Tuesday, August 13, 2013
So by now you've heard of this "Pacific Rim" movie; you probably didn't see it, but you've heard of it - I think I can count on one hand the number of people I know who saw it, including me. That's okay, because I totally get why you didn't go see it, and I kind of sympathize. You see, the Cap'n was torn about seeing Pacific Rim myself (tense switch!). Since you've heard everybody else's opinion, I guess you can hear my rationale and then maybe I'll talk about the movie. But it was pretty good if you aren't feeling patient (but be patient. C'mon.)
On the one hand, I've seen every one of Guillermo del Toro's movies, and really liked to loved most of them. By most, I mean that some of the more "mainstream" joints aren't my favorites. I like Hellboy a lot, but I don't love it. I really don't like Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I enjoy Blade II and it's definitely better than Blade and Blade Trinity, but it's not my "go to" movie in his collection. If I'm being honest, I'm much more inclined to sit down with one of the more intimate, "smaller" films like The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. Pan's Labyrinth too, but I can't honestly call that a "small" movie. Maybe less epic in scope than Hellboy, right?
Even though I don't enjoy Hellboy II, it didn't stop me from seeing it in theaters, just like I did with Hellboy. I support Guillermo del Toro whenever I can because he brings a distinctive vision to his films and is fond of fully fleshed out worlds, well beyond what happens in the direct narrative. When possible, I try to support the films he produces, like The Orphanage (pretty, pretty good) or Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (pretty, pretty okay) - I haven't seen Mama yet, but I'll get around to sooner or later.
The problem is that I don't really care about "Giant Robot" movies. I didn't see the Transformers movies, and while I often cite my polite disagreement with Mr. Michael Bay about what constitutes a "movie," I also never really gave a shit about the source material. I had a few Transformers, including the one that was a boombox, but... eh. My tolerance level for robots beating each other up is pretty much however much of Robot Jox is left on the Sci-Fi Channel late at night*.
As much as I'd like to pretend this wasn't the case, kaiju movies are also not really my bag. I like the first Gojira movie, but not so much the sequels and definitely not Godzilla 2000 or Final Wars or the Matthew Broderick one. I guess I kinda liked Mothra and Gamera and maybe Destroy All Monsters! but I'm not a devotee to this stuff. That's more of my brother's wheelhouse. In fact, he should probably review Pacific Rim for you guys, but since he's not here, I'll do it.
So you know my handicaps going in: will watch any Guillermo del Toro joint, but don't care about giant robots and am politely ambivalent towards kaiju. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm so ambivalent that on this very blog I mistakenly used the term "gaijin" ("non-Japanese" / "alien") interchangeably with "kaiju" ("giant monste"r?) because I didn't realize the difference. Sorry, astute readers. That must have been very confusing. Anyway, my desire to support the director (and co-writer) did win out over the non-appeal of giant robots fighting kaiju. And you know what? It's a pretty good movie.
While I never saw the Transformers movies, I do remember hearing how fucking stupid they were from people I did know who still saw all three of them. This (and Robot Jox, and let's be honest, Real Steel) confirmed my theory that Germans Love David Hasselhoff... wait, no... that movies with giant robots fighting each other or monsters is just going to be inherently moronic. And if I'm going to watch inherently moronic, I can do it with more entertaining films.
Luckily, Guillermo del Toro didn't get that memo, so he approaches Pacific Rim from a non-sarcastic direction, leaving irony behind and just focusing on building a world where giant monsters come up through the pacific ocean via a "breach" and start destroying things. How would we adapt? Would be build giant robots to fight these monsters? Sure, why not? Would it work? Pretty well, at first. Would we get complacent because said monsters are losing? Probably.
That's the prologue to the film, which I appreciate - 99% of the time in this modern world of "franchise building" in movies, the first ten minutes would be the entire movie. They would intentionally withhold information or set things up with no intention of paying them off in the two hours of THIS movie, but instead save it for the inevitable sequel. Not when del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham are making the movie - they give you some well designed exposition dump and then drop us into the height of humanity's hubris.
We meet our protagonist, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother what's his face (Diego Klattenhoff) as they take their Jaeger (giant robot), Gypsy Danger, out for a stroll around the coast of Alaska. SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES: They then get their asses handed to them by a kaiju who also kills what's his face and leaves Raleigh in a bad way.
(Note: I had to look up the name of the character that Hunnam was playing because I couldn't remember it. Honestly I don't remember hearing it much because, let's be honest, it's a pretty stupid name)
We jump forward five or six years when the governments have given up on Jaegers to defend us from kaiju (who get designations not unlike hurricanes: category 4, etc). Instead they're going to just build huge walls and hope that does the trick, until one of the kaiju cuts right through one in Sydney ("like butter") and luckily the Ausrtailan Jaeger manages to beat it to death. This gives Stacker Penetcost (Idris Elba - seriously, that was his character's name?) his one chance to throw a last ditch effort to use Jaegers and bombs to close the breach once and for all, so you know he's going to have to recruit Raleigh out of retirement.
And just describing that sounds stupid. But somehow when you watch Pacific Rim, the inherent silliness of the plot just makes sense. They explain "drifting" - the process two Jaeger pilots use to control the machine in tandem - well enough that you buy it would kill someone to do it alone. Basically it amounts to a mind meld but if the connection is strong enough they can work in unison, so lines like "I'm in you brain, remember?" don't feel so dumb as they do out of context, like in this review.
Look, I'm doing a bad job of not making Pacific Rim sound as dumb as you thought it did when you decided not to see it, but it's really a lot of fun to watch and not just because "Robot punch Monster! Yay!" I'm sure that on some level, Pacific Rim does appeal to our "Lizard Brain" sensibilities, but del Toro also includes all of his favorite fetishes in the film, like Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), who deals in kaiju body parts on the black market. Or the dueling scientists (played by Torchwood's Burn Gorman and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day) who should just be comic relief but do actually impact the storyline in important ways. Day's subplot, in fact, is probably more interesting that just watching Jaegers filled with Chinese, Russian, and Australian stereotypes punch kaijus.
The main event is still seeing how Gypsy Danger gets back in action and how Raleigh gets his groove back with the help of his new co-pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who has a similarly traumatic experience in her life, one that may or may not include a crab kaiju and a mentor character who plays a prominent role in the film with a name that rhymes with Packer Spentaflossed. I will say that the fights deliver, are mostly coherent, and more importantly don't feel like CGI for 20 minutes at a time, which they almost have to be. I will fully admit to being totally invested in the fight between Gypsy Danger and 2 kaiju in Hong Kong, right up to and including the "no way they put that weapon in there!" moment.
The characters are, by and large, not developed or at best wafer thin, but they serve the story well. At least one of two of them get moments that give you some perspective on why they do what they do, and some of them even change a little bit during the story. Honestly, I think I liked Day's Dr. Newton Geiszler the most, followed closely by Hannibal Chau (who explains why he chose that name), which works out because they're on-screen together for a healthy chunk in the middle of the film. I even cared about Mako's back story and liked that she's as much - if not more - of a liability than Raleigh is inside of Gypsy Danger. The ending was satisfying, and despite it being reasonably well wrapped up, could be okay with more adventures in this world.
Which is a shame, because there's no way that's going to happen. Why? Because people thought "wow, that looks like a stupid movie" and went to see Grown Ups 2 instead. Sometimes I sarcastically point out that Box Office Numbers are the C.R.E.A.M. of Studio Executives lives, but in this case it's probably true. To them, this movie failed only slightly less than The Lone Ranger, and it gives them a rationale to argue that Guillermo del Toro is better suited to make "smaller, " "art house" fare that critics love and nobody loses millions of dollars on, rightly or wrongly.
And that's fine, because as we've established, I REALLY like those movies. But I wouldn't have minded seeing what del Toro's version of The Hobbit looked like, and I desperately wanted somebody to give him the chance to make a big budgeted, hard R version of At the Mountains of Madness. He couldn't convince Universal to give him the money to do it even with Tom Cruise starring and James Cameron producing, so the implied "failure" of Pacific Rim isn't going to bolster his case. That kinda sucks, if you ask me. And you don't have a choice because I'm the one writing this.
Thanks for sticking it out to the end, by the way. I'm sure some people left during the preamble, but you didn't. So thanks for that. You should go see Pacific Rim, because I bet you'd enjoy it. I mean, before long it'll be at the $2 theater which will no doubt make your decision easier, but I implore you to check it out. It's much better than you assumed it would be, and probably better than I thought it might be. I'm not even going to use the "it's not perfect" qualifier because perfect movies are pretty hard to come by as it is, and that shouldn't diminish the really damn good ones by comparison.
So go see Pacific Rim - if you already saw the Transformers movie, you owe your brain that much. If you haven't seen a Transformers move - kudos to you! Go see Pacific Rim to celebrate it!
* Wait... they changed the Sci-Fi Channel? To what? You mean where all those shitty "Crocappotamus vs Ninja Squirrel" movies play? Bummer.