Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 2 of 4)

In which Captain America whips it good.

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Scott doesn’t “fondue” either.

2) Lucas Lee

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, obviously. Played by Michael Cera.
  • Lucas Lee, the second Evil Ex. A professional skater turned movie star, with plenty of ego to match. Apparently the comic incarnation is based on Jason Lee, who followed a similar career arc, but the movie version seems to be more of a riff on Keanu Reeves, what with his gruffly clueless/intense monotone and friendly relationships with his stunt team. Played with breathless gusto by Chris Evans.

The Setup: Pretty simple. While Scott & Ramona are on another date, they visit the set of a Hollywood movie being filmed nearby (a sly dig at how many movies are filmed in Canada for cost reasons), Scott having been informed of the event by Wallace, who has a crush on the star (and is also on set). As a scene is ready to start, Lucas Lee emerges from his trailer, accompanied by Universal Studios’ famous opening fanfare.

Lee skates over to his marker, and begins filming a tense hostage scene. Unfortunately, and also just as Ramona recognizes the actor as one of her past loves, it’s gradually revealed that the tense threats Lee is shouting are not his script lines, but are directed directly against Scott. Uh oh.

This actually comes later, but whatever

This actually comes later, but whatever

The Fight: It takes way longer than it should for Scott to realize the gravity of the situation; he asks for Lee’s autograph multiple times even as the actor repeatedly punches him, sending him to the pavement. (He’s so star-struck he doesn’t realize he’s getting struck by a star, hyuk hyuk.)

As Pilgrim lies dazed on the ground, Lucas turns briefly to Ramona and delivers what’s probably my favorite line in the movie. With all the forced politeness of a real-life encounter with an ex, and coupled with the hilarious intensity of Evans’ line reading, he asks “Sup? How’s life? He seems nice.” Without waiting for an answer, he picks up Scott’s body and hurls it into the nearby castle being used as the film’s backdrop.

Scott rises unsteadily and gets walloped again. The next time he gets up, he sees who he thinks is Lucas walking away, and pursues only to find that it’s the actor’s stunt double, dressed & coiffed similarly. He gets knocked down again by the stunt man, who’s soon joined by six other similarly dressed stand-ins. Meanwhile, the real Lee chills on the sidelines.

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Where’s Stephen Tobolowsky when you need him?

Before he can finish the suggested taunt from Wallace (ever the rabble-rouser) about getting Lucas’ “sloppy seconds,” the stunt crew start in on Scott. Our hero gets in an extended fight with them which is, again, surprisingly complex and well-done, considering the silliness of the situation. Cera cuts quite the incongruously heroic profile, perfectly ducking & blocking as he takes on a wave of fighters coming at him from all angles. He even breaks several weaponized skateboards as he puts down attacker after attacker. It’s completely unrealistic, obviously, and even more so than the ground-based segments of the Patel fight, but it fits in perfectly with the heightened reality of ridiculous action movies Wright is trying to emulate.

Pilgrim’s good performance comes to an end when he’s brained from behind by a skateboard, and when he goes down all the stunt men gang up for a good old fashion kicking bonanza. In real life such group-stompings can result in broken bones, internal bleeding and death, but Wright opts for a take more akin to a Warner Brothers cartoon dog-pile: the camera follows Lucas as he walks off for coffee when he sees our hero is down, but when he comes back, Scott is back up and seemingly unscathed, standing over a pile of defeated foes. Well played.

Responding to Scott’s “you’re needed on the set” taunt, Lee has a face-off with his new rival. There’s a purposely melodramatic, overextended moment as they charge each other, first in split-screen and then in super slow-motion. They leap into the air to attack, but of course Scott loses that contest.

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The big kick sends Pilgrim all the way through the fake New York skyline, leading to another funny moment when Lee has to pause his follow-up boasting as he rips through the rest of it in pursuit. They talk briefly, and Lee gets in a sucker-punch after pretending to befriend Scott. His acting is better than ever!

Displaying atypical cunning, Scott is able to goad the cocky Lee into hopping onto his skateboard and doing a thingy grind on the rickety, snow-covered railing along the impossibly long stairs they’re standing by. The ending is edited well, cutting back & forth between Lucas’ speed rapidly reaching absurd levels and Scott’s multiple, sedate “wow”s in reaction. Sure enough, the speed is too much to handle, and Lucas explodes after reaching the bottom. Two down!

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He totally bailed.

More fun is had here, but it’s disappointing from a fight-scene angle, more so than the last one. Scott can’t even lay a finger on Lee, making for an absurd power imbalance when he’s only two bosses in. He even uses a “cheat,” if a clever one, to make the final kill. This is mitigated somewhat by the long-ish fight with the stunt doubles, which itself was both a pleasant surprise and a gag that arose organically from the scenario.

Another mitigation: the scene is very funny, with Chris Evans doing some absolutely hilarious work in a rare-for-him comedy performance. With his rapid-fire & raspy delivery he actually finds a way to breathe some life into the overplayed caricature of the Egomaniac Movie Star. Evans may be another case of an actor with genuine comedic chops who rarely gets to exercise them thanks to his ridiculously good looks– please, don’t everybody pity him at once. (One of his earliest roles was in Not Another Teen Movie, but even if you did think that was funny, he mostly plays the straight man there.)

So while a nice and highly amusing change-up, it’s not particularly impressive aside from Evans’ performance. But fortunately there’s more to come.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Her?

It’s as Roxy as the nose on plain’s face.

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Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 1 of 4)

This movie has “vs” in the title so you KNOW it’s classy.

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Like that tear-jerker action movie, Kramer vs Predator

Scott Pilgrim vs The World was practically designed to be a cult film rather than a big hit, but it still didn’t deserve to bomb like it did. There are certainly some strange decisions and missteps, and course a film like this lives or dies on how well its “tone” resonates… and this kind of tone is incredibly hard to get right. But if anyone could do it, it was the mad genius filmmaker Edgar Wright, flexing his impressive cinematic muscles to give audiences a one-of-a-kind experience: a real-life comic book/video game of a movie. Audiences were divided on how much they liked watching a bunch of aimless hipster kids walking around a cartoon-ish world, but everyone can agree there’s nothing quite like this movie’s particular brand of playfulness.

Compounding the hard sell of this unusual approach was the unfortunate timing: Scott Pilgrim vs The World debuted just after the public had turned against its star, Michael Cera, in a big way. Seemingly overnight (it looks like the disastrous Year One was the turning point) America went from loving Cera’s trademark “smart but hapless wimp” routine to absolutely despising it, thus once again proving the wisdom of The Simpsons. (Many haters ding Cera ostensibly for only having one “persona,” but come on, not every actor is in the Daniel Day-Lewis mold. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars also basically did the same thing every movie. How many times did Clark Gable play a nerd?)

Something like this, you either love it or you hate it.

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a KROW”

Anyway, I personally really dig it, and find it gets better with re-watching. It’s also an inevitable subject for the blog, but we’ll be grading with a different sort of scale in mind. The fighting, while often surprisingly complex, is also lighter and of less consequence than the average in-depth movie fight… which is to be expected, since it’s more of a comedy. So we’ll keep in mind not just how well done the combat is but the overall effect of the scene itself. And though each entry will be about a specific Evil Ex, we’ll naturally be skipping the three whose battles involve little to no genuine fighting. Sorry, Todd and the twins.

1) Matthew Patel

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, the film’s titular hero, a hapless 20-something slacker/hipster with no job and a wonderfully naive teenage girlfriend. In pointed contrast to his personal aimlessness and generally wussy demeanor, he’s inexplicably amazing at fighting (in the movie it’s not remarked upon, but in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original comic book it’s casually mentioned that Scott is “the best fighter in the province”). Played by Michael Cera, who unfortunately is the film’s weak link. Though he tries mightily and even stretches a bit, there is just something off about Cera’s take on Pilgrim, who in the books was more of a manic livewire in addition to being dumb & unambitious– he had a kind of Jack Black-like intensity rather than Cera’s typical low-key, lovable beta male. So perhaps the trouble with the character comes from the awkward dissonance of fitting the square peg into a round hole. And to be fair to Cera, when you get right down to it there’s not much to actually like about Scott Pilgrim for much of the story: he’s an objectively bad person.
  • Matthew Patel, Ramona’s first Evil Ex-Boyfriend; they dated for about a week and a half in seventh grade. A young man of Indian descent with advanced fighting skills, supernatural powers, and an odd fashion sense, Patel is arguably the most overtly cartoonish of all the film’s villains. Played by Satya Bhabha, who does a great job with what could have been a very annoying part in the wrong hands.
Seriously. You try doing this in a movie and not making people walk out.

Seriously. You try doing this in a movie and not making people walk out.

The Setup: Scott Pilgrim is a strikingly unambitious youth in the mystical land of Canada, 23-year-old Scott is now finding his precious little life a lot more interesting as he pursues the mysterious newcomer Ramona Flowers. Through unexplained means, word of his interest in Ramona has spread to the League of Evil Exes, seven of Ramona’s former romantic partners who seek to control her future love life by making any new lover go through them. (It’s a metaphor, see.) Scott would have clued into this earlier but, foolishly, he only skimmed the email warning him of the consequences of his attraction.

For his first quasi-date with Ramona, Scott takes her to a club where he and his friends are competing in a battle of the bands. Scott’s actual girlfriend, Knives Chau, conveniently passes out from pure excitement early into the band’s first number. Also on hand at the event are Scott’s gay roommate Wallace, his little sister (rated T for Teen) Stacy, and Stacy’s date, who is unbeknownst to her being quietly seduced by Wallace. And that date must be really gay, because let’s face it gents: there’s regular gay, and there’s “walk away from Anna Kendrick” gay.

Yeah, I was surprised too.

Yeah, I was surprised too.

Sex Bob-omb (that’s the name of Scott’s band, because of course it is) is doing pretty well, when suddenly they’re interrupted by the crashing arrival of Matthew Patel.

The Fight: Crashing, specifically, through the ceiling, free-falling down and calling out Scott’s name as he does so.

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There’s a great slow-motion sequence of Scott reacting with genuine puzzlement, finally only being spurred into action by Wallace’s gleeful urging to fight. Pilgrim unplugs his guitar, blocks the diving attack, and counters with a sweet punch that sends Patel flying back.

He lands okay, but after some more sardonic assistance from Wallace (“Watch out! It’s that one guy”), Scott counters Matthew’s next charge with a face-kick that shoots him into the air. Scott leaps up high in pursuit and gives a follow-up uppercut and a 64-hit punch combo.

They went ahead and did the counting for me.

They went ahead and did the counting for me.

They both come down and land in that “versus” image from way up top, and here’s where they start jawing. The weirdo introduces himself and explains he’s the first Evil Ex. In a movie full of over-the-top characters, Matthew Patel is particularly over-the-top… and in a very un-ironic and cartoonish way, what with all his jerky head movements, exaggerated body poses, speech contortions and guyliner. So again, all props to Bhabha for pulling off so well. (He’s barely recognizable from his other major claim to fame, his lengthy run in season two of New Girl.)

The two engage in some more down-to-Earth sparring. It’s surprisingly complex and reasonably “realistic” though of course very stylized. Mostly a lot of blocks and near-misses. Both Cera and Bhabha, neither of them experienced martial artists, acquit themselves well. Wright’s camera work, as expecting, is dynamic and exciting, as if he’d been directing fight scenes for years. One nice touch is the use of a special kind of dust applied to the actors’ clothes that shakes off and briefly lingers in the air with every impact– one of the many tricks¬†Hong Kong action stars use to accentuate each blow.

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While most of the crowd is excited, Ramona appears visibly embarrassed at being the cause of this, and there are repeated cutaways to Stacy making expressions of disbelief– essentially as a way to tell the more skeptical audience members Hey, it’s okay, this is silly, you can laugh at it. Which might seem like unnecessary hand-holding, but you’d be surprised how slow some audiences are.

Speaking of puzzlement, Scott is still confused at what’s going on here, and he stops long enough to ask Patel what his deal is, which is when the villain is irked to learn that Scott blew off his explanatory email. Also between rounds of heightened fighting (and as Matthew starts to get in some solid hits), people in the crowd inquire about his outfit and ask if he’s a “pirate,” which is odd because aside from the Jack Sparrow-esque guyliner he doesn’t really look like a pirate. And Ramona is finally goaded into explaining her brief history with Matthew, in a strange half-poem accompanied by illustrations straight out of the comic (or possibly new drawings by O’Malley just for the movie).

When Scott reacts incredulously to Ramona’s mention of Matthew’s “mystical powers,” the evil ex decides that’s his cue to exercise them, floating in the air, conjuring fire in his hands and summoning a pack of “demon hipster chicks.” He does all this while singing and dancing a Bollywood-esque number. It’s… well, for me it was a little much, even for this movie’s wacky concept of reality. I suppose everyone has to draw the line somewhere.

This. This is the place where I draw the line.

This. This is the place where I draw the line.

So that weirdness happens and Patel starts flinging fireballs mid-song, all of which Scott dodges and one of which vaporizes a pair of roadies. Angrily noting that Matthew’s last two lines didn’t even rhyme, Pilgrim grabs a cymbal from Kim Pine’s drum set and hurls it Patel, hitting him hard enough to dispel the demon hipster chicks and leave him spinning vulnerably in the air. Scott takes the opportunity to leap in with a devastating punch that finishes off the evil ex for good, turning him into a handful of coins a la River City Ransom.

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If there’s any real problem (aside from the Bollywood stuff) with this, it’s that it seems to lack a sense of… scale? Weight? Consistency? Other than the fact that it’s the end of a fight, there’s no extra oomph to Scott’s last punch that indicates it should even be a finishing move– Patel didn’t seem tired at all before that, and he endured several blows that seemed just as powerful earlier on and came down smiling. The fight only ends because it seems like it was time to end. Which, come to think of it, might play into the story’s themes: Scott feels like he’s the main character in his own movie, and that everything should eventually go his way just because he’s, well, himself, regardless of whether he’s earned it or not.

In any case, it feels odd to criticize such an achievement as this. The movie actually took plenty of time to get to its first fight– enough time for Wright to lay the groundwork for the movie’s strange, hyper-stylized world. If this had come much earlier it would have been quite jarring even for the more patient fan. And what a payoff it is: finally we’re treated to the sight of real human beings flipping about like characters from a video game or anime but without it seeming painfully fake or dumb. There’s visual onomatopoeia incorporated in a much less intrusive way than in the old 60s Batman cartoon. Explosions and flashes of color change the entire screen filter for brief seconds before switching back (something you appreciate a lot more when looking for just the right screenshot, mind you). There’s a great mixture of the immediate and the spectacular, the thrilling and the ridiculous. Edgar Wright can basically do anything, and here he did something very, very fun.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Our Canadian slacker hero fights an American superhero. Kinda.

"I understood that reference."

“I understood that reference!”

Pacific Rim (bonus round)

As I’ve said umpteen times already, there’s a huge gap between Fight #1 and Fight #2 in Pacific Rim. But that’s not quite true. The much-anticipated giant robot vs giant monster throwdowns are indeed thin on the ground during this period, but amidst the various cliche-ridden shenanigans and melodrama, there’s a handful of honest-to-gosh real physical human fights which aren’t too shabby. It’s of course a few thousand tons shy of the action scale we came for… but it’s well-done enough that I feel bad completely ignoring it.

And yes I usually stick to my self-imposed rules for which movie’s fights I do and do not count, but you know what, it’s my blog, so whatever.

Mako is not impressed with my reasoning.

Mako is not terribly impressed with my reasoning.

So consider it a bonus round, a breezy way to burn through the rest of the week before we start on the next subject. “Breeze” being the key word: we’ll do all three at once here.

Handily they all involve our boy Raleigh Beckett, who is a lot more fit and combat-ready than you’d expect for a guy who’s been off feeling sorry for himself the last five years.

1) Nobody Candidates

Raleigh‘s Opponents: Three Chinese gentlemen, apparently selected by Mako as the best possible potential drift partners. Consistent with Pacific Rim’s treatment of non-main characters, we don’t know these people’s names or really anything else about them.

And not to be the awful white devil who can’t tell Asians apart , but the fact that they’re three young Chinese men with similar heights, builds, clothes and haircuts is a bit confusing considering that a few minutes ago we were briefly introduced to the Wei Tang triplets who pilot Crimson Typhoon; you’d be forgiven for briefly thinking they were sparring with Raleigh for some reason– like, Typhoon was going to give up one of its pilots. That wouldn’t make sense, but a lot of this movie doesn’t make sense. (The triplets are actually part of the small crowd watching the fight, but no one could blame you for not noticing that the first time, either.)

Why there weren’t more than three candidates, I don’t know. Also the tests are done using wooden sticks as kendo swords, which is odd because that’s largely not how jaeger combat works. Each duel works on a point-based system, with every blow or simulated blow counting as a point and the first man to four points the winner. Raleigh calls these a “dialogue” rather than a fight, but they sure look a lot like fights.

The Fight: It moves quickly enough that we immediately get the idea we’re not seeing all of each fight, just the final stroke or so each one. We even hear Mako grumpily calling out each final score, always with Raleigh way ahead. The Chinese guys are fit and skilled, but no match for Beckett– he consistently takes them down with little to no effort, and maintains enough control of each fight that he can do so without hurting them.

"Events occur in real time," Kiefer Sutherland whispers.

“Events occur in real time,” Kiefer Sutherland adds in a whisper.

It’s nothing too great, but there’s some fancy footwork here and it’s fun to watch. We get our first glimpse of Raleigh doing his thing outside a jaeger cockpit.

Grade: Not Bad

2) Mako’s Got Spunk

Raleigh‘s Opponent: Mako, duh.

After facing them all down, Raleigh calls out Mako on her attitude, and she replies that if he applied himself better he could have taken them out even faster. This leads, despite some resistance from Pentecost, to Mako entering the ring herself so she can bring our boy down a peg.

After some low-key trash talk/sexual tension, the two have at it.

My wife and I met the same way. No we didn't.

My wife and I met the same way. No we didn’t.

The Fight: Surprisingly, Mako just stands there coolly when Raleigh darts in with the opening move, not flinching as he stops the stick less than an inch from her head. He interprets it as her being unready, but it’s implied she may have deliberately done it to screw with him. Just as he steps back to begin the next round, she herself darts in and catches him unawares, which is kind of dirty pool if you ask me. (And of course you asked me, that’s why you’re here.)

After another “easy” hit puts Raleigh back in the lead, the two have a longer exchange and she finally gets the better of him. After an even longer back & forth, Raleigh tries switching his fighting stance halfway through but still loses the point to Mako after some up-close tussling and getting flipped over. He does better in the next round, though, making the score all tied up.

The last exchange is the longest of all, with both players ratcheting up the intensity. Raleigh takes a fall but isn’t out, as he’s able to lock up her weapon so they’re in an apparent stalemate.

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The match gets called off by Pentecost, but Raleigh has learned enough to want Mako as his partner. Which the movie will make happen, albeit by the painfully long route.

After a quick little scene establishing Raleigh’s skill, we get a longer bit that establishes Mako’s own prowess simply by having her show him up, if not too much. The scene doesn’t overly sell that they’re “drift-compatible,” as Raleigh gushes later (again, that whole process is vague), but there is a definite tension between them here in this solid fight with a nice ebb & flow.

Grade: Pretty Good

3) Aussie Smackdown

Raleigh‘s Opponent: Chuck Hansen, Raleigh’s unnecessarily aggressive rival/bully. This encounter happens just after Raleigh & Mako’s first drifting attempt nearly resulted in Gipsy blowing a hole in Shatterdome. Chuck is understandably upset, but goes way too far in needling the would-be pilots as they wait outside Pentecost’s office for their punishment. Raleigh is able to take the high road at first, but loses it when Chuck calls Mako a bad word.

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Chuck’s taken by surprise at first but gets into the swing of things pretty well. The pair’s battle is an interesting mixture of unpolished street fighting and complex, MMA-style maneuvers– the latter of which largely come from Raleigh.

Indeed, Beckett is the one who is largely in control of the fight, though Hansen puts up a pretty good effort. They have a nice extended struggle and exchange of blows that culminates in Chuck getting slammed painfully against a wall. He hits hard enough to rupture some piping, which releases a bunch of steam around him as he glares hatefully at Raleigh– an effective if obvious visual metaphor.

Our hero does even better in round two, systematically shutting down Chuck’s assault and even slapping him at one point, apparently just to rub it in. Finally Beckett is able to wrap his legs around one of Chuck’s arms, bringing them both down in a strong hold.

Try not to let someone do this to you.

Try not to let someone do this to you.

Thankfully the grown-ups arrive and break things up before Raleigh can break the arm of one of the few remaining jaeger pilots. Gipsy’s pilots are sent to the principal’s office, and Chuck’s left in the hallway with his old man, getting restrained so he doesn’t rush over and get beat up some more.

This image sums up the entirety of these two characters and their relationship with each other.

This image sums up the entirety of these two characters and their relationship with each other.

This is the best of the bunch, being the most technically complicated and emotionally charged. It’s also unusually layered for this movie, since on one level the audience is happy to see Chuck get smacked around, but on another we understand that Raleigh really did screw up big time, and his rival is right to be upset with him. Deep! Well not really. But still very well done.

Grade: A Lot of Fun

Coming Attractions: Take it easy there, Pilgrim.

“If your blog had a face, I would punch it.”

Pacific Rim (fight 5 of 5)

Feel free to make your filthy sexual jokes about “disappointing climaxes” here.

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Gipsy and Striker will be hiding from them at the bottom of the ocean.

5) Operation Pitfall

The Fighters:

  • Gipsy Danger, heroic leader of the Autobots our main jaeger, a little banged up from the last fight, but after a quick repair job is good to go.
    • Piloted by: Raleigh Beckett and Mako Mori, who are played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi.
  • Striker Eureka, the sleek new jaeger model with the highest kill count so far. Apparently the EMP didn’t do it any lasting damage.
    • Piloted by: Chuck Hansen and Stacker Pentecost, played by Robert Kazinsky and Idris Elba. Chuck’s father, Herc, broke his arm during Fight #2 and is unable to continue, so veteran pilot Stacker has volunteered to take his place and left Herc back in command at Shatterdome. In a completely gratuitous subplot, Pentecost has cancer due to his prolonged exposure to radiation in the poorly-shielded early-model jaegers. The cancer is said to be largely subsided as long as Pentecost doesn’t enter a jaeger again, so presumably the point of this plot element is to show how noble he is for stepping up for duty… but since there are no other worthy pilots on hand, if Stacker hadn’t helped out the apocalypse would remain un-cancelled so he’d die in a kaiju attack eventually, and besides that he (spoiler) dies by other means during the fight anyway. Guillermo Del Toro already pulled the exact same “give a cancer diagnosis to the older mentor figure who’s going to be killed off later” in the first Hellboy, so maybe he’s got a thing for that strangely specific trope. Oh and apparently Hansen and Pentecost are drift-compatible, but the movie is so nebulous about how that works it hardly matters at this point.
  • Raiju, an extremely fast kaiju with a crocodile-like head. Very little is seen of this little beastie, but its body seems almost optimized for swimming. Named after a Japanese mythological beast that has thunder & lightning powers.
  • Scunner, a large kaiju with four arms and a bull-like head. Beyond that, doesn’t seem to do anything special– besides being a huge monster, obviously. It’s named after a Scottish slang word for having a strong dislike for something. It’s never really clear who’s naming these things, incidentally: as soon as they’re spotted on radar, the way the guys at HQ call them out it’s like the names are pre-existing, even though the jaeger program people are the only ones tracking these things. This is such a weird movie.
  • Slattern, the most enormous kaiju yet– he’s immediately identified as a “Category 5” kaiju, even though there’s never been anything bigger than a 4. Again, weird. In addition to its ridiculous size, Slattern has three long tails and a devilish appearance, though given that the two have similar facial protrusions it can be hard to tell it apart from Scunner. The monster’s name (which I don’t believe is ever mentioned on screen, only gained from ancillary material) is taken from an archaic insult for women.

The Setup: Having fended off the assault in Hong Kong, Team Jaeger is now executing their planned operation to directly attack the inter-dimensional breach the kaiju are coming from by dropping a nuclear bomb in it. In a modification of the original plan (thanks to the demise of Typhoon and Cherno), this time it’s Gipsy pulling security while Striker goes ahead with the payload.

As the pair approach the breach, they get word of two large signatures emerging from it, and are on lookout. As they’re deep in the ocean, their visibility is terrible and they have to “switch to instruments” though it’s never clear what that means, and in any case it doesn’t seem to affect their performance. Raiju and Scunner begin to circle the pair, moving too fast to be seen.

As the robots get to the hole where the breach is, both kaiju stop their advance, which clues Pentecost into the presence of a trap. Just then, Dr. Geiszler and his frenemy Dr. Gottlieb burst into command, fresh off their drift with a dead kaiju fetus. The pair tell everyone that the plan won’t work, because whatever weird science that runs the breach will be able to tell monster from machine, and won’t let them through unless they bring a kaiju corpse along for the ride.

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, this is also when Slattern decides to make its appearance.

So: we know that each kaiju is harder to defeat than the last. The previous two monsters managed to easily take out three veteran jaegers, and only fell to Gipsy after it took them on one at a time while using some spectacular moves. This time it’s the good guys who are outnumbered, including one super-duper-jumbo-sized opponent. And it all takes place entirely underwater, where the monsters’ increased maneuverability will give them even greater advantage. How will our heroes overcome these odds?

Luck, mostly. Luck and some cheating.

The Fight: Striker fully extends its wrist blades (where were those in the second fight?) and gets ready. Gipsy tries to catch up and help, but gets attacked from behind by Scunner, who had been hiding nearby.

"I fear you are underestimating the sneakiness."

“I fear you are underestimating the sneakiness.”

We see Striker get knocked down pretty hard by all three of Slattern’s tails. Meanwhile, Gipsy has to tangle with Scunner. It’s able to pin down the kaiju with one hand, but before Gipsy can deliver a killing strike with the sword attached to its free arm, the jaeger gets rammed from behind by Raiju at high speed. The swift little beast knocks the whole limb off, chomping it in half as it swims away.

While Gipsy recovers, Scunner takes the opportunity to bite the robot’s… leg? It has to be the leg, considering what happens later, but the editing is so poor you would swear it went for the intact arm (I rewound multiple times and it really seems like the arm). The leg is also an idiotic tactical decision, because it is indeed the leg right underneath Gipsy’s remaining arm. The jaeger whips out the other sword and shoves it right through the back of Scunner’s head, pinning it to the ground. Attempting to finish it off for good, Gipsy slowly drags the kaiju over to one of several volcanic pits, where the fiery discharge gives it a good burnin’.

Anyone else having flashbacks to Tim Curry in Legend?

Anyone else having flashbacks to Tim Curry in Legend?

Unfortunately, Scunner is able to wrench free before it gets the full Freddy Krueger, and swims off to lick its wounds. Right about this time, Raiju has finally gotten far enough away to start up another charge, and heads straight for Gipsy to finish the job.

With miraculous timing, the one-armed robot is able to duck and lift its sword just in time to catch Raiju right in its ugly snout. The beast has so much momentum that the body just keeps on going, so Gipsy doesn’t have to do anything but stand still in order to slice the kaiju completely in half, length-wise. It’s a really cool kill, but in addition to being an abrupt exit for a brand-new foe, it’s also a bit too easy.

"Well, that was a freebie."

“Well, that was a freebie.”

We go back to Striker, who’s been damaged enough by that one blow it can no longer release the payload. Striker’s more pressing problem, though, is a tackle from the enormous Slattern. After some struggling, Striker’s claws are able to tear up the Cat 5 pretty good, forcing it to draw back and unleash a visualized sonic shout that draws Scunner’s attention.

The (comparatively) smaller kaiju rushes to the aid of its superior, and as the two slowly circle Striker to get into optimal position, the pilots come up with a new plan: they’ll set off the bomb right now to take the heat off Gipsy, who can then detonate its own nuclear reactor to blow up the breach afterward.

After some emotional radio moments straight out of Armageddon, Strikers sets us up off the bomb just before it would have been crunched between the two charging kaiju. Gipsy, at an apparently safe distance away (ha!), keeps from getting flung to Kingdom Come by planting its chain sword in the ground. Meanwhile, the blast displaces all the nearby water, creating a nifty Moses effect. Too bad it’s not to last, and Gipsy’s battered again as the water comes rushing back in.

"nononononononono....."

Surf’s up……. and right back down.

Gipsy grabs a big chunk of Raiju to get through the gateway, and limps toward the breach’s location. (In one of the many humanizing touches the CGI work provides, Gipsy’s limping here, which of course is a natural result of the damage sustained, makes the unfeeling machine look like a human being in pain.) But despite sustaining a point-blank nuclear detonation, Slattern is somehow still alive and seemingly not much worse for wear.

Our heroes improvise accordingly, dropping the Raiju half-corpse and using Gipsy’s jets to tackle Slattern just above the hole leading to the breach. They struggle against each other as they sink, with Gipsy skewering the kaiju through the chin with its sword, and finally finishing the job by burning off a ton of excess fuel through the nuclear turbine in its chest.

"HEAAAAART'S OOOOOOON FIIIIIIIIRE....."

“HEAAAAART’S ONNNNNN FIIIIIIIIRE…..”

After that, it’s pretty much a matter of simply playing out the thread. Gipsy passes through the portal, arms the reactor, both emergency pods eject back up through the portal– how’d they get back through without a kaiju corpse? For that matter, how did they get radio reception back to HQ through another dimension??– bomb goes off and closes bridge. Raleigh ends up surviving process, he and Mako embrace (but don’t kiss), blah blah blah.

Eh, who cares.

Eh, who cares.

Well, this is not bad, per se, but it certainly pales in comparison to the level of carnage we’ve seen before. And it feels like a rush, a cheat. After all those overwhelming odds, the solution ends up being pretty underwhelming: a few lucky hits and a big explosion. Raiju goes down almost as quick as he showed up, getting so little screen time he makes Typhoon and Cherno look like stars in comparison. Scunner isn’t bad, but doesn’t leave much of an impression either. And the actual “boss” is most disappointing of all– after that excellent entrance, Slattern pretty much gives one big blow, then doesn’t do a whole lot else and only showcases one special ability the whole time. And that special ability is basically a glorified distress signal, which means the only noteworthy thing the biggest, baddest monster in the movie does is call for help.

In this, Pacific Rim indulges more in its “war movie” side than it does in its sentai/kaiju side. Which is the filmmakers’ right, but it’s disappointing nonetheless from the perspective of fight scenes. And it’s not without merit: the entrance of Slattern, the bisecting of Raiju, the skewering/cooking of Scunner, and the emotionally-charged sacrifices are all good stuff. But on the whole, it’s the weakest fight of the movie, which is always a bummer to say about the climax.

Grade: B-

Coming Attractions: Wait… more Pacific Rim?

Wait... where'd all the giant robots go?

Where’d all the giant robots go?

Pacific Rim (fight 4 of 5)

Now, where were we?

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Oh, right.

4) Gipsy vs Otachi

The Fighters:

  • Gipsy Danger, our hero robot fresh off its last kill.
    • Piloted by: Raleigh Beckett and Mako Mori, just as it was ten minutes before. Played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi.
  • Otachi, the big beast who took out Crimson Typhoon not long ago. We will find out later that Otachi is pregnant which, in addition to inviting some Jay Leno-esque “no wonder it’s so cranky herp derp derp” jokes, doesn’t really mesh with the movie positing that the kaiju are all clones off a bunch of weird genetic assembly lines. The moviemakers have also asserted off-screen that Otachi is female, which again may not make sense but it helps with the confusion I’ve been having with what pronouns to use for these damn things.

The Setup: After parting with Leatherback (rest in pieces), Otachi made a beeline straight for Dr. Geiszler, presumably tracking him by some sort of psychic means. She digs right into the public bunker he’d been hiding out in and gets up close with some sort of weird glowing tendrils.

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Anal probe pain level: MAXIMUM

But before Otachi can grab Geiszler and make him wish he’d never left sunny Philadelphia, the kaiju turns at the sound of Gipsy Danger’s trademark blare. Come to think of it, I never was clear on if Gipsy’s Inception-like BWAAAAAMPS are heard by characters in the movie or if they’re just part of the soundtrack.

As the camera gradually reveals, the dangerous one is dragging a hefty oil tanker lengthwise in its left hand. The music here is a lazier, jazzier version of its main heroic theme, matching the cocky tone of the jaeger’s entrance. It’s fitting, because the heroes are hot off a much-deserved win. While Gipsy was confident in the last fight, here the robot– and the movie– is outright swaggering.

The Fight: As Gipsy closes in, the robot casually swings the ship up so that it’s being held in both hands like a club, and brings the improvised weapon crashing down on Otachi’s stupid lizard face. The villain receives several more blows before she uses her tail to pluck it out of Gipsy’s hands and fling it to a distant street. Where, in a nice touch, it bounces a few times and lands embedded horizontally between two buildings.

At least it will be easy to find later.

At least it will be easy to find later.

The tail also knocks Gipsy down with a strong blow to the chest, and Otachi uses that opportunity to scamper off around a corner. Gipsy gives chase but has a hard time finding the kaiju, which seems hard to believe. It’s like Where’s Waldo, if Waldo was a 3,000-ton space monster.

In another nice touch, as Gipsy clomps around Hong Kong, it passes a small car bridge, and the pilots actually go out of their way to step over it. Even while holding armageddon at bay, still showing at least some consideration to the surrounding environment. It’s not hard, Zack Snyder.

Unfortunately Otachi shortly more than makes up for Gipsy’s apparent respect for property values when she crashes right through a high-rise building and tackles the jaeger.

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“I think I found her!”

There’s some more tussling here, the best part of which is when we see a ducked punch from Gipsy clear right through an empty office area, with the fist coming to a stop juuuuuuust in time to nudge a Newton’s Cradle into motion. It’s Del Toro’s playful streak showing– completely gratuitous but very funny.

Otachi grabs the jaeger and slams it back & forth between a few buildings, finally shoving Gipsy all the way through one of them. The kaiju tries to follow that up with an acid spit finisher, but Gipsy dodges just in time. Before the gross monster can spit again, Gipsy shoves a fist right in her mouth (wouldn’t there still be lots of acid left in there?) and grabs hold of something. Otachi brings her tail over and coils it all the way around Gipsy’s arm, effectively trapping the robot while trying to snap its head off.

"Caught between a mouth and a hard tail," I believe is the expression.

“Caught between a mouth and a hard tail,” I believe is the expression.

Quick-thinking Raleigh counters this by venting the coolant on the machine’s left flank. The super-cold discharge ends up freezing Otachi’s tail so hard the jaeger can snap it right off. Now she’ll never be the tail of a major corporation. With its hand newly free, Gipsy is able to hold Otachi still and rip out the mouth sac that launches her acid spit. Yowch.

The enraged kaiju jumps onto Gipsy and digs the claws on her hind legs deep into Gipsy’s spine. With a solid grip, Otachi springs her surprise: the hidden leather wings on her forearms. As an even heavier version of the old-school monstruous kaiju tune plays up, Otachi pulls Gipsy high up into the sky, smacking the robot along a few buildings for good measure. It’s kind of poorly edited, with literally no transition between the pair just barely passing the rooftops and then suddenly being almost in orbit.

Out of plasma ammo and about to run out of atmosphere, Mako reveals (how is it possible for them to be surprising each other at this point? They’re literally sharing a brain) Gipsy’s own secret weapon:

Letting out a delightfully hammy declaration of revenge in Japanese, Mako makes Gipsy swing hard enough to cut clean through the bat-lizard.

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Again, if you spoke kaiju you’d know Otachi was saying, “that really was a Hattori Hanzo sword.”

This is awesome, and if anything it only suffers from being not quite as awesome as what immediately preceded it. There’s a lot less direct physical fighting between the two combatants this time, but that’s replaced by a healthy amount of other incident: the brief chase in the crowded city, the acid spit, the tail freezing, and that unusual aerial ending. So while it’s less of a “fight,” than the Leatherback duel, that’s fine, because we didn’t need too much more of the same so soon.

And of course there’s that opening where Gipsy Danger strolls in Like A Boss and wields a tanker like a baseball bat. That forgives a lot.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: A disappointing finale.

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“im un ur ocean, bitin off ur arms”

Pacific Rim (fight 3 of 5)

“Pacific Rim is the ultimate otaku film that all of us had always been waiting for. Who are you, if you are Japanese and won’t watch this?”Hideo Kojima, master video game creator

If the movie impressed you before, here’s where it really shines.

And/or rips stuff off of it.

Shiny, indeed.

3) Gipsy vs Leatherback

The Fighters:

  • Gipsy Danger, our friend from the opening battle, repaired and given a couple modifications. The most notable of them is a chain sword hidden in each forearm.
    • Piloted by: Raleigh Beckett and Mako Mori, played by Charlie Hunnam and the strangely charismatic Rinko Kikuchi, respectively. After barely surviving the Knifehead incident, Raleigh spent about five years in anonymous construction work, recovering from the traumatic loss of his brother. As part of the now-cancelled* jaeger program’s last-ditch effort to proactively end the war, Stacker Pentecost tracks down Raleigh and pulls him back to active duty. His new co-pilot Mako turns out to be Pentecost’s own surrogate daughter, who he’d been caring for ever since her family’s death in an early kaiju attack years before. As you can guess, she has scores to settle.
  • Leatherback, the ape-like latecomer in the previous fight. Having sustained minimal injuries in that five-colossus brawl, he’s pretty much good to go.

[*The film’s “Pan Pacific Defense Corps” has discontinued the jaeger initiative due to high costs and increasingly unsatisfactory results in the face of ever-stronger kaiju attackers. They’re funding Pentecost for only eight more months as they put their focus instead on an enormous coastal wall that doesn’t even look like it will repel a sustained kaiju attack… and it doesn’t, as we see earlier in the film, but the global bureaucracy charges ahead with the same plan anyway. The staggering political incompetence necessary for this premise is a lot more plausible in light of the real-life U.S. government’s disastrous attempts to overhaul its health care system in late 2013.]

The Setup: As Beckett helpfully (and falsely, according to real-world science) explains, since Gipsy’s power source is a nuclear reactor, it’s “analog” rather than digital, and unaffected by the recent EMP blast. Regardless, it’s been maybe five minutes since that pulse went off– barely enough time for the pilots to get into their flight outfits, never mind the climb into the jaeger, get into their delicate “drift” state, do all the pre-flight checks, hook the machine up to a dozen helicopters, etc. But why let logic get in the way of such a great entrance?

Gipsy gets dropped off pretty close to the kaiju and assumes a ready stance. Raleigh quietly asks Mako if she’s ready for the real thing. She SO is.

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For those who hadn’t given up on Pacific Rim entirely by this point, this is the part where it really wins them over. After not just that long dry spell but the devastating losses in the previous battle, the story is in desperate need of a little turnaround. You can really feel the excitement here, and even before the first punch is thrown the audience understands that although it won’t be easy, our heroes won’t let us down this time: Gipsy Danger’s about to kick some ass.

The Fight: The jaeger judo-dodges around Leatherback’s initial charge and is able to seize the monster from behind. Even though it’s unnecessary because Gipsy is immune to it, the robot still rips the bio-electrical EMP device right off from Leatherback’s, uh, back. From the top of the powered-down Striker Eureka, the pilots cheer on Gipsy, with even the erstwhile dickhead Chuck Hansen enthusiastically urging his rivals to take down the beast.

Leatherback is understandably pissed off at having chunks torn off him, so the kaiju breaks free and turns the tables. Using its advanced size smartly, the monster catches Gipsy in a bear hug.

The kaiju then spins around to get momentum and throws Gipsy a good mile or two through the air to the Hong Kong coast, resulting in that long ponderous fall & slide that was spoiled in every single trailer. The jaeger finally comes up in a ready crouch at a dock area, and Leatherback sets foot on land, unleashing a great big giant monster scream apparently as the world’s biggest “come at me bro.”

Both monster and machine charge each other at full speed, with Gipsy’s pilots clearly relishing the thrill (it’s stated earlier in the movie that piloting a jaeger is basically the world’s greatest adrenaline rush). The music builds to a crescendo as they close the distance and Gipsy gets the better of it their simultaneous leap, launching higher up and coming down with a hammer punch on top of Leatherback’s scaly noggin.

"Hello! McFly!"

“Hello! McFly!”

The jaeger hits its foe a few more times (including one with the awesomely impractical Elbow Rocket), but when Leatherback goes down he seizes a piece of control tower and clocks Gipsy with it a few times. Following the kaiju’s example (and maybe also Hulk’s), Gipsy grabs several shipping containers in hand and uses them to smack the enemy around, culminating in a simultaneous smashing to both sides of Leatherback’s face. It’s questionable at best, because surely those shipping containers aren’t made of harder metal than Gipsy’s own “skin,” but again: rule of cool. Del Toro films the blow smartly, slowing down time nearly to a standstill as we see a stunned Leatherback amidst a cloud of suspended debris.

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Then everything revs back up and the fight continues. After some more tussling, the kaiju uses his size advantage again and just rushes into Gipsy, steadily pushing the jaeger back. Stuck in close quarters, the pilots decide it’s the best time to whip out the trusty old plasma cannon.

"Don't plaz me, bro!"

“Don’t plaz me, bro!”

Using the right arm cannon, Mako “empties the clip” per Raleigh’s instruction, tearing increasingly bigger holes in Leatherback’s hide until the monster’s arm falls clean off and it eventually topples, just before it would have pushed Gipsy into the water.

Gipsy starts to walk away, but Raleigh clearly remembers how he assumed Knifehead’s death too soon. Wanting to “check for a pulse” Gipsy revs up the other plasma cannon and blasts the monster several more times, ripping enormous cavities in its chest. Presumably a simpler and more ammunition-efficient way would be to just jump on the monster’s head or something, but this is way more fun.

In real war, double-tapping is technically illegal. Good thing the kaiju don't know about the Geneva Convention.

In real war, double-tapping is technically illegal, so good thing the kaiju don’t know about the Geneva Convention.

Satisfied that Leatherback is not merely dead but really most sincerely dead, Gipsy looks to elsewhere in city at its next target: the deadly Otachi.

This is basically non-stop awesome. It fully delivers on the promise of inventive, epic excitement that you went to the movie for. More importantly, as discussed above it comes at just the right time in the narrative, giving the heroes a win they sorely need. And there’s that promise of more to come.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: The ship hits the fan.

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Pacific Rim (fight 2 of 5)

Another fight filled with tragedy.

And not just because Stryker never got any beads for this.

And not just because Striker never got any beads for this.

If Pacific Rim has any major weakness it’s that it sags in the middle. Not terminally– what does transpire is watchable enough if a bit cliche-ridden and predictable, plus there are a couple of human physical sequences we’ll get to later– but if you came for giant robots fighting giant monsters (and of course you did), there’s a huge stretch of time where that is inexplicably not happening.

Fortunately the movie makes up for it when the action finally does rev back up, giving the audience three big fight sequences that are practically back-to-back-to-back, and a climax not too long after. This is where the movie starts to make its money.

2) Typhoon, Cherno and Striker vs Otachi and Leatherback

The Fighters:

  • Crimson Typhoon, a robot made and by piloted by the Chinese (the jaeger program is an international effort). Unlike the other machines it has a third arm, made possible by its number of pilots. Rather than hands, each arm has a large spinning blade attached to the end of it, making this the jaeger’s primary offensive attack. Typhoon uses the blades in a technique called the “Thundercloud Formation,” the specifics of which are vague but is apparently designed to allow a continuous and seemingly unblockable offense. The robot’s head is also smaller than other models’ but more easily moved, increasing the pilots’ ability to see at the expense of heightened vulnerability, since the head is where the pilots are located. This will turn out to be a bad trade-off.
    • Piloted by: Cheung Wei Tang, Hu Wei Tang, and Jin Wei Tang, Chinese triplets and martial artists. Played by Charles Luu, Lance Luu, and Mark Luu, who are, you guessed it, real-life identical triplets. Good thing for them they’re Chinese and not North Korean. Supposedly Guillermo del Toro wanted quadruplets for the role but couldn’t find any so he had to settle for triplets… which is mystifying because the Wei Tangs are on-screen for so little time a fourth could have easily been simulated using movie tricks that have been around since at least The Parent Trap. Heck, they could have done it all with just one guy.
  • Cherno Alpha, the Russian jaeger and one of the oldest around. Big and simple in a very stereotypically Russian way: ugly, but it gets the job done. Unlike the other jaegers (especially Typhoon), its head is a thick, heavily protected tin can connected directly to the torso, with no “neck” or other vulnerable spots– you know, like the guy who used to beat you up in high school. Doesn’t seem to have any offensive powers besides its extra-large fists.
    • Piloted by: Aleksis and Sasha Kaidonovsky, a Russian husband & wife team. Like the Wei Tangs, they’re not much of a presence in the movie, but they still make a strong impression with their imposing size, stoic attitudes and outrageous bleach blonde hair. Played by Robert Maillet and Heather Doerksen, the latter of whom probably had to endure a lot of taunting in primary school.
  • Striker Eureka, an Australian jaeger with the highest kill count on record. A newer, sleek and speedy model. Like Gipsy, Striker largely gets things done physically (aided by some sharp-looking prongs at the top of its wrists), but it also houses six short-range missile launchers behind a retractable chest cavity. It’s unknown just how powerful the missiles are, but one barrage was enough to finish off a tough-looking kaiju earlier in the movie (in a battle so fleetingly glimpsed via news report earlier in the movie it’s not worth writing up), which makes you wonder why cities don’t just set up similar missile batteries near their coastlines.
    • Piloted by: Herc and Chuck Hansen, a father & son Aussie team. Herc, the dad, is a veteran jaeger & military pilot. The son, Chuck, is fairly young but a talented hotshot. He’s also another of the film’s irritations, because he’s a cartoonishly arrogant and needlessly vindictive prick. Apparently the screenwriters felt the film needed an element of drama it could only get from a designated jerk, so they made a bully straight out of a bad 80s high school movie to hiss nasty stuff at Raleigh every time they’re on-screen together. There’s a moment toward the end where Pentecost casually diagnoses Chuck as having “daddy issues,” which is bizarre because Herc is incredibly nice & respectful to everybody. Played by Max Martini (from The Unit!) and Robert Kazinsky, respectively
  • Otachi, a more lizard-like kaiju who prefers to crawl about on all fours. In addition to the deadly claws & jaws that all these beasties seem to come equipped with, Otachi (Japanese for “big sword,” apparently) also has an extra-long & thick prehensile tail, with another large gripper claw on the end of it. It can also spit large amounts of corrosive blue acid which it stores in a sac underneath the chin. And this won’t come into play until later, but Otachi also has a set of strong wings hidden in its forearms.
  • Leatherback, a fat kaiju with a¬†gorilla-like body who walks dragging the knuckles attached to his enormous forearms. Big & strong, of course, and he has some sort of alien device on his back that can release an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Whew, that was a long one.

The Setup: After their first attempt at forming a neural bridge went all kinds of wrong, Raleigh and his would-be partner, Mako, are grounded, so when two more kaiju are detected (the first time more than one has attacked at once), it’s up to Cherno & Typhoon to defend the city (Striker is held back in reserve, because it’s needed for an important mission later). Though actually as we shortly find out, the kaiju’s primary mission here is to hunt down a human scientist working for the jaeger program, because he’d gone rogue and neural-drifted with a piece of kaiju corpse, getting the hive mind’s attention. (The scientist, Dr. Geiszler, is made to feel bad for “provoking” the enemy, but since they were intent on showing up in cities and wrecking things anyway, I don’t see what the big difference is.)

So Striker hugs the coast while the two other active jaegers venture out to find the approaching kaiju. It doesn’t take them long.

Peekaboo.

Peekaboo.

The Fight: Otachi, not one to beat around the bush, pops out of the water directly in front of Crimson Typhoon. After a brief holler, it spins around and floors the jaeger with its massive tail. Sweep the leg!

NO MERCY!

NO MERCY!

Typhoon pauses and actually shakes its head a little bit before getting up, the way a human would after taking a hard knock. Presumably this is because the pilots are a bit dazed from the fall and the jaeger is only following their movements, but it’s still a funny touch because it looks like the robot is dizzy, which is hilarious.

Typhoon arises and attacks Otachi using Thundercloud, all three blades spinning madly. The brothers get in a good five or six swipes, ripping several tears across the kaiju’s ugly gut, before Otachi seizes two of the jaeger’s hands in its own claws, crunching the blades good. Rather than just going to town with the remaining third limb (this would kind of seem to be what it’s there for, no?), Typhoon responds by using the jets on its back to leap into the air above Otachi’s head, but remains vertical and still with its hands caught in the monster’s claws. It looks like the world’s biggest, slowest suplex, except it’s self-inflicted.

While Typhoon is briefly suspended above Otachi’s head, the pilots swivel the entire lower half of its body (that’s nifty) so that it lands with increased leverage, which it then uses to fling Otachi several hundred feet through the air.

The kaiju stumbles in the shallow water, where it finds Cherno Alpha ready for business. The beefy jaeger wastes no time charging in and delivering an elbow drop (more rasslin’ moves!) to Otachi’s long neck. Cherno segues right into a headlock and follows up with a few blows to the monster’s face. It can’t finish the job, though, because the creature’s tail swipes in to knock it down.

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The Hansens see this and want to help, but are told to stand down by command. Meanwhile, Typhoon closes back in on Otachi, so the beast is surrounded and seemingly in trouble. But that damn tail is still too unpredictable for the pilots: it whips in and smacks Typhoon, and the claw at the end of it grabs onto Typhoon’s head/cockpit. This spurs the Hansens to finally disobey orders and start rushing over to help, but it’s too late to save Typhoon’s noggin: after a little bit of wrenching, the entire thing gets yanked clean off, and flung carelessly into the sea. Just like with Yancy we don’t see what happens to the triplets inside after that, but they almost certainly didn’t survive. As for Crimson Typhoon, well, now he’ll never be the head of a major corporation.

That's not the way to get ahead in life

Too soon?

Really, as I said earlier, that was a serious design flaw. Surely they could have found a way to increase the jaeger’s visibility (cameras embedded in the sides, or something) without leaving its pilots so exposed. This is twice now in the movie a jaeger has been quickly compromised by a direct attack on its cockpit. That’s not the way to get ahead in life.

Anyway, Cherno Alpha’s pilots see this and are pissed. The jaeger clangs its fists together in anticipation, and rushes at Otachi. Unfortunately, Otachi does its Linda Blair impression and hits Cherno square in the face with deadly acid. The jaeger is damaged but not down, even though the acid quickly leaves the pilots directly exposed. Otachi bites into Cherno’s arm and the jaeger starts to fight back, but his fate is sealed when Leatherback decides to make his entrance.

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Leatherback clings onto Cherno’s back and starts tearing it up from behind, even as Otachi keeps at it from the front. Soon enough the latter decides that Leatherback can finish things off on its own, and goes off to engage Striker Eureka. Indeed, Leatherback does make short work of things, seizing Cherno and shoving it into the ocean. There’s a strangely personal & chilling malice in the way the monster simply holds the robot down, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Water floods not just the pilots but also the reactor, shortly triggering a muted explosion that saves the pilots the indignity of a slow drowning death.

Meanwhile, an enraged Striker has been ruthlessly pounding on Otachi. The jaeger finishes up by hefting the kaiju above its head and giving it a mighty toss– maybe not the smartest move on the pilots’ part, since the landing in deep water doesn’t really hurt it, and Striker would have been better off pressing the advantage. Maybe they only did that so they’d have a safe distance from which to fire Striker’s missiles… but that doesn’t work either, because a freshly-unoccupied Leatherback sees the danger and activates its EMP.

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To slightly paraphrase War Machine: Why didn’t they lead with that? Really, it could saved the kaiju a lot of hassle. Getting all their targets in range couldn’t have been an issue, because the pulse extends at least all the way to the shore.

As Striker stands inert, the two monsters have a brief exchange. Otachi charges off to find Dr. Geiszler while Leatherback stays behind to menace its motionless enemy. There are a couple cuts away to headquarters and the doctor’s misadventures in the city, but soon enough we come back to the two pilots in their useless robot. They leave their harness just as Leatherback gives Striker’s head a playful smack, which leads to Herc falling and hurting his arm.

There’s some macho arguing, but ultimately the two decide to “do something really stupid”: rather than sit there and wait for the inevitable doom, the Hansens climb outside to almost literally spit in Death’s eye. Armed with flare guns, they wait for a curious Leatherback to examine them up close, and fire a couple shots right at some of his six eyeballs. The monster is none too happy and raises his fists to take them out, when suddenly a spotlight hits him from behind….

Well. All kidding aside, this is some pretty harsh stuff to watch. Probably not as much as it would be if we’d actually gotten to know some of these now-dead characters (and their awesome jaegers) on anything but the most surface of levels. To be sure, some of the mystique surrounding the Russian & Chinese pilots is owed to them being more on the periphery, but it’s possible to flesh out a supporting character while still maintaining his or her mystique. As it is, these folks are barely cameos before this.

The way the fight unfolds also underscores the problem of the movie’s necessarily rushed storytelling. This is the first really extended monster combat we’ve seen so far, yet it’s filled with at least three “this has never happened before!” moments: two kaiju attacking simultaneously, a kaiju using projectile spit, and a kaiju with a sophisticated technological attack. We have minimal grounding here, jumping into this war just as it’s starting to get truly interesting and desperate.

All that being said, the fight is astounding. With five combatants constantly shifting back & forth and some unexpected attacks (not just the obvious ones like the EMP and acid spit either; Otachi’s crazy tail is another game-changer) this is a WAY more dynamic fight than the opening number. We get to see a few more tricks from the jaegers as well, and of course there’s that crazy sense of scale that Pacific Rim’s fights operate on. This battle puts a very effective cap on the tail end of the second-act doldrums, and excellently sets things up for the big turnaround.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Looks like Team Elbow Rocket’s blasting off again….