There are two times a year where Hollywood really rolls out their Big Tentpole Franchise Movies: summer and the holidays. This summer, we’ve already seen Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hangover Part III, Fast and Furious 6, and Man of Steel. We still have World War Z, The Lone Ranger, and The Wolverine.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s comic-book movie sequel, book adaptation, sequel to a reboot of a 60s TV show, REALLY unnecessary sequel, another sequel, comic-book movie reboot, another book adaptation, another TV adaptation, and another comic-book movie sequel.
There are two summer blockbusters that are conspicuously absent: Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium.
If you care at all about seeing something other than comic-book movies, book adaptations, TV adaptations, and unnecessary sequels from May to August and Thanksgiving to New Years, you owe it to yourself to see Pacific Rim and Elysium.
Pacific Rim and Elysium are two very, very different movies, helmed by two similar directors.
Pacific Rim is directed by Guillermo del Toro, most well known for Blade II and the Hellboy series, as well as Pan’s Labyrinth. If anything, he’s more famous for the movie he didn’t make: At The Mountains Of Madness, a film adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous novellas. In Pacific Rim, del Toro is bringing to American audiences two of the great traditions of Japanese cinema: the Mecha and the Kaiju. Mecha is exemplified by the Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Macross series, which themselves inspired Hasbro’s mega-popular Transformers. Kaiju, on the other hand, is exemplified by one monster alone: Godzilla. These two great pillars of cinema have, on their own, made their way to American shores, but never together in the way that del Toro has combined them in Pacific Rim.
In Pacific Rim, monstrous creatures known as Kaiju have emerged from a transdimensional portal beneath the Pacific Ocean. Humanity responds by constructing massive robots, called Jaegers, to fight them. The concern, of course, is that Pacific Rim is just Robots Versus Monsters. To a certain extent, that’s going to be true, but if there’s anything that del Toro in particular is excellent at it is infusing his characters, even the most inhuman ones, with emotion and purpose. What can be more inhuman than 200-foot tall robots and their equally-sized trans-dimensional monster adversaries?
Also, if you can watch this and not be a little excited, you might want to have someone check your pulse, because you might be dead.
Pacific Rim releases July 12th, 2013.
The other film on our radar is Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp. If you don’t know who Neill Blomkamp is, that’s okay. His last movie was 2009’s Academy Award Best Picture Nominated District 9. Like del Toro, Blomkamp is most well known for the film he didn’t direct: the big-screen adaptation of Microsoft’s Halo video game franchise. The story goes that Peter Jackson, who was attached to the Halo project, gave Blomkamp $30 million in funding after it fell through and told him to go make whatever he wanted. Blomkamp made District 9.
So, four years later, Blomkamp is back with a vengeance in Elysium. The year is 2154: the rich live on Elysium, a space station orbiting a ruined and overpopulated Earth, home of everyone else. Max De Costa, played by Matt Damon, is forced to assault Elysium in the hopes of bringing equality to the two worlds.
Considering the ongoing news stories of the wealthiest among us living obscenely while everyone else scrambles for crumbs, it’s not out of the question that one day, the ultra-wealthy could leave Earth altogether and let the rest of us fight and squabble over the ashes. It’s somewhat provocative, especially given that many of those same ultra-wealthy are actors and Hollywood studio heads. The fact that it’s set in the future and has significant elements of science fiction as a vehicle for a social message makes this a film unique, especially among summer blockbusters.
Elysium releases August 9th, 2013.
So, why should you see both of these movies? It’s because they’re something different. Success for both films at the box office encourages Hollywood execs to take risks on unproven IPs that aren’t based on something else, or another reboot, or another sequel. It’s important that we, the movie-going public, show that we can appreciate something smart and original, or else it’s going to be reboots, sequels, and licensed works from here on out.