Battle of who could care less: PAR reviews Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim is a film that puts the endlessly tedious origin stories to shame within five minutes or so. Instead of the now-familiar formula of re-telling the same story that every fan of the property knows by heart, and then wrecking a city at the end, Pacific Rim sets the stage with a quick monologue. There is a dimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean. Huge monsters routinely pour out of it and wreck our cities. We thought the best way to deal with this was to make giant fucking robots to punch them in the head.
Listen, you're either checked out already because this is stupid, or you're itching to go because that sounds awesome. Both reactions are 100 percent right.
It takes a very short amount of time to get the fun part, where those giant walking machines, called Jaeger (German for hunter) begin to punch the monsters in the head. This a world where the events of a Godzilla film are your average Wednesday, and it’s quickly becoming apparent that the humans are on the losing end of this war.
In fact, the resistance has a clock that clicks down from the last monster attack, reminiscent of the Battlestar Galactica episode “33.” The monsters show up, the Jaegar pilots jump into their mechs to fight them, and the cycle repeats. It takes two human pilots to control each mech, although the relationship needed between those pilots seems to disappear about two thirds of the way through the movie. Your brain gets overloaded if you try to drive one by yourself, and you know this because of the nose bleeds and the burst blood vessels in your eyes.
Don't worry, none of this stuff is explored much in the movie, it's all there to set up…
The good parts
Guillermo del Toro is one of the most effective directors working in fantasy and science fiction, and setting him loose in this kind of disaster movie was bound to result in something that looks amazing. Michael Bay has trouble making the combat in the Transformers series make any kind of sense, but the fights in Pacific Rim are shot in a way that makes sense. You can actually follow what’s happening, and you won’t get a headache from shaky cameras or constant jump cuts.
The best parts of the movie happen when the mechs and monsters fight, and this happens often. You’ll see a giant robot pick up train cars in its fists before taking a swing, much like a bar brawler holding rolls of quarters in his fists. They swing giant ships like baseball bats. The battles have a satisfying feeling of weight and consequence, and the mechs always seem to be bleeding some liquid or another when they get hurt. If you wanted a modern re-telling of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots with a hint of the Cthulhu mythos, you’re in luck.
I took my oldest kid to see it, and it just about knocked his block off. The film is 75 percent fan service, and in fact it can often feel like fanfiction for a property that doesn’t exist. The voice of GLaDOS plays the robot. The lead female character looks much like Faith from Mirror’s Edge. Good artists borrow, great artists steal, and del Toro was comfortable ransacking popular culture for character designs and tone.
If you want a modern day disaster film with mechs and monsters, you’re going to get it. But let’s move onto some of the things the movie doesn’t handle quite so well.
Oh god everyone shut up
The action is well above average, and it’s going to be kibble to genre fans, but the script is terrible. There are no characters here, just cardboard cut outs who are there to dully recite speeches and stand in the right place before they do exactly what you’d expect them to do. The entire story, and every major moment in it, is telegraphed heavily.
Pacific Rim isn’t a film as much as it’s a collection of everything we’ve come to expect from this kind of action movie, which is a giant disappointment from a del Toro film. It’s one thing to do a decent recreation of a movie we’ve already seen, but it’s depressing when someone who so often rises above the tropes of his genre can’t seem to bring any original thoughts to the material.
The movie even falls into that terrible trap of two characters saying things they both obviously know for the benefit of the viewer. “As we both know,” Charlie Day’s scientist says at one point, before delivering clunky and needlessly complicated exposition. No one talks like that. When two people know something, they just talk about it without repeating basic facts.
The story, the characters, and the pacing of the film is so damned expected and boring that it’s hard to care when the giant things begin crashing into each other. If you’re just there for the disaster porn, you’ll be fine. If you expected even a taste of something above the explosions, you’ll be disappointed. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
I hope the movie does well; it's not based on any existing characters, comic book or otherwise, and there is definitely a sense of fun and enjoyment in Pacific Rim that we've lost in most deeply serious and overly dark summer blockbusters. There are moments of brilliance, including a fight scene between the two heroes that shows chemistry that's hidden through most of the movie, and an utterly wasted Ron Perlman as a black market dealer of monster guts, but overall you should come for the violence and try to ignore everything else.