Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

I spent much of my youth watching Godzilla, Ultraman, Voltron, Giant Robo, Mazinger Z and other various Creature Features.  I had tons of these toys, and still own about 10 Godzilla films on DVD at present.  I've long wished for that big budget epic of any of these properties, and no, Roland Emmerich's Godzilla does not count.  I do have hopes for the upcoming Godzilla film though.  You can imagine my excitement when seeing the various trailers and spots for Pacific Rim.  I finally get to see giant robots fight giant creatures in the way I've always dreamed!

The kid in me loved Pacific Rim on that front.  It delivers on exactly what it advertised.  However, if you watch Pacific Rim and come away from it thinking it's an awful piece of shit, then I wouldn't be able to disagree with you.  Nearly every other aspect of Pacific Rim is a mess (I'll get to that).  Some of this is a byproduct of the style though.  Pacific Rim is basically a big budget B movie or Midnight Monster Movie.  It's nothing more than a kids film, and it even feels like a toy commercial at times.

If you're hoping this may lead to a influx of more of these films, this is where I think Pacific Rim was a missed opportunity.  It doesn't do anything to transcend the genre.  I don't see many guys that will be able to drag their wives or girlfriends to this.  There just isn't any appeal outside of fathers and sons.  I had hoped that Guillermo del Toro would have tried to reach out to a wider audience, but those looking for a better story or interesting characters won't be able to get past the general cheesiness.

The entire backstory of Pacific Rim is laid out in the opening prologue.  Aliens opens a dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean and begin to send giant monsters, called Kaiju, through it on a regular schedule.  There doesn't seem to be any purpose to it other than to cause destruction.  The monsters progressively become larger and more powerful, so the world's governments put aside their differences and coordinate to build giant robots called Jaegers.  Initially these were controlled by a single pilot, but it's found that the neural load was too much for a single person, so they are operated by pairs of people that have their minds linked together, called "drifting".  This is not to be confused with Tokyo Drifting.

The action picks up several years into the conflict and things aren't looking good for humanity.  The Kaiju are getting stronger and attacking more frequently, and we're running out of Jaegers.  In a last ditch attempt to stop them, the remaining Jaegers are pooled and a plan is formed to close the rift.  Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a former Jaeger pilot that's moved on after the death of this brother is asked to step back into his old Jaeger.  That's pretty much the entire plot.

While I liked that Pacific Rim didn't waste too much time with backstory and throws us right into the action, I also wanted to see more of the early days of the Jaeger program and successes.  There were several generations of Jaegers, but you don't get to see all of them or learn what they improved with each version.  By the time of the events in Pacific Rim, there are only about five Jaegers left.  It would have been awesome to see a large force of these all on screen at once fighting multiple monsters.  I realize the budget of the film might not allowed that, but even a short, wide shot of an early epic battle would have been a sight to behold.

Instead, we're coming into to the story as the Jaegerr program is being shut down due to decreasing effectiveness.  These Jaegers don't last very long in a fight.  Some are so ineffective that it's hard to understand why they ever went this direction in the first place.  Wouldn't it have been more efficient to use the same resources to build up a large arsenal of huge missiles, mines and other weaponry to combat them?  Things that didn't require pilots or could be controlled remotely?  Yeah, I know that's not as fun, and there'd be no movie otherwise.  Forget it.  We came to see giant robots versus giant monsters!

Again, this is the success of Pacific Rim.  The action and special effects are fan-friggin-tastic!  Everything is colorful, the Kaiju and Jaegers all have interesting and unique looks about them.  You get to see robots vs monster action throughout the film, and there are some great, creative fights.  However, this brings me to one of the things that bugged me about Pacific Rim.  There are more than a few times where you can't tell what's going on.  It's not as bad as something like Transformers, but most of these battles occur at night, and in water, and are shot too close.  You never really get to have a good, long look at either the Kaiju or the Jaegers.  With all the design that went into them, it would be nice to be able to appreciate that more.  Just pause on a wide shot for an extra second or two.

As I've mentioned, there's not much to the plot and it's a pretty self-contained story.  There's no attempt to setup or even hint at a sequel or something coming next.  Part of me appreciates that, but when discussing after with my friend, we both thought the movie would have been better if it had been framed similar to how The Princess Bride was told. You could have had a retired Jaeger pilot telling his son or grandson the tale as a bedtime story.  At the end when the kid says something like, "Wow!  That was amazing!"  They could end the film with the pilot saying something like, "Oh yeah?  Well, wait until I tell you about what happened next!"  Then you could pretty much go crazy with anything you want in the sequel.  It doesn't mean they won't make one if it does well enough, but it felt like another missed opportunity to me.

I don't mind the thin plot since I wasn't watching Pacific Rim for that, but I was annoyed by all the various and unnecessary character threads.  This really drug the middle part of the film down, and didn't add anything or made me care about the characters.  Just get to the next fight scene.  Pacific Rim is over two hours long and it shouldn't have been.  There were times I got a little impatient waiting for the action to pick up again.

That's not to say if the characters were interesting or their development was done well it wouldn't have been appreciated though.  They behave in ways that make no sense or have no motivation behind.  There's another Jaeger pilot that absolutely hates Becket for no real reason.  They're working together to stop the apocalypse (oh, and we'll get to the "cancelling the apocalypse" thing), so you'd think they'd have some kind of bond or camaraderie.  There's a pair of scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn (Burn?) Gorman, that were meant as comic relief, but their antics and behavior were plain silly.  I did enjoy Charlie Day though, but that's probably due to more to being a fan of his in general.  Ron Perlman has a small role as this ridiculous black market seller of Kaiju parts that I couldn't help but laugh at, but not in a good way.  There's a lot of unintentional humor, and I didn't seem to be alone in laughing at the film.  At least this will make for a great Rifftrax.

The characters are so one-dimensional that many of them aren't even referred by name.  Even Charlie Hunnam's character is only mentioned by his last name, and he only ever referred to his brother as "my brother".  When the credits rolled, we were surprised to see they were named Raleigh and Yancy.  This also gave us a laugh, because aren't these girls names?  Why go through the trouble of coming up with unusual names for your characters if you don't bother using them?  Anyway...

Nearly everything about the plot is telegraphed.  It's every action cliche you can imagine.  There's even a young, aspiring Jaeger pilot, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), who is the best candidate to be Becket's partner, but Idris Elba won't let her.  There's a relationship between the two of them that's undeveloped as well, but the whole thing seemed like a pointless conflict and build up, as we all know she's going to end up in a Jaeger at some point.  Many parts of the film very melodramatic.

The dialog is pretty terrible, and it's not just that it's awful, but it's how it's delivered.  Characters shout for no reason.  Charlie Hunnam had a constant sneer even when he didn't have a reason to be angry.  Idris Elba at one point says, "don't let my calm demeanor fool you", yet he was one of the guys shouting most of his dialog.  I didn't find him calm.  Everyone seemed to be way overdoing it and it felt very cartoonish.  Maybe that's what Guillermo del Toro was going for with all the overacting and melodrama, to evoke those kinds of shows and cartoons that are silly and overdone.  I was just a little disappointed to see someone like Idris Elba made to look like an average actor.  If this was your first experience with him, you'd wonder what the big deal was.  You could say that about almost everyone in the film though.

Regarding all the shouting, I'm not sure if this was a problem with the film's sound mix or the theater I saw it in, but a lot of the dialog had an echo which also made it hard to make out.  Much of the dialog I couldn't understand because it was drowned out by other noise in the film.

Now it's time to "Cancel the Apocalypse".  I'm really getting tired of the trope of the dramatic, motivational speech that happens just before the climax.  It's unnecessary most of the time, but in an effort to not sound like all other speeches, they say things that aren't very natural.  In Pacific Rim, Idris Elba is forced to deliver an uninspired speech where he says, "Today, we cancel the apocalypse!"  If they make Pacific Rim 2, is someone going to say, "Tonight, we reschedule the Doomsday to a date to be determined later!"  Please let this happen.  My friend was starting to comment about the length of the film, and was unsure how much time we had left, so I said, "Well, he hasn't cancelled the apocalypse yet, so we still have a ways to go."  Then when the scene finally started, I sat up and said, "Oh sweet, he's about to cancel the apocalypse!"  It's a good thing the theater was mostly empty.  Lastly, I thought it was funny that you hear someone say in the film that it was a good speech.  It wasn't.

Pacific Rim is light on story, cheesy, over-acted, and terribly written.  You might think then that I hated it, but you're wrong!  It's still very entertaining and a lot of fun.  It absolutely delivers on the giant robots vs. monsters mayhem that was advertised.  The kid in me was delighted by what I saw, but still came away a little disappointed that it could have been more.  If you don't want anything beyond some mindless and great looking action, or are someone like me that needs your Godzilla fix, then it's definitely worth a matinee.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Good review Erik. It isn't so stupid that you can't watch it on some level of intelligence, but don't expect much. It's still big, loud, and dumb, but also a whole bunch of fun.

    1. Thanks, Dan. It's one of those films you do have to shut your brain off a bit, or accept a certain degree of cheesiness to enjoy, but that's not to say it's hard to have a lot of fun with it.

  2. Good Review Erik but I didn't tolerate it as much as you did. lol

    1. I definitely get it. Outside of the action, the movie leaves a lot to be desired. I'm disappointed those aspects weren't worked on. Oh well...