Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pacific Rim

IMDB 7.9/10
My Rating: 7/10

When giant monsters start appearing in the Pacific ocean and destroying cities, humanity must band together and fight back with giant piloted robots. 

I love giant monster movies.  Ever since the days of Godzilla and Ultraman, the kaiju genre has been my thing, so the idea of a big budget, all-original robots vs monsters movie has always been high on my wish list.  And Pacific Rim is clearly a labor of love by a fellow fan of Toho's creations... which is why it pains me to not *quite* be able to give it the glowing review I'd like to.  Nonetheless, it's a marvelous film and thus far is the only summer movie that's actually been able to motivate me to the theater - Man of Steel and Star Trek and Iron Man 3 are more, "Wait for it on DVD" for me, whereas Lone Ranger is strictly, "I'll watch this when I'm forced to on a long plane flight."

In Pacific Rim, giant monsters are attacking the world.  One after another, they are popping out of a dimensional gate under the Pacific and laying waste to civilization.  Humans build giant robos called Jaegers to fight them off, and our hero is a former hotshot Jaeger pilot who inevitably had his fall from grace and now seeks redemption.  That's about all of the plot I can reveal without spoilers, but that's also about all the plot there is - Don't be expecting a complex storyline because, like the classic kaiju pics of old, it's basically, "Giant Robot, Giant Monster, FIGHT!"

Overall, I'd probably give this one a B+  -  It's an A+ for big screen spectacle, a B for cool robots and beasties, a C for characters, an A for homages and wink-wink moments, and a C for action scenes. The action scenes were my biggest complaint. As advertised, they were better than Transformers, yes, but where Transformers got an F for utter failure, Pacific Rim just gets a C because at least 1/3 to 1/2 of the time, it was impossible to tell what the hell was going on. Wall-to-wall CGI, everything is moving, everything has a million moving parts, the camera is flying all over the place, and it's all happening in raging seas at night in the rain. When you could see what was happening, it was totally awesome, and some of the fights kicked ass all over because of how great they looked when there was actual lighting and visual coherence, but others (specifically the opening fight and the big battle in the bay later, AND the climax) were just gibberish overload to me - a screen full of moving pixels that I tuned out of and just ended up waiting until the scene settled down enough to see who had won. In this respect, Pacific Rim was a big step down from last year's Avengers, which also had a metric fuckton of CGI at the end but it was all lit and staged so well that I never once had any problem telling what was happening or visually understanding what I was seeing. When it's completely impossible to follow what's happening on screen, something has been done wrong.

Example - Here is a Godzilla fight at night:


You can clearly see what is happening and clearly see what each monster looks like, and have no problem following the action.

By contrast, this is what half the fight scenes in Pacific Rim looked like:

The above is much harder to follow in motion, too. The experience is like - Lots of rain, Lightning. A flash of claw. Something blows up. Splashing everywhere. Brief glimpses of monster parts. That gets me to my other big complaint, which is that you never get to see the monsters for shit. Some of the designs looked cool, but as is the modern way, they're usually way too overdone with too many opening mouth parts and arms and you never, ever are allowed a good look at any of them.

Typical Godzilla movie monster view:

Typical Pacific Rim monster view:

It's all the more frustrating because when they do the action scenes good, they're REALLY good. Some in-city fight scenes are way cool, and when they let you see what's actually happening, there are some great moments and many big fist-pumping, "HOO-RAH!" cheers for the giant robots. It ticks me off because this could have been an A-level movie if they had resisted giving in to "Too much moving CGI shit" overload.

Other negative points are smaller. The ending is the next biggest one, as it's basically a scene-for-scene reshoot of the ending of one of LAST summer's big blockbuster flicks. The two leads are not very interesting. Virtually everyone is a stereotype cliche.

That's all the bad stuff.

NOW, the good stuff is that it's a freaking overwhelming cinematic experience. Despite the visual overload, when it rocks, it ROCKS. It's a big budget giant monster movie and that alone is cause for celebration. The Jaegers are cool and at least somewhat different - Again, the designs are overcomplicated such that we never get a good look at any of them, but at least they are visually distinctive unlike the Transformers. My favorite was the battered, heavy-metal low tech Cherno, a Russian robot piloted by Ivan Drago and Brigitte Nielson.

While the star dude is a charisma-free plank whose job in the movie is to fill screen space while standing around with his shirt off in every possible scene, pretty much everyone around him manages to be likable and interesting. There's Maverick, of course, and Grizzled Veteran. Idris Elba does a terrific job of showing what a great James Bond he would make. Ron Perlman is hilarious in a cameo part. Even normally hideously unlikable Burn Gorman (of Torchwood, otherwise known as Rat-Face) seems to be having fun playing Blimey Codswallop, the most overdone foreign scientist ever. In fact, the two geek scientists were the best part of the movie, IMO - Whenever we went back to them bickering in their lab filled with equation-covered chalkboards, they were always a hoot. They also checkmarked many geek references, including a nod to Buckaroo Banzai. There was a lot of this stuff in the movie and it was always cool - Moves from a Toho kaiju film, a line from War of the Worlds, a name reference here and there, etc. In general, the whole thing showed a huge love of the genre and I commend them for it.

Verdict - I really wish I could give this an unqualified cheer because when it works, it works REALLY WELL. Also, my demerits probably would not make any difference to the videogame generation who are already used to having two million things moving around on the screen, and see that as normal. For myself, the problem was driven home when I later that same evening watched an episode of Wild Wild West about a mad scientist who was creating explosive robot duplicates of the heroes to kill the president. It had a Frankenstein lab, killer robots, a huge fencing scene, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, various fights, etc, and I never once found myself in the situation of tuning out because I couldn't follow what was happening, or just having to twiddle my thumbs and wait until the scene was over so I could see who won. It's the main drag on an otherwise fucking awesome movie.


Worth seeing in the theater? Yes.
Worth buying on Blu-Ray? Yes.
Worth buying the toys? Definitely yes, if only to see what the monsters actually looked like.

I want a Cherno on my desk to face off with my Baragon.