Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim

"Pacific Rim" is a movie trying really really hard to please me in particular.  I think a webcrawling program started reading this blog over the last three years and decided to design a movie for me.  I haven't had this feeling since I watched "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension", a movie so peculiar and amazing that I am certain I will go back in time to the 1980s and create it personally.  Beyond merely making a movie where GIANT ROBOTS FIGHT GIANT MONSTERS, they went the extra mile and gave it a director I deeply respect, Charlie Day from "Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia", GLaDos from "Portal" in her first film role, and somehow they even made Faith from "Mirror's Edge" into a flesh and blood person as the main female love interest.  So this is a movie trying desperately to make nerds the world over really happy, mixing together "Evangelion", "Robot Jox", and "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS".  The fact that I'm even referencing "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS" shows how I am precisely in this film's demographic.

Which is why it is absolutely tragic that I do not particularly like "Pacific Rim".  I am very grateful that a major studio would make a movie for me, as if I'm some kind of master auteur despite having only been to Hollywood on a bus tour.  But I also have to be fair.  Nobody better ever call me biased ever again, I am a completely level critic, because I'm going ahead and saying that a movie I was desperately waiting for all year is not very good.  I could go the easy way out and say that the robots and the kaijus and the GLaDos make it all fine, but "Pacific Rim" is merely watchable.  Its... okay.  And its that kind of "okay" that makes you put a thoughtful pause right before you call it "okay".

Here's the thing boys and girls, "Robot Jox" sucked.  I only saw it a few months ago once people started comparing "Pacific Rim" to that 1980s Full Moon productions straight-to-VHS, and I generally hated it.  And I don't like "Pacific Rim" for pretty much the same reasons.  "Pacific Rim" is a lot more flashy, it has millions of dollars of work on the line here, but it also has a lame protagonist, a pretty bare-bones story, and only a few really great monster fights.  There's not really much ambition here beyond the raw spectacle.  In an age where I have "Evangelion 3.0" on my harddrive and can watch at any point, I just want more out of a giant monster movie.  If you like giant robots and giant monsters for no reason other than them being there, "Pacific Rim" is fine for you.  But I've seen better movies than this, and "Pacific Rim" does not have enough personality to really drive the two-hour running time it has.

The plot can be summed-up pretty much with:  giant aliens invade from the Pacific Ocean, the world builds giant robots to fight them.  And it never gets any more advanced than that.  "Evangelion" and "Rah-Xephon" had really intricate mystery plotlines behind them, and massively weird events beyond the simple spectacle of monsters and robots fighting.  In this, we begin with robots fighting monsters, and it ends with robots fighting monsters.  That's the whole thing, there really isn't much of an advancement or a twist to any of it.  The human race is down to just four giant robots*, while the monsters are coming faster and faster.  To save the world, we have to gather up a ragtag team of veteran pilots, used robots, and a nuclear bomb to blow up the alien homeworld using their own dimensional rift against them.  And that's it.

Part of the problem, I think, can be found in the main leads, who unfortunately are some of the most boring parts of their own movie.  Since this is a huge summer blockbuster, the studio seems to have decided to play it safe and get a generic brown-haired hero dude to play the main hero.  This guy is so wooden that I like to imagine Guillermo del Toro chopping down an entire forest in the Pacific Northwest just to carve out this horrible boring protagonist.  I have never seen the actor playing this role before, and it appears he should have stayed unknown.  I like how del Toro didn't immediately pick a generic A-list actor, but maybe he should have found somebody with a shred of personality, perhaps?  He does have a Japanese love-interest/robot co-pilot, who is far more interesting a character - who should have been the main protagonist, by the way.  She, however, only has a single hurdle to overcome, a childhood memory of Tokyo getting squashed by a kaiju, and once she gets over that, Guilllermo del Toro did not let her talk again for the rest of the movie.

Though if I'm looking for people who would have made a more interesting main hero, there's plenty of selection in "Pacific Rim" since it at least has a strong supporting cast.  Idris Elba is an absolute badass ruling every scene he's in.  Charlie Day is a scientist doing Charlie Work as he tries to mind meld with the alien brains.  Ron Perlman even shows up in a fantastically-awesome outfit as a black market kaiju body parts dealer.  Make the movie about any of these people, and "Pacific Rim" would have been noticeably better.

But for me, the problem is found in the fact that this isn't a very good giant monster movie.  To me, a giant monster movie is defined by its giant monster, not by the humans.  The humans are incidental for the most part, merely props supporting the giant monster.  You don't go to see Godzilla for the Japanese actors, you see it for Godzilla.  "Pacific Rim" does not have Godzilla, but neither does it have any particular monster with the same force of personality.  And yes, huge hulking monstrosities the size of buildings can have personality, the best giant monster movies are the ones that use the monsters as characters in the story.  Or at least stage huge battles with memorable creatures letting you root for one of the guys in suits as you would in a wrestling match.  Kaiju films are basically sporting matches on screen.  "Pacific Rim" uses the monsters merely as evil antagonists, nothing more, and sadly the monsters are so rarely seen as to hardly make an impression.

To be fair, there are two simply fantastic battles against giant monsters in "Pacific Rim" and these are probably what you're looking for in your admission price.  The first fight is great, the second one is beautiful, and probably the closest "Pacific Rim" gets to being great.  The final fight sucks, sorry.  There is a huge amount of money being shown on the screen as these massive robots brawl with even bigger creatures.  However, the creatures are pretty much all interchangeable (except for the two in the second fight, who were at least distinguishable and had unique powers), and this is especially bad in the last fight, when the robots fight three kaiju, and I could not begin to tell you which one was which.  There are just too many monsters, and aside from the second fight, they aren't given enough screentime to become interesting.  And half the reason I'm watching this movie is for the monsters!  Why aren't they cool?  Why are they all basically the same giant sea creature with a slug-face?

Probably because this is a huge CG fest.  Nearly every fight takes place at night, or in low visibility because of how expensive these monsters were to make.  This unfortunately means that even though they are huge incredibly complicated and intricate designs, they still wind up having much of the same effect as a robot in Michael Bay's transformers.  "Pacific Rim" does a good job making its robots unique enough (though you'll still get confused at times), but there is still something of an artless brutality in the art design of the giants.  Its too complicated, you can't get much of a sense of form or individuality behind any of it.  And frankly, I'm feeling exhausted and somewhat claustrophobic merely describing it.  I know this is an American production, so not using CG for every effect is against the law, but still, watch any Godzilla movie and you'll see how practical effects give so much more possibility to the production.  We limit ourselves with CG.  Which is funny, since its such an impressive filmmaking tool that can create literally anything.  And yet, I'd much rather see Haruo Nakajima in a funny costume.

"Pacific Rim" is not a video game.  And yet the plot never gets more complicated than that.  Every kaiju fight might as well be a level.  The final battle is against a final boss.  There's nothing more to this film than that fights.  It is empty beyond it.  I'm honestly shocked that such a mindless movie could have been made by Guillermo del Toro, who at least brings some kind of original spark even at his most pedestrian.  And trust me, "Pacific Rim" is Guillermo del Toro's worst movie yet, by far.  Hey, if you just want the spectacle, don't worry, its here.  "Pacific Rim" is generally solid, its never particularly boring.  But its never great.  There isn't much thought behind this.  Its not even wildly goofy like a 60s kaiju film to add in that missing personality.

So I'm sorry.  I'd really like "Pacific Rim" to be something really great, but as it stands now, its probably going to be a major box office loser to "Grown Ups 2".  In comparison, "Pacific Rim" is like William Falkner classic literature.  So go see this if you must see a movie this weekend.  But I'll be at home, watching "Godzilla 2000".

* Meaning that at least one the giant robots from the posters, Japan's Coyote Tango, only shows up in a single scene, and barely at that.  Luckily you can probably still buy the toy.


  1. i feel just like with Man of Steel it's gonna be one of those movies where I read the review first, expecting it to be less than satisfactory but pretty much content with the actual movie once ive seen it and have a view of "man that was actually better than I was led to believed"

    So yeah, guess well see when I see it.

    1. To be fair Pacific Rim is about 7 billion times better than Man of Steel. The movie has like a sense of humor and fun, it isn't depressing, and Charlie Day.

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