Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim review

I read about Pacific Rim long before I ever saw the trailer for it.  It caught my interest because it was being directed by Guillermo del Toro, one of my favorite directors.  I've seen all of his films, with probably Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies being among my favorites.  I also absolutely love the guilty-pleasure of Blade II, which is a ridiculous movie, but it's ridiculous done right.

When I saw the trailer, I wasn't sure what to think.  Had I not known about del Toro's involvement, I would have written it off as a Michael Bay/Transformers ripoff that would hold little interest for me.  Still, I remember telling my wife, who thought it REALLY looked lame, that I was still curious about it due to who was making it.  She just nodded her head and gave me a strange look.

I figured that this would be one of those films where I'd just go and see by myself, but the day before it opened, Kirsti suggested that we go see the Friday morning show.  I was surprised, but she became a bit more curious when she read some of the early positive buzz on the movie, and she finally thought she'd check it out when the guys on her radio morning show gave it a glowing review (and supposedly they, too, had been skeptical.)

It turned out to be as good as I hoped it could be.  One thing that I liked is that it had a simple plot, and it stuck to it without feeling the need to add all kinds of convoluted layers that would completely fall apart if you spent the time to think too much about it.  The setup is simple - giant monsters have started to emerge from a dimensional portal at the bottom of the sea.  After discovering that conventional weapons took too long and were too costly, humanity banded together to create giant robots in order to defeat the monsters, which keep coming, and eventually start to come at a faster rate.  The only real solution becomes to destroy the portal.

There are a few interesting subplots, one of them involving a scientist who examines the brains of the monsters in order to figure out exactly what they're up to.  Also, probably the most interesting bit to the plot is that it takes two pilots to control one of the giant robots, and they have to undergo a process where their minds merge.  This sets things up to create tension and drama that could no doubt be expanded upon some more in a sequel.

So, should you see it?  Well, if the idea of giant robots fighting giant monsters is enough to at least grab your attention, then yeah, this movie is for you.  You're going to get exactly what you want, and there aren't too many lame moments in it.  Also, the characters are interesting enough where you're not looking at your watch waiting for the next action sequence.  I saw a few negative reviews where the critic had problems with the film's lack of character development.  That's ridiculous.  It's not that I think that action movies are exempt from good characterization, but this movie isn't intended to be a character study.  It has exactly the amount that one could possibly expect from it, and the amount that it has works.  I was invested enough in the main characters to care what happened to them, which is precisely what you need.  I'll write some Pacific Rim fan fiction if I want to see the characters discover themselves.

I hesitate to compare this to Michael Bay's Transformers films, but that's only because other critics have already done so.  Still, in case anybody's wondering how I could bash those movies and praise this one, let me explain a few things:

1.  My problem with Transformers was never that it was just a dumb action movie.  I like dumb action movies.  I don't, however, like dumb action movies that insult my intelligence.  It doesn't need to have a story that makes me a better person, but it needs to have a story where the story gives birth to the action and not the other way around.

2.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the action sequences in Transformers suck.  To be fair, I only saw the first and about 1/3 of the third (I fast-forwarded through much of it because it was so tedious.  It was like The Phantom Menace if every character was Jar Jar Binks and somebody was shaking my seat the entire time.)  With Bay's crapfests, I can't even tell what I'm looking at half the time.  With Pacific Rim, I was able to follow the action, and the only times I couldn't, it was when the director deliberately wanted to disorient the audience for a moment.  Del Toro wasn't afraid to let the camera linger on a robot or a monster for a few moments, so you could properly get a sense of the scale of these things.  And when they'd hit each other, I got a real sense for the power that they possessed.

3.  Transformers didn't even respect the source material.  While Pacific Rim isn't directly based on an old cartoon or toy, it's obvious to everybody not in a coma that it's borrowing heavily from various monster movies and robot cartoons.  In the cases of both films, the sources are pretty hokey and are made to appeal to kids.  Neither of them is high art, but they both have certain conventions and take themselves seriously, which is part of the fun.  Transformers wasn't even as well-written or imaginative as the cartoons; in fact, it felt like it was made by people who only had contempt for it.  Do your really think for a moment that Michael Bay has sat through and enjoyed any single Transformers cartoons?  I don't.  But I believe completely that Guillermo del Toro loves himself some anime and monster movies.  Pacific Rim is made with affection for the source material, and it's not a cynical attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  And if you think that Transformers doesn't do that, allow me to submit the following:

Only Michael Bay could rob a transforming robot of its dignity.

Okay, so what if you have a significant other who wants to see this movie, but you're thinking that you'd rather die?  As I wrote above, my wife went to go see it with me, and this really isn't her sort of a thing.  She likes some action movies, and she's a fan of some of the better superhero films, but this was one that she figured she'd avoid.  Her review was that it was "okay, and better than I thought it would be".  So, if you want to spend some time with your significant other, you might like it enough to find it worth it for that reason.  Otherwise, you can probably skip it.

As for me, I'll definitely buy this one when it comes out, as I feel it will get multiple plays when I feel like a nice distraction from the real world.  My son, who's nearly three, might like it as well.  It will be a good introduction for him to the world of monsters and giant robots.


Dan O. said...

Not perfect in any way, but still a bunch of fun if you're willing to accept monsters and robots brawling for over 2 hours. Good review Lance.

Lance Johnson said...

It is what it is.