Film and drama

Screen Themes: The Shape of Water vs Pacific Rim: Uprising

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It’s all about the monsters this week as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out an offbeat Oscar winner and the rarest of beasts — a sequel that surpasses the original.

The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (2018)

It is probably fair to call Guillermo del Toro a visionary, in that he has created striking cinematic imagery never seen before and often imitated since. From the multi-eyed horror lurking beneath fascist Spain in Pan’s Labyrinth to the horrific creatures from subversive comic adaptations Blade II and Hellboy, del Toro is great at creating memorable monsters.

Of course, a director is only as good as his actors and del Toro found something of a muse in former mime Doug Jones. Rail-thin and able to contort his body into seemingly impossible shapes, Jones brings del Toro’s creature creations to life and imbues them with a genuine sense of soul. This talent was first revealed in Jones’ performance as fish-man Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies but has grown to fruition in his performance as Amphibian Man in the Shape of Water.

As you may have picked up from the trailer, The Shape of Water is a love story, with the unlikely love coming from mute cleaner Elisa Esposito, played by the almost impossibly delicate Sally Hawkins. Far from a Disney princess, Hawkins is sexual and gently manipulative, pursuing her love relentlessly despite the consequences. Magnetic on screen, Hawkins brings a quiet dignity to a role that could have been farcical — the silent woman who falls in love with the fish-man.

Joining Jones and Hawkins in The Shape of Water is a cast of talented performers including Octavia Spencer as Eliza’s sassy colleague Zelda, Richard Jenkins as her closeted gay neighbour Giles and Michael Stuhlbarg as the well-meaning Dr Hoffstetler. Last, but by no means least, the villain of the piece is Government agent Strickland, played with ruthless efficiency by Michael Shannon, surely one of the finest bad-guy actors of his generation.

While The Shape of Water is a worthy winner of the Best Picture Oscar, it’s probably not a movie for everyone. The pacing is a little slow in the first act, there are some serious liberties taken with old-timey building construction, and the love scenes between Amphibian and Eliza skirt a fine line between erotic and creepy. Taking this into account, if you’re open to a love story about people who are a little different from the norm, this could be the film for you.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S. DeKnight (2018)

First thing's first: I was not a fan of the original Pacific Rim, despite the fact that it was directed by the aforementioned visionary del Toro. The eight-year-old in me was excited about the concept: giant robots fighting equally giant monsters and the slightly older fanboy in me was looking forward to seeing what would happen when Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) met Jackson Teller (Charlie Hunnam).

And what did happen? Lots of exposition, followed by some not-quite-there-yet special effects. Oh, and some truly awful acting from both Elba and Hunnam, the latter of whom doubled down with the worst film of 2017 contender King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Come on Charlie, I know you’ve got a good performance in you somewhere…

For one reason or another (possibly because the first movie sucked), neither Elba or Hunnam chose to return for the sequel, freeing up the lead roles for Star Wars star-on-the-rise John Boyega and the indisputably good-looking Scott Eastwood.

Set 20 years after the events of the original, Pacific Rim: Uprising tells the story of Jake Pentecost (Boyega). Jake Pentecost is the son of the heroic but poorly named Stacker Pentecost, who is forced to live up to his father’s legacy when a new wave of Kaiju appear and start wreaking havoc around the world. It’s all very basic and straightforward in terms of plot, but it pays off in the all-important action to exposition ratio. The most entertaining scene is a pitched battle set in Sydney — there is something perversely satisfying at seeing the Sydney Opera House crushed beneath a giant robot.

Director Steven S. DeKnight has previously worked only on the small screen, on shows including Daredevil, Smallville and Dollhouse. It is perhaps this small screen training that allows DeKnight to get straight to the action — no 45 minutes of backstory on the importance of brotherhood here. For the most part, DeKnight also resists the modern trend of hyper-fast cuts to make action scenes seem more exciting, which is a nice change from fare like John Wick, which barely have an action cut longer than 2 seconds.

There is a fair chance that you’ve already made your mind up about Pacific Rim: Uprising and nothing I can say will change that opinion. And you’re probably right. This is not a movie that will make you think. It is unlikely to win any awards and many people will claim that the original is superior. But it’s perfect if you’re in the mood for big, dumb fun.

The Verdict

While Guillermo del Toro provides a connective tissue between The Shape of Water and Pacific Rim Uprising, the films could hardly be more different. Sure, both feature monsters, but one is a giant CGI slugfest while the other is an offbeat lamentation on the nature of love and humanity.

There is a good chance that you will still be thinking about The Shape of Water days or even weeks after seeing it, while it doesn’t pay to think too deeply about Pacific Rim: Uprising at all. By that measure, if you want a movie that will make you think, check out The Shape of Water. If not…

The Shape of Water — 8/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising — 7/10 

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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