of close ups to establish a feeling of intimacy with Adèle. Mirroring how the love scenes are shot, the camera is almost always front and center on Adèle, capturing each smile or flash of insecurity so that the audience knows exactly what she is feeling in each and every moment. In this way her experience and feelings are inescapable, which contributes to the feeling that her emotional beats are more important then the story ones.

The movie is intimate not because Adele and Emma make love, but because it lets us understand the true weight behind that love.

The movie is intimate not because Adèle and Emma make love, but because it lets us understand the true weight behind that love.

It is this inescapable quality that makes Blue is the Warmest Color feel so real and personal. As audience members we are used to seeing people fall in love, but rarely do we get a sense for how deep that love is beyond the way events in the story seek to test it, bending it backwards and forward as we “oh!” and “ah!” and hope that the person’s strength is enough to survive it and lead to a happily ever after. This is what will always be artificial about love stories, because they are composed of intimate feelings that simply cannot be truly felt by another, only evoked through inadequate words.

It is fitting therefore that a film that chooses to be so open in it’s depiction of the carnal act would likewise be so honest in it’s depiction of Adèle and Emma’s feeling for one another. Like the sex in the film, love is naked and honest without compromise, and so it cannot exist simply because we are told it does, but because we feel the connection as well as the devastation that comes from such a close bond with the characters. Anyone who has experienced true affection will know how it does not seek to please itself and itself only as is the case in pornography, and so even though the images of lovemaking are striking, by the end of the film it is the love between the two women that comes across as far more graphic and memorable.

Child of The Revolution

Katniss and Peeta return home, but find the Capital is always lurking over their shoulder…

Katniss and Peeta return home, but find the Capital is always lurking over their shoulder…

“Heroes are made, not born,” or so the saying goes, but what does it actually mean to be a hero, or a heroine for that matter? Is it defined by what you do, or is it merely what people think you’ve done? Or maybe even what you stand for? For the protagonists of Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), all three are equally dangerous in the eyes of their tyrannical capital of Panem, because the truth doesn’t matter, only the games do.

The games are, of course, the titular Hunger Games, whose participation is a death sentence disguised as a great honor, designed to quell the hope of an uprising in the 12 districts that make up this melding of dystopian/social allegory. Catching Fire picks up right after the two champions have returned home, alive, but scarred by their experience in the 74th Hunger Games and dealing with the aftermath of the Romeo and Juliet-esque masquerade they adopted in order to turn the citizens of the capital to their side. When news comes that a special “Quarter Quell” is being held that will recall winners from past tournaments, Katniss and Peeta are forced to face even deadlier games where the Capital has the perfect chance to get rid of both of them.

Even though they just escaped death, Katniss and Peeta’s victory lap is unexpectedly cut short.

Even though they just escaped death, Katniss and Peeta’s victory lap is unexpectedly cut short.

Whereas The Hunger Games primarily scrutinized celebrity worship as a kind of dark mirror to our own world, Catching Fire illustrates how Katniss and Peeta’s survival has given the people hope and is rapidly breeding a revolution that she’s terrified of being a part of. She is placed in a position of equally great influence and great vulnerability by events that have been no fault of her own, and during the course of the movie she struggles to keep the ones she loves safe while still practicing her own method of resistance.

Katniss doesn’t get to spend much time with childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and when she does his talk of resistance seems foolhardly and dangerous in her eyes.

Katniss doesn’t get to spend much time with childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and when she does his talk of resistance seems foolhardly and dangerous in her eyes.

As Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence displays the same vulnerability and determination that first caught the public eye in the similarly dystopic Winter’s Bone. As a heroine she is inspiring in her courage, resourcefulness, and resilience, and yet it is Lawrence’s ability to keep her emotions grounded so that she always feels like an ordinary girl first and a “hero” second. In another movie this could feel like a secret identity, but in Catching Fire the lines between Katniss “the girl on fire” and Katniss the girl determined to survive start to blur the more she see’s the futileness of pretending she is only the latter.

 

Like Katniss, Peeta has difficulty feeling at home among the Capital citizens, and it’s not just their tendency to dress like experimental fashion models.

Like Katniss, Peeta has difficulty feeling at home among the Capital citizens, and it’s not just their tendency to dress like experimental fashion models.

The film’s narrative sticks to Katniss for the majority of the running time, but does a good job of updating viewers on the various other enemies and allies she has begun to accumulate. Josh Hutchinson as her fellow tribute and unforgivably noble “nice guy” is great at helping her deal with the mounting burden she’s faced with, and yet he does not lose faith that they will find a way to survive the whirling dervish of traps designed for them in the new jungle of an arena they are dropped into.

"You are a strangely dislikable person."

“You are a strangely dislikable person.”

The rest of their team includes the always-welcome Woody Harrelson as the boozy, disgruntled, and frequent scene-stealer Haymitch Abernathy. In a more traditional dystopia he would be spotted behind the scenes, meeting with anonymous figures in bars to manage the growing stardom of his reluctant resistance symbol, probably with an ass-kicking ex-girlfriend backing him up when his penchant for alcohol and one-liners lands him in the midst of a decidedly R-rated dustup. As he exists in Catching Fire, Haymitch is merely a mentor—maybe even a father figure—who balances Katniss’ desire to be a kid with the sobering reminder that in a the world of The Hunger Games, kids are the last one’s excluded from the horrors of death.

Cinna watches from the gallery seats, knowing he can only provide Katniss with moral and aesthetic support.

Cinna watches from the gallery seats, knowing he can only provide Katniss with moral and aesthetic support.

Returning as Katniss’ resident soulful muse and stylist is Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, whose gold makeup may appear to mark him as just another one of the Capitals happily clueless one percenters, only for it to become clear that his exuberant getup is really a method of blending in while he hides his disgust and horror at a society that thinks nothing of partying while the lower districts team with death squads.

Where there was once a woman with bugglegum hair and a smile for miles, now there is yet another victim of the Capital’s inhuman practices.

Where there was once a woman with bubblegum hair and a smile for miles, now there is yet another victim of the Capital’s inhuman practices.

Elizabeth Banks lends an extra female presence as the bubbly-but-slightly-starting-to-curdle hostess Effie Trinket. Where she was previous all too excited to beckon Katniss and Peeta to their crowd-pleasing deaths, growing unease is written over every bit of eyeshadow. If Effie were in Nazi Germany, she would be the female officer who tallies the death toll after seeing the ragged faces of the men and women behind the fences, and finds that she can no longer keep her job and her humanity separate.

Caesar Flickerman’s unflappable persona isn’t that far removed from the more manic talk show hosts…

Caesar Flickerman’s unflappable persona isn’t that far removed from the more manic talk show hosts…

On the other side of the proverbial commentators box is TMZ host expy Caesar Flickermen (Stanley Tucci) whose laugh gets louder and creepier every interview, and whose mouth looks seconds away from unhinging like a snake and devouring his guest. He’s flanked by savy new Hunger Games director Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, basically reprising his villainous Mission Impossible 3 role) and Donald Sutherland dripping menace (and a little blood) as the cold and threatening president Coriolanus Snow.

Finnick is surprisingly vulnerable once the games begin and Katniss and him find themselves on equal footing.

Finnick is surprisingly vulnerable once the games begin and Katniss and him find themselves on equal footing.

Katniss and Peeta meet new Hunger Games players in the forms of the puckish Finnick Odair (Sam Caflin) who wields a trident with polished finesse and whose handsome frame belies a casual air of nonchalance. With cheekbones that could sink the Bismark, and a smile that could easily conceal traitorous fangs behind it, Caflin is the second show stealer as he keeps Finnick both sly and mysterious, all the while nursing a darkened soul that begs for future revelations about his past.

Mirroring Katniss’ one-woman survival story is former tribute Johanna Mason (Jena Malone, fire in her former hair now simmering in heart), an unrestrained and dark-eyed axe carrier who looks like Aubrey Plaza if she’d been stuck on the Island from Lord of the Flies. Lacking inhibitions about things such as clothes and personal space, she is a new sight for Katniss and keeps her own agenda secret while not disguising her hatred for the Capital.

Before civilization collapses.

Before civilization collapses.

After the kids start running around with a pig’s head on a stake…

After the kids start running around with a pig’s head on a stake…

But the question remains; is the story of Katniss Everdeen of the classic hero driven to rebel, or is it something more? As the architects of the revolution paint slogans and form an angry mob in front of the disbelieving watch of President Snow, it’s hard not to feel that though the story began with the games, it’s the children raised to go to the slaughter that are the true focus. When oppression reigns, resistance forms as a basic tenant of human behavior, and all it takes is Katniss making an indomitable enemy like the Capital bleed to turn that resistance into action.

Katniss Skywalker, or Luke Everdeen?

Katniss Skywalker, or Luke Everdeen?

Either way, both share a love of staring out into the distance and imagining what their future holds.

Either way, both share a love of staring out into the distance and imagining what their future holds.

Taken this way, Katniss’ transformation is not from a wet-behind-the-ears farm boy into a Jedi master, but an ordinary girl, endowed with human strength and frailties, who learns to see herself as more then simply a hero or a heroine of the people. She is not the originator of the revolution, but a conduit of a legacy that has existed since the dawn of time. It has flowed through countless individuals, and will continue to flow wherever there are people whose bodies are beaten down, but whose hearts stay strong.

Katniss readies the first shot that will ignite the war.

Katniss readies the first shot that may ignite a war.

Catching Fire’s title is enormously apt, as it brings to mind the way a fire spreads from a single flame into a towering inferno that can engulf the entire area, but is also apt for how Katniss’ determination gradually shifts from simply surviving the games, to changing the world that has created them. If The Hunger Games has an overarching theme, it’s how the right person at under the right circumstances can start something much bigger then themselves; but that person may not always be able to know the part they are to play until they let their arrow fly…


Prisoners Of A Genre

Detective Loki and Keller Dover are both prisoners of narratives that won't let them succeed.

Detective Loki and Keller Dover are both prisoners of narratives that won’t let them succeed.

Prisoners is the sort of movie I’d expect to find out it was based on a novel by some fairly prominent author, one which probably tells a well-worn story but has enough style and ideas in it to mark its independence from others in the genre. As a movie it does the first of these right, telling the story of two kidnapped girls and the struggle of a police officer and one of the girl’s fathers to locate them in the face of worsening odds (Sound familiar, Gone Baby Gone?). But I said that I expected it to be based on a novel, and when I read the credits I found that it was in fact an original script by first timer Aaron Guzikowski, I realized that what I’d taken for a slightly unconventional mystery was in fact a wondrously obtuse script that can’t distinguish the events of the plot with the actions of the characters.

These characters are so evasive that it’s like each of them has had one important scene of theirs cut, and the audience gets nearly zero background on them other then their job and place in the story. This technique can be successful when the characters interact with a number of people and scenarios, but Prisoners largely limits these and makes each of them feel one-dimensional. Take the detective assigned to the case, Loki (Bizarre mythological name meaning precisely zilch in this scenario) is a hard cop who we are told has “Never left a case unsolved,” but he has no personal life, no relationships, and the only clue to his upbringing is a neck tattoo and a series of zodiac signs on his knuckles.

Jake Gyllenhaal considers whether he's in a mystery thriller, or an allegory for religious extremism.

Jake Gyllenhaal considers whether he’s in a mystery thriller, or an allegory for religious extremism.

As played by Jake Gyllenhal he is alternately fierce and soft-spoken, but any sense of his growing obsession and desperation is limited because we really lack evidence of what his normal state of mind is. Even a single scene of Loki trying to sleep, or going home and trying to medicate with liqueur would bring understanding to his tension, but all we get is a notable eye tick that none of his supervisors seem to notice, which makes all his behavior and emotions appear out of the blue instead of making sense for his character.

Keller Dover is what Wolverine would be if he lacked claws, the healing factor, humor, and common sense.

Keller Dover is what Wolverine would be if he lacked claws, the healing factor, humor, and common sense.

Hugh Jackman’s character Keller Dover is even more frustrating, because while his relationship with his son and daughter mark him as a religious family man, he’s also a survivalist with a basement full of guns, generators, and canned food that don’t appear to bother his family in the slightest. Keller is the type of figure who should be interesting because of his contradictions in worldviews, but the story makes him fixated on the idea that a mentally handicapped man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is responsible for his and his neighbor Franklin’s daughter’s disappearance because they were last seen playing around his RV. This turns Keller into an unsympathetic character that hounds Alex even after he’s been exonerated thanks to both his mental state, as well as the circumstances for his suspicion.

Not that Loki has any more patience for Alex...

Not that Loki has any more patience for Alex…

The idea that the lengths Keller goes to in the name of saving his daughter should be a compelling one, but because the narrative suggest his evidence of Alex’s guilt is the product of his desperation, his morality and justifications seem increasingly unbelievable and grating. His motivations make sense, but his target just doesn’t, especially not when Loki is following up leads on another creepy person who appears at a neighborhood candlelight vigil like only creepy red herrings in these thrillers do. It’s the meta-problem of the viewer knowing more then the characters, and when the narrative is split like Prisoners is, it’s like reading a mystery that you’ve already solved, and are getting impatient with the characters for not figuring it out.

Franklin and his wife (Viola Davis) are overcome with grief, but it's mostly offscreen.

Franklin and his wife (Viola Davis) are overcome with grief, but it’s mostly offscreen.

You might notice a little confusion in my summary of characters and events, like the other father Franklin (Terrance Howard) who’s daughter Joy is missing, but this actually best stimulates how the movie seems less interested in exploring the characters and more interested in directing them around in patterns dictated by their role in the story. As such, Franklin’s daughter Joy barely seems to register as a fellow captive when Keller yells at Loki to stop wasting time and find my daughter, and his wife Eliza (Zoe Borde) spends nearly the entire movie crying in bed while he pretends to go out and get drunk.

More then just the characters though is a question of what exactly is the narrative we are supposed to be following, and what it is trying to say. Prisoners meanders on both sides of the law, with Loki’s only being more compelling because of the elaborateness of the red herrings he happens upon in this seemingly idyllic community. If the movie has a strong point it is the strangeness of the events that are uncovered, and how they appear to be hinting at some very disturbing activities in the past.

However, the bizarre thing about Prisoners is how almost all of these events are merely referenced almost like throwaway explanations for people’s behavior. For instance, we eventually learn why a character has been sneaking into people’s houses, but the motive is so interesting that the fact that the movie doesn’t focus on it feels strange. Prisoners seems like it’s trying to be less about the investigation and more about themes of obsession and faith, but it doesn’t highlight these in a way that feel integral to the rest of the plot, except when they are invoked as explanations which are too brief to feel significant.

When your biggest motif is largely a mcguffin, you might want to re-examine your screenplay...

When your biggest motif is largely a mcguffin, you might want to re-examine your screenplay…

The movie attempts to present these events as pieces in a puzzle, linked only by a strange maze-like pattern, discovered in the first act by Loki, but it takes him so long to piece this together that you’re left wondering why the movie is wasting your time with more pointless false leads when it’s already telegraphed how important the pattern are to understanding the case. It’s this quality that makes Prisoners feel like it’s an amateur work, all the Chekov guns go off arbitrarily rather then logically so that instead of feeling like a cohesive mystery, it feels like a series of coincidences whose connection to each other is due more to the story then to logic.

If the focus is supposed to be on the significance of the maze, why does a whole sub-plot follow Keller who never learns of it, yet he’s given information about it that is only viewers will understand? If the focus is supposed to be about Keller using extreme measures to locate his daughter, why do the circumstance leave so much open? And if the focus is supposed to be on how all these characters are somehow “prisoners” to an idea of emotion, why doesn’t it have these characters reflect on these in some way that is not internal?

Alex and his mother (Marissa Leo) suffer the investigation, but only Alex is a target for Keller.

Alex and his mother (Marissa Leo) suffer the investigation, but only Alex is a target for Keller.

(SPOILERS)
But the most unforgivable part of Prisoners is that when all the pieces are laid bare, you realize that neither Keller nor Loki actually figured out the mystery. Keller receives his break in the case thanks to luck, and Loki virtually stumbles onto his while doing separate police work. As viewers, characters figuring things out and making breakthroughs are the important to making them feel compelling, and seeing them basically handed the solution by the narrative is just unsatisfying.

Keller along with his wife, Grace, son, Ralph, and soon-to-be-missing daughter Anna.

Keller along with his wife, Grace, son, Ralph, and soon-to-be-missing daughter Anna. Perhaps the only time they are together and happy in the narrative.

Prisoners actually has a pretty twisted story at its core, but it’s a story whose clues are not so much eluded to, as merely suggested as a possible explanation for what has happened. We don’t learn exactly WHY one of the characters did what they did, only that they were a certain kind of character who might do something like that. This lack of understanding ultimately lends a hollow quality to everything, and robs events of the impression they would otherwise make on the viewer.

Prisoners also conclude with an ending that I can only describe as “brilliantly stupid,” or “stupidly brilliant” depending on whether you agree with the possible interpretation mechanism for the movie’s plot. There really isn’t anything ambiguous about what its final shot is suggesting, but it ends before the needle falls as though it’s aware of its own foregone conclusion and wants to leave us with something other then closure. Perhaps we as the audience are the final prisoners to the film’s eclectic motivations in this way, or maybe it’s the directors attempt to remind us that not all mysteries in real life end on a dime.

Giant Robots For Adults

The Gipsy Danger pulls back a fist, ready to know the audience's eyeballs for a loop.

The Gipsy Danger pulls back a fist, ready to knock the audience’s eyeballs for a loop.

The expression “turn your brain off” is a bit unfair in the realm of movies, because it implies  the only way to enjoy certain things is to not think to deeply into what they mean. There is a difference however between a movie that asks you to turn off your brain because that meaning is shallow, and a movie that asks you to turn off your brain because it really has no other meaning other than what it is happening onscreen. As kids this is a simple exercise perhaps due to the fact that we lack a wealth of experiences, but as adults who often seek something deeper from life’s experiences this can be like trying not to notice you are breathing manually.

Pictured: Giant Robot. Not pictured, its full amount of awesome

Pictured: Giant Robot. Not pictured, its full amount of awesome.

Pacific Rim is the cure we didn’t know we needed for this affliction of adulthood, and represents filmmaking in perhaps its purest form of engagement through visual media. It is a rip-roaring action fest that takes its cues from childhood cartoons and anime and shows them bigger and more extravagant then we ever dared to believe. It is at every moment a movie-movie, and not a meaning-movie, and takes such delight in displaying this that you cannot help but see it as singularly unique rebuttal to all the self-serious superhero and “End of the world” film of recent years.

The Sydney opera house finally gets its due, curtousy of a transdimensional monster.

The Sydney opera house finally gets its due, courtesy of a trans-dimensional monster.

Its story is classic giant monster-invasion fare, beginning with an intro like a science fiction serial from the 50s that lays the ground for the ludicrously enjoyable premise. Gargantuan monsters known as Kaiju have begun to emerge from a crack in our dimension at the bottom of the Pacific ocean, and mankind has pooled it’s planetary resources and developed humongous robots, called Jaegers, to take them down. Cue the obligatory title card.

The washed up hero in his natural habitat, and outfit.

The washed up hero in his natural habitat, and outfit.

Our story follows has-been Jaeger pilot Raileigh Antrobus (Charlie Hunnam) and newbie trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) as they are called in by commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) in a desperate mission to take the fight to the kaiju’s home turf. Since the Jaeger system is such a strain on the mind, each one requires two pilots to work together in a kind of neural merge that lays bare each pilots memories to the other. Both Raleigh and Mako have their share of emotional baggage to work through, but their issues are small potatoes compared to dealing with monsters that spit acid and can go through a Jaeger with their teeth alone.

Rinko Kikuchi suits up, and for once finds the female suits don't cut off at the hips.

Rinko Kikuchi suits up, and for once finds the female suits don’t cut off at the hips.

Luckily they have a self-proclaimed “Kaiju groupie” Newton “Newt” Geiszler (Charlie Day) and fellow scientist Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) who have been studying the monsters and the portal they emerge from in hopes of ending the Kaiju threat for good. Assisting in their efforts are several other Jaeger teams airing from different nationalities, including a set of Chinese triplets with a three-armed fighting style, a Russian couple whose Jaeger looks like it’s sporting a nuclear smokestack for a head, and a father-son Australian team (Robert Kazinsky and Max Martini) who butts heads with Raleigh in that special “Hero needs a rival” way.

Pentecost and his team look on in awe as their childhood fantasies come to life before their eyes.

Pentecost and his team look on in awe as their childhood fantasies come to life before their eyes.

On the actor’s end of things, each performer embraces their role in a serious/but not too serious way that allows for levity in the midst of all the destruction. No one is trying to turn this into a movie about the human condition, but the characters are still allowed enough humanity that you want to root for them, even if that humanity is exercised through well-worn tropes of vengeance and redemption. The standouts include Idris Elba who takes the calm under pressure leader trope and imbues it with unrelenting hope and determination, and Charlie Day who plays his manic scientist with just enough enthusiasm that he is endearing rather then annoying.

Newt isn't afraid to get up close and personal with a kaiju, as his tattoos make clear.

Newt isn’t afraid to get up close and personal with a kaiju, as his tattoos make clear.

Director Guillermo Del Toro even throws in a bit for veteran anti-hero character actor Ron Perlman as a swanky, and scene-stealing Kaiju organ dealer deliciously named “Hannibal Chau.” Dressed like a pimp with a fondness for clashing colors, and sporting a ridiculous pair of shoes with gold scale platting that chings with every step, Hannibal is a larger-then-life human in a world where giant monsters routinely destroy cities and even dwarfs his massive ego.

Hannibal Chau chews more scenery then the kaiju, much to Newt's chagrin.

Hannibal Chau chews more scenery then the kaiju, much to Newt’s amazement.

But all these human chess pieces are but the icing on the cake compared with the Jaeger VS Kaiju battles that make up the film. Though the Jaegers featured come equipped with fancy plasma cannons and spinning blades to presumably slice and dice the Kaiju into sushi, their opponents are so monstrous and resilient that every encounter quickly escalates into an all-out brawl. Pacific Rim therefore delivers what its premise has promised and more; giant robots piloted by humans slugging it out with monsters who make Godzilla look like a gecko.

The kaiju designs and abilities are all unique, making each fight a new experience.

The kaiju designs and abilities are all unique, making each fight a new experience.

To watch a giant robot rocket punch a grotesque yet mesmerizing monster in the face is one thing, but to see one do this half a dozen times, followed by them picking up an oil tanker and laying onto them as though it were a baseball bat is something transcendent. It’s like being transported back in time to when you first saw Power Rangers and watched them punch each other into buildings. Seeing it in a movie theater is visually cathartic, as though we are at last acknowledging a cultural childhood that has been hidden away under adulthood.

That's a boat, being dragged like a an axe, by a giant robot, to beat a monster into paste. Nuff said.

That’s a boat. Being dragged by a giant robot. To beat a monster into paste. ‘Nuff said.

Each time the Jaeger stands, or the Kaiju reveals a secret weapon, we experience a thrill  we felt when we were kids and first learned to identify with characters and were drawn into their battles. When a Kaiju finally shudders to the ground in defeat, we cheer, and when their savage force overwhelms our heroes we wince as though part of ourselves is under attack as well. There is no metaphor, no symbolism; we feel the action because the battles are on the screen and in our heads with nothing in between.

Chuck Hanson (Robert Kazinsky teams up with Stacker when the odds against Raleigh and Mako intensify.

Chuck Hanson (Robert Kazinsky) teams up with Stacker when the odds against Raleigh and Mako intensify.

Pacific Rim pulls out all the stops in its final phases, amping up the odds with increasingly creative Kaiju, and more jaw dropping fights that push our heroes past the breaking point, while an utterly enthralled audience watches with bated breath. While other more “serious” action movies would squander their suspense by devoting unnecessary dialogue to humanizing their characters or trying to impart some message, Guillermo Del Toro knows that truly being a kid again means we have to stop looking for meaning, and embrace the fantasy. And what better way to do that then having a giant robot suplex a creature with glowing eyes and toss it into San Francisco bay as if it were an annoying little brother?