Sunday, August 4, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is a big, dumb, loud but most of all fun movie. If it's logic and drama you're after, then move along; there's nothing for you to see here. It's a film about giant robots fighting giant monsters; no more, no less. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you're in the mood for a story about human drama and relationships and sometimes you just want to watch a robot punch a monster for two hours.

Whether you'll enjoy it or not will depend on how big a fan you are of giant monster movies. And if you're a kid (or a kid at heart), you'll likely think it's the greatest achievement in the history of cinema. 

Pacific Rim is an unapologetic love letter to Godzilla and mecha movies; a straightforward action/adventure film that doesn't wink and nudge the audience in the ribs. It has a healthy respect for its source material and doesn't poke fun at it or try to deconstruct it as other recent films have done (I'm lookin' at you, The Lone Ranger).

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (that means of the Toro in Spanish!), who also directed Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. Del Toro also co-wrote the screenplay along with Travis Beacham.

Many critics are blasting the film's uneven acting and so called "cringe-worthy" dialog, which seems a bit silly to me. This isn't Shakespeare, nor does it pretend to be. What the hell did they think they were going to see when they walked into the theater, Macbeth soliloquizing while riding around inside a giant robot?

I'd say the acting and dialog are on par with that in the original Star Wars. Yes, the characters are all paper-thin and they all have one major trait to differentiate them from one another. So did the characters in Star Wars, and it seemed to work out pretty well for that film. As far as I'm concerned it's a non-issue.

Sadly the film hasn't performed well here in the states, grossing just under $100 million after four weeks in theaters. It was trounced quite soundly in it's opening weekend by the repugnant Grown Ups 2, which only confirms my belief that the general public is nothing but a bunch of barely sentient mouth breathers. I'm not quite sure what's keeping audiences away. Do they think it looks too much like Transformers? Do they think it's for kids? Is the memory of the 1998 American Godzilla still fresh in the public's mind?

Fortunately the film is doing quite well overseas, especially in China. So maybe we'll get a sequel in a couple of years. 

The Plot:
Giant robots fight giant monsters. That's pretty much it.

OK, OK, there's a little more to it. In 2013 (!) a portal to another dimension, known as the Breach, opens at the bottom of the Pacific ocean. Out of this Breach come various giant monsters called Kaiju (Japanese for strange beast), who wreak havoc on coastal cities worldwide.

To combat the Kaiju attacks, the nations of the world band together and build the Jaegers (German for hunter), giant robots to combat the monsters and keep humanity safe.

Ten years into the war in 2025, the Kaiju are attacking in greater numbers as the Jaeger fleet is down to four. The world governments want to abandon the Jaeger program in favor of building giant walls to keep out the Kaiju. Why they think this would work, I have no idea. The head of the Jaeger forces hatches a plan to seal the Breach with nukes before the program is mothballed.

There's a washed-up Jaeger pilot, an eager young recruit, a fellow pilot who's an asshole because the script says so, a dying leader, a couple of mad scientists and a bunch of monsters destroying cities. What more could you ask for?

Pros:
 • I've been waiting for a good giant mecha movie ever since CGI was invented. I can't believe it's taken this long to happen (and don't bring up the Transformers movies or I'll split yer lip)

• Most of the Kaiju were designed by artist Wayne Barlowe, who specializes in creating bizarre, yet oddly plausible aliens. Barlowe produced one of my all-time favorite books back in the 1980s: Barlowe's Guide To Extraterrestrials. It's long out of print, but worth tracking down if you can.

I really liked the designs of the Kaiju and the Jaegers-- what I could see of them, that is (more on that in the Cons).

One of the Jaegers is code named "Knifehead," and as you'd expect, he has a head shaped much like a knife.

I have to wonder if his design was an homage to Guiron from the Gamera movies? Seems too close to be a coincidence.

• The cast does a decent job for the most part. Idris Elba and Charlie Day (Of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia fame!) were the main standouts. Charlie Hunnam was OK, but a bit on the bland side, which generally happens with the hero in these types of movies (I'm lookin' at you, Luke Skywalker). Burn Gorman came perilously close to being over the top as a mad scientist. Ron Perlman was Ron Perlman, as always.

• There's a lot of background detail and world-building in this film. We briefly see that a religion has sprung up around the Kaiju, as people are worshiping them as gods (sounds about as plausible as most actual religions to me). They even build a cathedral from the enormous ribcage of one of the monsters!

There's also a black market for Kaiju body parts and organs, which many humans believe have medicinal powers.

• Gipsy Danger's "rocket powered punch" may be the coolest thing I've seen in a movie, ever. I'm not ashamed to say I squealed like a little schoolgirl when I saw that.

• Possible Godzilla homage: In pretty much every Godzilla movie ever made, he wades through the ocean and the water always comes up to around his waist. The exact same thing happens in this film! There are several scenes in which both the Jaegers and the Kaiju are walking in waist deep water. Who knew the ocean was so shallow?

Rinko Kikuchi, who plays Mako Mori in the film, looks very much like a Japanese version of actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I bet right about now Mrs. Winstead is giving Mr. Winstead a long hard look, wondering if he ever visited Japan twenty five years or so ago.

Cons:
 • It seems kind of pointless to nitpick a movie like this. The premise is so nonsensical (in a good way though!) that there doesn't seem to be much point in bringing up its flaws. As you'd expect though, I will endeavor to do my best.

• Not a big fan of that title. Somehow "Pacific Rim" just doesn't scream "Giant Robots vs. Giant Monsters" to me. It tells me absolutely nothing about the content of the film. Granted, Jaegers vs. Kaiju might have been a bit too cheesy for today's jaded audiences, but surely there was something else it could've been called. The Breach, maybe? Rocket Powered Punch?

I wonder if the vague title had something to do with the limp box office showing? 

• Possibly my biggest complaint about the film: Why did every battle have to take place at night and in the rain? Or even under water, for frak's sake? They pulled that same trick back in the 1998 Godzilla movie to obscure the less-than-perfect CGI effects. Surely we've advanced beyond needing that crutch by now?

Half the time the rain and dark obscured the visuals so much I had no idea what I was looking at. In fact I didn't even know that the Knifehead Kaiju had four arms until I saw them on the action figure!

Would it have killed them to have had one measly fight take place in broad daylight?

• The spelling of "Gipsy Danger" is driving me nuts. There's no way I can look at "Gipsy" and not pronounce it "Ghip-see," with a hard G. Every time I see it spelled that way all I can think of is perennial game show celebrity Nipsy Russell. Why would they spell it like that? I'm aware that's the preferred spelling in England, so of course it makes perfect sense for the American Jaeger to spell it that way.

NOTE: I've been informed by a reader that "Nipsy" is actually spelled "Nipsey," so there goes my little Match Game joke. Dammit.

• Who the hell named these characters? Raleigh and Yancy Becket, Stacker Pentecost, Newton Gieszler, Hercules Hansen, Hannibal Chau-- the human names are just as clumsy and nonsensical as the Jaeger code names. I'm assuming this was a shout out to anime, which often feature "pick words from column A and one from B" names similar to these.

• Let's talk about Kaiju. Five hundred foot tall monsters are fun, but of course they're outright impossible. A creature that size would buckle under its own unbelievably massive weight. Its leg bones just wouldn't be able to support such a tower of flesh. If it took even one step it'd collapse into a pile of smoldering meat. Then there're the problems of pumping blood throughout a body that size, heat dissipation and reaction time. An animal that big just can't exist.

The movie seems to be aware of this and attempts to get around it by saying the Kaiju are from another dimension; one with laws of physics that allow such massive creatures to exist. That's great and all, but it doesn't alter the fact that they'd still collapse under their own weight once they entered our dimension and were subject to our physical laws.

I suppose you could be generous and say that the Kaiju are encased in a form-fitting bubble containing elements of their own dimension that allow them to exist in ours. I suppose you could say that, but it seems like quite a stretch.

• Of course the same laws of physics apply to the Jaegers as well. It's unlikely we'd ever be able to build gigantic robots that could move around so quickly. Especially not by 2025, the year in which the film is set. The size and forces acting on its parts would be too great. Like the Kaiju, one step and they'd collapse in a pile of scrap metal. 

• One big complaint I have about the Jaegers in the film: they seem awfully flimsy. Every time a Kaiju punches or head-butts one, hundreds of metal plates and parts fly off it. That's some shoddy construction there. No wonder there's only four left after ten years of war.

• I'm also trying to figure out why the Jaegers needed to be towed into battle by fleets of helicopters. Couldn't they just hop, skip and jump where they were going on their own? Or fly? What about flying? Why can't they fly?

This may be another shout-out to old school Kaiju movies, specifically those featuring MechaGodzilla. He was often towed into battle by copters as well. 

• How do the Kaiju get assigned their code names so quickly? Several times during the film the Kaiju alarm goes off, signaling that another monster's come through the Breach. There will then be an announcement like, "Major Kaiju sighting, Category 4. Codename: Knifehead."

OK, I get that they can probably detect the size of a monster on their sonar , but what about the names? They can't just be assigning them code names from an alphabetical list the way the weather bureau does with hurricanes. The names are far too apt and descriptive. Do they have video surveillance all around the Breach so they can see what they look like before they surface?

• Something's off with Mako's timeline. In the film she appears to be around twenty five years old. In her Drift flashback we see she was nearly killed by a Kaiju when she was about six. Eight, tops. The first Kaiju attacks began in 2013 and it's now 2025. They couldn't have had Jaegers from Day One, so let's say Pentecost rescued her in 2015. That would make her sixteen years old in 2025, eighteen at the most. I don't think she's supposed to be that young.

• Speaking of Mako's flashback, the first time she "drifts" she relives her initial encounter a Kaiju when she was a child. In her delirium she tries to attack the monster in her mind, which causes Gipsy Danger to arm its weapons. She comes perilously close to firing an energy beam at Mission Control and wiping them out. One of the techs manages to pull the plug on Gipsy Danger before this can happen.

Let me emphasize: A five hundred foot robot can be deactivated by pulling one electrical plug from an outlet!

• The entire Hannibal Chau subplot felt like it could be totally excised from the movie and not affect the plot one bit. Charlie, er… Newton linked with a Kaiju brain once and learned their plan, so why'd he have to track down Hannibal to find another brain and do it again?

• When Newton links to the Kaiju brain, he discovers they're not normal animals. They're being cloned by aliens he dubs "Masters," for the express purpose of wiping out humanity as a prelude to invasion.

If the Kaiju are being cloned by the Masters, then why is one of them pregnant?

• So... the Kaiju can only enter our world through the Breach at the bottom of the Pacific ocean. Humanity knows exactly where it's located. So it only makes sense that they'd build their Jaeger headquarters many miles away from the Breach, so that when a Kaiju comes through it takes half an hour to reach it.

Why not just have all the Jaegers stand in a circle around the Breach? Then when a Kaiju sticks its head out, one can just bop it like they're playing Whack-A-Mole.

• Why doesn't Japan have a Jaeger? They're the ones who started the whole mecha genre in the first place. Seems like they should have been represented in the film.

• During the film the world governments decide to mothball the Jaeger program and build giant walls to keep out the Kaiju. I don't understand why they think walls are going to help, given the fact that some of the Kaiju can fly.

• I know I shouldn't look for much logic in a film like this but…  we have the technology to build five hundred foot tall robots, but all they can do is punch the Kaiju.

Yes, Gipsy Danger did have some sort of plasma cannon and later a chain sword, and Striker Eureka had a few missiles in its chest, but by and large their main offensive weapon seemed to be a good right cross. What about lasers? Bombs? Flamethrowers? Sledgehammers? Something besides fists.

• At one point a Kaiju (Leatherback?) emits an EM pulse that disables all the Jaegers except for Gipsy Danger. The reason why it's immune? The other Jaegers are digital, while Gipsy Danger is analog. WHAAAAA????

A machine filled to the brim with computers and holographic displays in its cockpit is analog? It runs on vacuum tubes instead of microchips? You might as well say it's steam powered!

I get that Gipsy Danger needed to be immune to the EM pulse for story purposes, but couldn't they have said it was shielded somehow?

• Um… did that winged Kaiju just fly into space while carrying Gipsy Danger? When it dropped the Jaeger it appeared to be heating up as it reentered the atmosphere. How the hell can a winged monster fly (by flapping its wings) where there's no air?

• Earth forces have tried to seal the Breach with nukes in the past, but failed because nothing on our side can get through. In fact Gipsy Danger has to cheat its way into the Breach by wrapping itself in the skin of a Kaiju.

Once they're through and in the other dimension though, Raleigh ejects Mako in an escape pod and she effortlessly floats back through the Breach and into our world. A few minutes later he does the same. So we need special help to go into the Breach, but not to go back out it. Got it.

• This film has quite a few scenes that are incredibly similar to Independence Day. The scene in which Newton connects to a Kaiju brain is very much like the one in ID4 in which the alien links with President Whitmore. Stacker Pentecost's inspiring speech before the final battle is practically a duplicate of Whitmore's ID4 pep talk as well.

Even the ending is very similar, down to the appearance of the Masters. The Jaeger infiltrates the Masters' dimension with a bomb strapped to its back, intent on destroying the link between worlds. Pretty much the same thing happened in ID4, when Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith did the same thing in the alien's mothership. The Masters even look amazingly like the ID4 aliens, and even react the same way when they realize the bomb is about to go off.

A fun action/adventure and homage to old school Kaiju films, despite its many flaws. I give Pacific Rim a B+.

3 comments:

  1. I will watch any movie with Nipsy Russel and Giant Robots ! Unfortunately, the nearest cineplex is 3.5 hours from my location on a good day, so I am stuck with Amazon orders of old Drive-In Theater stuff. I look forward to your reviews because they often save me a trip and calm my anxious nerves if I feel I am actually 'missing' something.

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  2. I think EVERY movie would automatically be better if it starred Nipsey Russell and his patented poetry.

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