“Go Big or Go Extinct” shouts the tagline and from the trailer, no other film this year will match Pacific Rim for sheer scale.
Humankind threatened by alien monsters from a cross-dimensional rift deep in the Pacific ocean and fighting back with giant robots, it promises to be a barmy blend of Cloverfield and that great Transformers film still to be made.
And it’s directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the big director with a big love for monsters, creatures, and all things fantastical, whose masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth was the best film of the noughties. With him at the helm expect the sublime to sit alongside the scintillating, or as Del Toro puts its:
“(Pacific Rim will be) a beautiful poem to giant monsters”
“It is my duty to commit to film the finest fucking monsters ever committed to screen. And it is my duty to create the greatest fucking robots ever committed to screen.”
But, most exciting is that Pacific Rim resembles a live action version of classic Japanese animation Neon Genesis Evangelion. A mid-1990s epic 26-part TV series, Evangelion (as it is commonly known) committed the finest fucking monsters and greatest fucking robots ever to the TV screen.
So, what is Neon Genesis Evangelion?
For many it is the pinnacle of anime, encompassing doomsday prophecies, teen angst, espionage intrigue, giant robots, Japanese creation myths with a liberal sprinkling of Christian iconography… and a penguin.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo of 2015, rebuilt after a mysterious “Second Impact” melted the South Pole and almost annihilated life on earth, fragile humanity is threatened once more by “Angels”. These strange alien beings can only be defeated by “EVAs” – giant cyborgs piloted by gifted children able to synch with the machines’ bio-technology. And that’s just episode one.
Simultaneously an homage to and revision of classic Japanese “mecha”anime, Evangelion became a $2bn franchise, with spin-off movies made as a corrective to the controversial two-part series finale and an entire “Rebuild” of the series as four animated movies by creator Hideaki Anno, the first released in 2007 and the fourth’s date still to be announced.
But, a big-screen live action Evangelion has languished in development hell for over a decade, the rights currently tied up in legal wranglings.
Thankfully, from the Pacific Rim trailer the spirit of Evangelion pulses through Del Toro’s movie. For the terrifying “Angels” see Pacific Rim’s “Kaiju”, creatures from the ocean bed whose very name is Japanese for “monster”.
A “neural bridge” conjoins Pacific Rim’s giant robot dual pilots, so one controls the left side of the mechanical warrior, the other the right. Echoes here of Evangelion’s “synching”, the child pilots psychically linking with their robot EVAs, a childhood trauma required to make them suitable candidates.
Here too a link to Pacific Rim, Rinko Kikuchi’s character’s strength drawn from a past lost, like Evangelion’s lead pilot, Shinji Ikari.
Speaking of pilots acting in unison, one of Evangelion’s finest episodes featured Shinji and antagonistic EVA pilot Asuka learning to synchronise their attack style through dance to defeat an Angel that can bisect at will.
Other Pacific Rim plot points also synch with Evangelion – the giant robot project being a multi-national undertaking, a tension between the military and these radical new weapons.
Director Del Toro however has distanced Pacific Rim from past movies and TV series, perhaps wishing to avoid Tarantino pick n’ mix comparisons. In an interview on Hero Complex, the filmmaker states:
“I felt there was a chance to do something fresh, something new that at the same time was conscious of the heritage, but not a pastiche or an homage or a greatest hits of everything. One of the first things I did is make it a point not to check any old movies or any other references. Like start from scratch.”
Interestingly though, co-writer Travis Beacham, whose 25-page treatment kicked-started the entire Pacific Rim monster and whose last notable screen credit was the Clash of the Titans remake, has not spoken of key influences. Perhaps the audio commentary will shed light on his thinking.
And maybe this is the closest to a live-action Evangelion we should get. The magic of the series is precisely because it is anime and the chances of bottling that lighting twice with a live action version is as fraught with peril as the oft-mooted Akira live action redo.
So, enjoy that WonderCon trailer once more and pray Pacific Rim doesn’t become the latest example of “Great trailer, shame about the movie”.
But, with Del Toro’s track record, that’s unlikely.