Saturday, 13 September 2014

Comic Relief: What Pacific Rim does right

Wacky, wise-cracking sidekicks are dangerous things. Loud, obnoxious and full of jokes that are entirely predictable. We don't care about them as characters and in turn the humour is, more often than not, extremely poor. Even when the comedy somewhat works, they can find themselves becoming audience hate figures. Transformers is perhaps the most egregious example of this, wherein pretty much the entire non-robot cast are turned into cartoonishly obnoxious caricatures.

In Pacific Rim, a movie I'm sure I'll review soon, we are introduced to a pair of feuding scientists, Newton and Hermann - Newton, specifically, becomes our designated comic relief. They are loud and obnoxious, they barely give their shtick a rest when they are on screen and their characters are built around stereotypes and cliches. They have all the ingredients of being non-stop annoyances.

And yet they aren't. Despite being in many ways definition of the tropes exemplified by annoying comic relief, they aren't annoying and both end up sympathetic. Why?

They have distinct skills

Newton and Hermann aren't a pair of wacky everymen who have fallen haphazardly in over their heads - they are two professionals. There's a reason they work for the Jaeger program: they offer something specific that the others do not. Without them, the plot cannot actually continue - they serve roles which make them pivotal characters in the story.

They are proactive

As the major character of the two, this rests mainly on Newton's shoulders. Newton's actions throughout the movie are useful and self-driven. We see below a gibbering exterior is a resourceful and actually very brave character. He goes against authority and risks his life, then travels into the heart of Hong Kong in order to track down a dangerous criminal - Hannibal Chau.

Their relationship

Threatens to be one note but, really, it's very far from that. There's a fine balance struck between Newton and Hermann of rivalry and respect. They are simultaneously enemies and friends - their relationship is nuanced, carrying both elements of conflict and fondness to them. It also develops as the story goes along, making them engaging as characters in their own right.


Essentially it all comes down to being good characters and active members of the plot - if the audience understands their position in the narrative beyond dumb laughs, it makes them engaging to the audience. Newton and Hermann are great examples of this.

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