Giant robots fighting giant monsters? Guillermo del Toro behind the camera? Idris Elba in front of it?
One reasonably-priced matinee ticket for Pacific Rim, please.
In the fairly-near future, giant-monster-deals called Kaiju keep rising out of this portal in the Pacific Ocean to wreak serious havoc everywhere, as giant-monster-deals will do. So humanity bands together and fends them off with Jaegers,
Power Rangers giant mecha-robot dudes that are piloted by two people sharing a neural link. Unfortunately, the Kaiju are adapting quickly to the Jaegers, meaning humanity has one last chance to get rid of them before THE ENTIRE WORLD IS DESTROYED.
1. Pacific Rim is, for the most part, a totally enjoyable summer movie, definitely worth watching on the big screen, assuming you’re the kind of person who enjoys giant robots and giant monsters duking it out . . . and really, who isn’t? (Okay, lots of people.) I knew very little about it going in, and I came out fairly satisfied, although if I could have tweaked maybe a handful of things, I feel like this movie could have gone from “super enjoyable” to “fucking amazeballs”.
2. The worst part of Pacific Rim is the initial fifteen-twenty minutes of set-up. Which I know makes the first act sound slow, and it’s not, really: we get a giant Jaeger-Kaiju battle inside of about ten minutes, so woot! for jumping straight into the action.
At the same time, though, we also get one of those Routine, Flat-as-Hell, Exposition VO’s, where our hero, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), tells us all about the world we live in and how things like the Drift work — more on that later — and it’s not that it’s the worst exposition ever; it just could’ve been done so much better, both in script and delivery. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: why do people deliver these types of VO’s without any type of inflection? The apocalypse is fucking nigh, my friends. Let’s feel it a little, shall we?
There’s another more significant problem with the opening act, but I’m going to leave it for the Spoiler Section. I don’t think it’s actually a spoiler, but since I didn’t know going in, I’m just going to assume you don’t, either.
3. Let’s briefly discuss Charlie Hunnam, shall we?
Charlie Hunnam is best known for Sons of Anarchy, which is one of those highly-praised shows that I’ve never seen. I have seen Nicholas Nickleby, though, and boy was I delighted when I made that little connection. (Not because I cared about Nicholas so much — I was totally watching for Jamie Bell as Smike. But Hunnam is just so young and clean-shaven in that movie. I can’t help but smile, thinking of it now.)
As our main protagonist dude, Hunnam is . . . okay. I think he does the best he can with what is honestly not a terrible compelling role — a small dose of tragic backstory is not really the same thing as character, people. Actually, now that I think about it, there is material to work with, but it’s not really scripted. A better actor probably could have brought more out of what was actually written, but there aren’t very many opportunities, and I almost get the feeling that Raleigh was set up to be as generic as humanely possible. At any rate, he could be a hell of a lot worse, so I guess I’ll give Hunnam a pass.
(Not on the accent, though. The American accent certainly isn’t terrible, but it isn’t quite right, either. And I’m mostly pointing it out because . . . did Raleigh really need to be American? No, he absolutely didn’t. And reminder: I am an American, born and raised. I can really handle a blockbuster with a non-American lead, honest.)
4. As for everyone else . . . Rinko Kikuchi (Bang Bang from The Brothers Bloom) plays another pilot, Mako Mori, who I generally like pretty well.
I wish she wasn’t the only girl in the whole movie with, you know, lines, but I think the actress does a pretty good job, considering she too is playing a character who has more tragic backstory than actual personality. I’d like to see Kukuchi in more things to get a better feel for her range.
We also have Charlie Day and Burn Gornman playing a couple of bickering scientists/comic reliefs for the film, and I like them pretty well. I was trying to figure out who Charlie Day reminded me of throughout the movie . . . I kept going to Rick Moranis, more for mannerisms than looks . . . and then I read a review that likened Day’s performance to an impersonation of JJ Abrams, and I’m like, yup, that’s it.
Also, I kind of love that Newton has sleeves. I’m all for scientists who are nerdy as shit but also have tattoos and do investigative stuff and aren’t fainting in a corner somewhere while the Macho Everyman Hero does all the Real Work. Newton makes extremely poor decisions sometimes, but you can’t say he isn’t ballsy.
Let’s see, who else . . . well, I was kind of delighted to see Max Martini on the big screen because he’s just one of those people who pops up in supporting roles on television a lot, and I get a kick out of recognizing actors from place to place. Funny story, though: while I can judge American accents pretty well, I cannot judge Australian ones worth a damn, and I really thought I’d read once that Max Medina was Australian. And I was like, “Wow, his American is pretty flawless,” and never gave his Aussie accent in Pacific Rim a second thought — only to find out later that he is American and, according to several reviews I’ve read since, that his Aussie is terrible. (The same goes for Robert Kazinsky, a Brit who plays Medina’s obnoxious-ass son.)
Still, Accent Fail or no, I kind of like Max Martini. It’s an understated performance, but I like understated when it’s done well, almost as much as I adore jittery manic and supreme competence.
Oh, competence. I must tell you, people: I have a total competence kink. Which brings me to this guy:
Idris Elba is awesome in this movie. He has such presence, such command, which is great since he’s, you know, playing a commander. I totally buy him as this no-nonsense, let’s-get-shit-done military guy, especially in this one scene where he’s telling off Raleigh in such a spectacularly clipped manner. It is sexy as hell, and I clearly need to watch him in more things immediately.
5. I do sort of wish the red shirts were a little less, well, red-shirty. We’ve got about four sets of jaeger pilots in Pacific Rim: it’s not exactly hard to guess who’s not going to be around for the final battle.
6. Also, while I love of some of the ideas in this movie, I don’t think they’re nearly as well developed as they could be. Like, the Drift: the Drift is the mental bond that two pilots operating a Jaeger achieve. They get inside each other’s heads, see each other’s memories, feel what the other one feels, etc. Which is all pretty cool; I mean, I love that kind of shit, but I feel like they sort of squander the opportunity to truly delve into how this bond affects the pilots, especially in the beginning.
It’s not that Pacific Rim never talks about this stuff . . . it’s just that it’s kept kind of surface level, and I wanted to dive in much deeper..
7. The action scenes, on the other hand, are pretty damn awesome. I’ve read some reviews that criticize Guillermo del Toro for abandoning his own artistry in favor of a Michael Bay type blockbuster, but I think they’re wrong. My friend, Alyc, hit the nail on the head when she said, “This is what Transformers SHOULD have been like.” I do know some people who enjoyed that movie, but until the last twenty minutes or so, I found Transformers supremely dull. And while I definitely have my nitpicks with Pacific Rim, I was certainly never bored, and I left that theater PUMPED. I wanted to fight some giant monsters, dammit! At the very least, I wanted to find a compatible fighter in a sparring match fraught with sexual tension.
Man, I love one-on-one fight scenes.
8. 50 Bonus Points to Guillermo del Toro for getting Ellen McLain (GlaDOS from the Portal games) to voice the computer for Gipsy Danger. This is awesome.
9. 100 Negative Bonus Points to whoever was responsible for the line: “Let’s do this together!” Seriously, Writer, you should be slapped in the face a little. The script is definitely the weakest part of this movie.
10. Finally, I wore a dress to see Pacific Rim because a) I wanted to look cute and b) my jeans were all dirty. Unfortunately, I was ten minutes into the movie before I remembered I owned a Power Rangers shirt, a shirt I had failed to wear to a mecha-monster movie.
In this picture, I am celebrating my mini-golf triumph, but make no mistake: Saturday was a day of geek fashion fail.
Okay, so Raleigh and his Soon-To-Be-Dead Brother are Jaeger pilots. One of them is slightly cockier than the other, although I never did figure out if Cocky Brother was the one who lived or died. (They looked alike enough that I couldn’t differentiate between the two of them for the ten minutes or so I had. Also, I didn’t recognize Charlie Hunnam’s face for probably the first half hour or so, and then I was like, Oh shit, isn’t that the guy from that show I don’t watch?)
Now, here’s the thing about the STBD Brother: we get very little sense of him as a character or how Raleigh feels about him before a Kaiju monster tears him out of his Jaeger and kills him. Now, understandably, this whole scene is a prologue to the real story, and we have very limited time to spend on character dynamic. However, the brother dying is — or should be — a Big Fucking Deal because it sets up a lot about our hero and where he’s at when the real story begins. This scene needs to have genuine emotion. We need to care when STBD Brother is killed off and feel how his death massively traumatizes Raleigh. What we get instead is paint-by-numbers exposition shit, and it’s too bad because this really could have made the movie a lot better. It’s not impossible to evoke loss in the first fifteen minutes of a film, and to prove it we have Finding Nemo. Also, Star Trek (2009).
The thing is, Pacific Rim has a perfect opportunity to really establish the bond between the brothers: the Drift. Remember as part of operating the Jaeger, the two pilots have to establish a mental bond, to drift through each other’s memories and sync up until they are essentially acting and reacting as one person. This is such a cool concept and a great way to introduce character. The visuals of it could be so amazing . . . but instead we just get an image of a little boy running through a living room while Hunnam tells us the very bare bones of what the Drift is and why it’s significant to the plot. It’s a huge missed opportunity, in my opinion, and annoys me a little more each time I think about it.
Anyway, Raleigh and STBD Brother disobey orders from Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and go save this fishing boat from a Kaiju. Unfortunately, just when they think they’ve killed the bastard, the Kaiju springs back to life, heavily damages Raleigh’s arm, and rips his brother straight out of the Jaeger. Raleigh later tells us that he was still connected to his now-dead brother when he kicked the bucket, which is totally cool (and horrible) but is also absolutely the sort of thing that should have been shown, not just told after the fact. It’s frustrating. This movie is completely entertaining, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I also think it didn’t capitalize on a lot of its potential.
Okay, so Raleigh operates his beat-to-holy-hell Jaeger back to shore by himself (very hard to do) and collapses, looking a bit like a Storm Trooper who got shot down on Hoth.
We then skip forward five years where the world has decided that the Jaeger program isn’t good enough and has decided to basically scrap the whole thing and work on this Clearly-Not-Impenetrable Wall instead. Because yeah. That’ll work. (You have to love the actual sign for the Anti-Kaiju wall, though. I assume this is an homage to the Anti-Gojira Headquarters from Gojira, which — assuming I’m right — is pretty awesome.)
Pentecost finds Raleigh working on the Clearly-Not-Impenetrable Wall and gets him to come back to the fight by asking if Raleigh would rather die here or in a Jaeger. As someone who lost his brother and then very nearly horribly died himself in a Jaeger, you’d think he might say, “Uh, here, thanks,” but then there wouldn’t be much of a movie, would there?
Of course, Raleigh no longer has a partner, so he has to go to Hong Kong (where all the Jaegers — all four of them — are stationed) to try and find a compatible pilot. The best candidate is clearly Mako Mori, but Pentecost refuses to let her participate for a couple of reasons. One, she’s kinda emotionally damaged and relatively inexperienced, and two, she’s Pentecost’s adopted daughter.
It should be said that the Drift scene between Raleigh and Mako is actually really good, and I enjoyed watching Raleigh try and completely fail to coax Mako out of her own memory.
I do wish we got a little more of the Drift later, though: Raleigh can still feel his brother inside his head, and I feel like that should cause more complications than a couple lines of Generic Angst. Also, it’d be nice to see Mako trying to pull Raleigh out of his own memories. After all, one of the big reasons these two are so compatible is because they’re both so damaged . . . but I feel like the movie pulls back from Raleigh’s trauma in order to make him, you know, the Hero.
As all this is going on, we also have our bickering scientists who are trying to predict the next Kaiju attack. Hermann (Burn Gorman), our mathematician, is predicting three Kaiju at once sometime in the next few days, but can’t narrow it down any further than that. Newton (Charlie Day) wants to get better intel by initiating a Drift with a piece of a Kaiju brain, which is about as crazy as it sounds. Pentecost says as much, but Newton goes ahead and does it anyway. Miraculously, he lives and spends most of the movie bartering with a Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) for more Kaiju parts.
Well, he’s doing that or running away from the more fully intact Kaiju, as they are now hunting him. (Let that be a lesson to you, next time you want to play with a bit of alien monster brain.)
Of note: Newton has a nosebleed after his encounter with the Kaiju brain because, in movies, nosebleeds only signify two things: seriously overtaxing your gray matter, and/or some kind of brain cancer which will almost inevitably kill you by the end of the film. Pentecost suffers from the latter kind of nosebleed, so you know pretty early on that he’s going to bite the big one. Cause, seriously, nobody ever has a nosebleed when it’s just, you know, really hot, or because the air is too stuffy and they have allergies or whatever. I’m just saying. The amount of nosebleeds I had as a kid? You’d think I had 87 tumors in my head, if movies were to be believed.
Let’s see . . . well, the Red Shirt Jaeger Pilots are quickly dispatched of in exactly the order you think they would be. About the only thing that’s really surprising in this movie is that Max Martini lives — but he’s injured, so he can’t go into the Final Fight. Now, it’s not surprising in the least that Pentecost has to step up and act as co-pilot, but I’m still a little amazed that Martini’s character didn’t die for Pentecost to have his obvious Sacrificial Moment. I mean, I had him pegged for death almost immediately, and I love being surprised, so hey. On one hand, that’s kind of cool.
On the other — when you see him say goodbye to his son, Hansen Sr. doesn’t really look all that injured. Like he’s got his arm in a sling and maybe a scratch or two. Now, I know that the arm is a vital part in these fights, but come on. Stacker Pentecost is dying, and he still shows up with his game face on.
Really, Hansen Sr. This is kind of bullshit.
Regardless, it’s up to Pentecost & Hansen Jr. and Raleigh & Mako to kill these giant monsters once and for all. The basic plan is to enter the Kaiju portal and drop a nuke, but Newton — who makes contact with another Kaiju brain, despite the fact that his last experiment essentially put a tracking device on his ass — discovers that it won’t work. The Jaegers won’t be able to enter the portal if they don’t have a Kaiju with them. Also, the Jaegers are currently being attacked by three different monsters, including a Category 5 Kaiju . . . because monsters/mutants/tornados can only be taken seriously when they’re categorized 1-5. Movies have taught us this.
Pentecost and Hansen Jr. sacrifice themselves to take out a couple of the Kaiju. Raleigh and Mako get through the portal with the injured Category 5 Kaiju, but their own Jaeger is heavily damaged. Mako is knocked unconscious, so Chivalrous Raleigh ejects her and then goes about dropping the bomb. But oh noes! It’s not working, which means Raleigh has to basically manually detonate the explosives himself. He still manages to live, though, because he’s the Hero. This is all okay, mind you, but I’ll admit that I’d have liked it more if Mako was the one who detonated the explosives. Cause the ideas are creative, but the actual mechanics of this story are so cliche-ridden that the movie loses a ton of points in originality.
And . . . that’s about it. Well, that and Ron Perlman — previously thought dead after being eaten by a Premie Kaiju Baby — busts the hell out and survives because he’s Ron Perlman, and he be wanting his damn shoes. But yeah. That’s about it.
Pentecost: “One, don’t you ever touch me again. Two, don’t you ever touch me again. Now you have no idea who the hell I am or where I’ve come from, and I’m not about to tell you my whole life story. All I need to be to you and everybody else on this dome is a fixed point, the last man standing. I do not need your sympathy or your admiration. All I need is your compliance and your fighting skills, and if I don’t get that, then you can go back to the wall that I found you crawling on. Do I make myself clear?”
Mako Mori: “It’s not obedience, Mr. Beckett. It’s respect.”
Hannibal Chau: “Where’s my godamned shoe?!”
(I may have to come back and update more quotes later. It’s always hard to find them during the first week, and frustratingly, I can’t remember a couple of lines that made me laugh out loud.)
Awesome action battles and a fun concept — really enjoyable summer blockbuster — but the more I think about the missed potential in ideas and character development, the more I get frustrated. I feel like the movie accomplished what it wanted to accomplish, but I also feel like a few simple changes could have made this fantastic instead of just enjoyable.
“Fortune favors the brave, dude.”