Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pacific Rim

 Finally!  A Summer movie that motivated me to get on my butt and blog!  In a Summer when the apocalypse is commonplace (off the top of my head, we're talking about Oblivion, After Earth, World War Z, and This is the End, although I am sure there are others) I have to admit that I was still unnaturally excited for Pacific Rim, which promised little aside from destruction --- destruction provided by giant robots fighting giant monsters, which brings with it awesomeness at almost a cellular level.  That was not the only reason I was excited, though.  This was another chance for director Guillermo del Toro to show once again why he is one of the greatest visual directors making movies today.  And then I saw the trailer and started asking questions.
Did Idris Elba just give Bill Pullman's speech from Independence Day?  Do we have to watch two people in spacesuits perform a synchronized dance instead of watching robots punching monsters in the junk?  Is Charlie Hunnam going to be a muscular version of Sam Witwicky from the Transformers trilogy?  If you need to know, basically, not really, and blessedly no, respectively.
Also, I can't be the only one who recognizes the old Fox Sunday football robots, right?

Pacific Rim opens with a voice-over from Raleigh () bringing the audience up to speed.  In the near future, a dimensional rift opens in the Pacific Ocean and huge alien monsters come through.  These monsters are reminiscent of Japanese monsters movies, like Godzilla and Gamera, so they are called Kaiju, after that film subclass.
As you might expect, the Kaiju did some major damage, so the World Governments decided to team up and create the Jaeger program.  Jaegers are gigantic fighting robots that are piloted by two humans, who share some sort of Vulcan mind meld in order to pilot their metal beast.  For a while, the Jaegers worked.  Category 1 and 2 Kaiju --- that's a rating system based on their size --- were easy pickings for these awesome anime mechs/rock 'em sock 'em robots.
If a punch to the face is badass, how much more amazing is a ROBOT punch to a MONSTER face?
In fact, our narrator, Raleigh was a Jaeger pilot with his brother.  Unfortunately, they happened to be the first Jaeger to meet with a Category 3 Kaiju, and the brother was killed in action.  Years have passed and the Jaeger program is on hard times.  Their funding has been cut in favor of building large walls around major cities.
...which works out well
It is at this point that the Jaeger commander () re-recruits Raleigh to join up with the much-depleted Jaeger corps.  Thanks to his crack science team (composed of and ), he thinks there is a slim chance of being able to close the dimensional portal in a crazy, suicidal offensive maneuver.  He needs Raleigh because he only has four Jaegers left, and Raleigh is the only living person who has ever piloted one of the models.  But who will be his soul-mate co-pilot?
To find out, they endure several Dance Dance Revolution trials --- in spaaaace!

I always take the time to discuss the acting in the movies I review, but is that really necessary with Pacific Rim?  It's really not, but I found the acting to be a pleasant surprise in a film that could have gotten away with a lot less in that area.  Admittedly, didn't "wow" in this role, thanks to a combination of dull dialogue and serving as a plot device.  He wasn't bad, but he sure was bland.  , on the other hand, did some of his best movie work to date (his television work is still far better, though); his character was kind of a mish-mash of other end-of-the-world authority figures, but Elba was still able to make the part a little interesting.  was okay as Raleigh's partner; it can be tough making an introvert interesting in an action flick, but she was all right.  I was pleasantly surprised by , if only because this is the furthest he has gone from his role on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
He was charming and fun, and I would love to see him stretch his acting chops more in the future.  wasn't as big of a surprise, but his portrayal of a scientist brought to mind Peter Lorre for reasons I cannot articulate, and that's probably not a bad thing.  , unsurprisingly, had a small part in Pacific Rim, since he and del Toro are such good buddies.  Perlman's work here reminds us that he's not that good of an actor, just a good sport, willing to put on any makeup necessary to look cool.
Above: Perlman and two other actors.  Get it?  He's ugly.
Rounding out the cast, and were perfectly acceptable in small, decently likable parts.  was obnoxious as the Jaeger equivalent of Iceman from Top Gun.  That may be the point of his character, but Val Kilmer sure was cooler.
How do they expect to play beach volleyball and high-five wearing that?

Most of the time, when I discuss movie direction, I focus on the camera work and the actor performances.  For Pacific Rim, though, so much of the movie was CGI that I am taking a different approach.  I really enjoy the work of director/co- writer Guillermo del Toro, if only from a visual standpoint, but I like what he did with the humans in this film. 
He scared them.
They could have easily been an afterthought, or worse --- an irritant, like those awful Witwickys.  Instead, del Toro introduced a reasonable amount of drama and character beats to a story that is essentially "punch monster in the face" for 85 pages.
Don't forget the four pages of "science-y doodads"
I was actually impressed that the story wasn't as predictable as I had assumed it would be; there was no unnecessary love story and the obvious choice for a sacrificial character was ignored.  Visually, this film was stunning.  The amount of detail that went into the set, robot, and monster designs was astounding.
Del Toro clearly put a lot of his efforts into the look and feel of this film, and it showed.  This felt like a plausible world, where giant robots had been fighting and breaking and being repaired for over a decade.  The script isn't very clever and del Toro still has not managed to really nail interpersonal scenes, but his work with broad visual concepts is impressive and exciting.
"Robots and monsters fighting in space" exciting?  Yes.  A thousand times, yes.

What is it about Pacific Rim that excited me, where others failed?  There have been so many movies lately that have shown vast urban environments being absolutely wrecked --- what makes this any different than, say, Man of Steel?  I think the biggest difference is in scale.  Because the robots and monsters are so gigantic, the camera is pulled far enough away for audiences to really notice and appreciate everything being smashed to bits.  That scale also seems to imply and accept large numbers of civilian casualties in a way that is expected and not ignored.  It isn't just that, though; several battles take place in the ocean and are still a blast to watch. 
I didn't get "action fatigue" watching Pacific Rim because it was fun and each battle did something else spectacular and over-the-top.  There was also enough wanton destruction to spread it fairly evenly over the entire film.  This isn't a back-loaded action movie where the cool stuff is all at the end --- some of the coolest scenes come during the opening voice-over.  If I am going to be perfectly honest, Pacific Rim scratches an itch I have had since childhood.  I played with Transformers and Voltron and build huge Lego things for them to smash.  While I have seen a lot (almost too much) CGI destruction of late, this is a film that captures the fun of playing with toys that are clearly scaled differently than everything else in your toy box.  Is Pacific Rim derivative?  Well, yes.  At its core, this is a classic kaiju movie done right, combined with combat mechs that animes seem to love so much and a large enough budget to make everything look good.  This movie owes a lot to many sources, but this is clearly a movie that loves what it is imitating, and even improves on its influences.  In a Summer of sequels, reboots, and outright flops, Pacific Rim stands out for being something I will be able to watch over and over, regardless of sobriety.

1 comment:

  1. I have heard a mixed bag on this movie. I suppose I will go see it now.