“Star Wars with Better Robots”- Pacific Rim Movie Review
Ordinarily I stick these reviews full of spoilers, but I’m gonna leave this one safe and free from plot points, so as to encourage people to see it. If you wanna talk plot, take to the comments like Kaiju to Hong Kong.
A movie is a product of its time. Often this is reflected in the viewpoints of characters or the subjects involved. Sometimes we see it in the cinematic tricks of the age (Shakey cam unfortunately being one of the tentpoles of our modern cinematic era). And sometimes, often to the films’ chagrin, it is a product of the events going on around it.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim comes to us in a tumultuous time in these United States. There have been a number of dubious court cases recently that have thrown the legions of Facebook into an all-out war. Racism accusations are thrown about, Hispanic people are being called white… UTTER CHAOS! So it was with much relief and absolute joy that I walked into Pacific Rim. Enough of the turmoil, enough of dead kids and Glee stars, enough of Obama publishing laws that allow him to suspend all communication in the United States—Please, Lord, send me giant robots fighting giant monsters.
I, like anyone who knows anything about Guillermo del Toro, was quite excited for this movie. Those that are unfamiliar with del Toro’s impressive body of work, which means they haven’t seen Hellboy II or Pan’s Labyrinth and that I don’t like them, have been a little more apprehensive, and rightfully so. The trailers have been iffy, looking like nothing more than Transformers on a larger scale. It’s actually that Transformers comparison that drives me up the wall, because the Transformers franchise is the worst thing to happen to cinema since the birth of Keanu Reeves (Transformers II being what I believe to be the worst film ever made) and Pacific Rim is significantly better than Michael Bay’s experiment in brain damage in almost every conceivable way.
I won’t bother to go into much plot detail, because a.) This film actually makes some pretty interesting narrative decisions that I don’t want to spoil, and b.) There’s also just not that much to tell. A gateway has opened up in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that allows giant creatures known as Kaiju to appear in our world and systematically destroy our major cities with a Roland Emerich level of disregard for buildings. The governments of the world unite to create giant robots called Jaegers to fight them, and we open as the Jaeger program is in danger of being dismantled. Humanity is on its last legs, and it’s going to need the best pilots in the world in order to survive.
(I’m going to take a moment here and hop on a soapbox, if you’ll allow me. I agree that the concept of creating giant robots to fight giant monsters instead of just using nuclear weapons on them is incredibly far-fetched and would never, ever happen. That being said, if you are the kind of person that would totally dismiss this movie because of that—you are a terrible person. Plain and simple. Who on Earth would watch the movie where we just nuke the suckers? We as an audience need to accept the universe we are given, and our gripes should come not from concept but from execution and creating giant robots will always be infinitely more fun than dropping nukes on things. If I wanted realism, I’d go live real life. Give me emotional truth and giant robots, please. The detractors can go be boring and play Call of Duty).
Pacific Rim is actually best-watched as a military movie. It’s about the relationships between soldiers, the bonds that form in times of strife and the emotional baggage that comes with that. It actually handles that fairly well. The soldiers are diverse, if not always well-defined. It’s about respect, admiration, and triumph in the face of impossible odds. If the Ender’s Game movie coming out later this year sucks, this film will make for a nice substitute.
What works best about Pacific Rim is the way it’s laid out for us very clearly. The plot is refreshingly simple. In an era where every blockbuster wants to be Christopher Nolan and thinks that means making an intricate and absolutely indecipherable plot while getting rid of all emotion and women, it’s nice to see something that just moves from Point A to Point B and gives you a great time along the way.
Oh, and remember that shakey palsy cam I brought up earlier? Nowhere to be found here. It’s like del Toro read my diary and placed it on the screen for me, although with less information about my crushes than that might imply. All of the actions scenes are laid out and clear, creating tension out of the raising of stakes and not by making it look like someone was shooting a movie mid-heart attack.
The plot is a trifle predictable, but in a good way. Allow me to explain. With the exception of a few surprising narrative turns, I had a pretty clear idea of what would happen later in the film as plot points are set up and hinted at all over the place. But that never bothered me, because every time something was suggested I just really wanted to see it happen. When Charlie Day’s scientist character Newt suggests his idea for an experiment, you know there’s no way we’re getting out of this film without that experiment happening. But when he reveals what it is he wants to do, I just really wanted to get to that point in the movie. The things hinted at that may show up later on all sound so cool and exciting that I’m fine when they happen because they’re almost always everything you hoped them to be.
The dialogue is… rough for the most part. It’s not distractingly bad, and it gets the job done, but I really wish they’d brought in someone to do a solid punch-up before filming. The actors all do admirable work with some lackluster material, but it’s a detriment I simply wish the film didn’t have.
The characters, on the whole, are pretty thinly sketched– mostly just archetypes, although some of them do reach real moments of clarity. We’re surrounded by mostly two-dimensional people there to propel the plot and entertain us. And they do their job.
Plus, do you know what other movie has great pacing, a simple story, bad dialogue, and poorly drawn characters? Star Wars. I don’t use that comparison lightly, and I truly believe that this film is comparable to that film in more ways than you might imagine. The original Star Wars blew lots of people away when people didn’t really expect it to perform well at all, and I think given that kind of time we may have something kids will be growing up on for years to come. I walked out of Pacific Rim knowing entirely that if I were anywhere between eight and thirteen years old that this movie would be my favorite flick. Pacific Rim is my Star Wars—an imperfect film perfect at capturing the imagination.
In further Star Wars comparison, the world-building here is phenomenal. This place all feels lived-in. Each alley and ship, bunker and marketplace is densely populated with people who are living their lives and a well-established universe that would continue even if we weren’t there. Never do we stop to ponder on any of this, because it’s just a part of the world that we live in. Another great example of this is Looper, one of my favorite films of the decade.
And it’s that filmmaking assuredness that separates this film from every other blockbuster. This is a flick that transcends fun, and really hits you in a way you didn’t expect. There are moments in this film (namely a fantastic and sorrowful sequence in Tokyo, and a tearful aquatic goodbye) that really got to me, in a way I probably expressed audibly, most likely to the malign of my long-suffering girlfriend (who also dug the flick, by the way). I wondered if this summer blockbuster was almost making me cry. I’m all for fun, but when people defend movies like Pirates of the Caribbean 3 or Transformers II by saying that “I just don’t know how to have fun,” I get angry because that’s just quitting. I like a good time at the movies as much as the next guy, but at least give me something to care about. I’m not asking for Oscar bait, but I am asking for Die Hard, or Iron Man 3. Give me something that is well-constructed and makes me care about what’s happening. That’s all I ask for. There’s good fun and bad fun, and Pacific Rim is the best kind of fun.
I went in expecting two things: Very cool designed monsters (the Guillermo del Toro special), and for it to be really cool when giant robots fought those monsters. Both of those wishes are unbelievably true. You really feel the size of these things. They are massive, and each punch feels like it came from something of that size. When our main Jaeger Gipsy Danger picks up a battleship and uses it as a sword, you feel the weight and power of exactly what is happening right now. When compared to Bay’s Transformers franchise, where huge bots bounce off of walls like both items are made of trampolines, it’s awe-inspiring to feel the weight of these beasts.
Since my aforementioned girlfriend brought it up, I’m going to now address how the destruction at the end of Pacific Rim is different from the destruction in Man of Steel that I complained about so much. The buildings in Rim being destroyed and people being crushed, while on a scale about equal to that in Man of Steel, is superior and far less disturbing because Pacific Rim is about that destruction. While Man of Steel dismisses the wanton annihilation of entire city blocks with a wave of its shakey cam hand, Pacific Rim deals heavily with the cost of that destruction. The Jaegers exist because of that destruction, and every time we see more of it occur we feel the true weight of what has happened. A devastating sequence in Tokyo (you’ll know which one I’m talking about when you see it) illustrates perfectly how much Pacific Rim understands the gravity of what is happening, while Man of Steel simply thinks that it looks cool.
If I have an issue with this film, it’s the ending. Things start moving very fast and the final battle scene is gratingly short. And after a smorgasbord of unique and interesting monsters, the final boss is a real let-down. Its reveal is impressive, but much like the beast at the end of the underrated Cloverfield, it simply just doesn’t look as good as we want it to. There’s also a subplot involving Newt that gets totally dropped seemingly all at once. But that’s not as important of a complaint as it would be if this movie sucked. Thankfully for everyone, it does exactly the opposite of that.
Final Verdict: B+ — One bad monster design and some wonky dialogue cannot derail a movie this self-assured, this original, and this damn entertaining.
If you yourself have not seen this film, or know someone who does, make sure the person in question gets out and sees this flick. In a world of sequels, reboots, and copies of old properties, it is important to support an original, big budget property that dares to do something different: Be new and be good.
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of movies and TV, and current writer of Pacific Rim ripoff he can fast-track to Asylum. Be sure to follow or subscribe above, and comment below with your thoughts or brownie recipes.
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Today we are cancelling the apocalypse of a Hollywood that gave us The Lone Ranger.