Friday, May 2, 2014

Film Friday: Pacific Rim (2013)

When I went into this film, I was prepared for the usual: nondescript slacker hero not-credibly rises to the occasion to the save the world from unwatchable CGI monsters as I ponder suicide (see e.g. Transformers Franchise). I was pleasantly surprised. Did this film involve a nondescript slacker hero who not-credibly rises to save the world? Sure. But the rest of the film was entertaining. They added just enough sideshow stuff to make the movie watchable.

Plot

Nondescript slacker hero not-credibly rises to the occasion to the save the world from unwatchable CGI sea monsters.

What?! Ok, fine.

In the year 2525, man is still alive and he’s got a pest problem. It turns out that sea monsters (exactly like Godzilla) are rising out of a crack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. For years, the humans have been beating off these monsters with killer robots (called Jaegers), but the monsters keep coming. In fact, they’re coming more frequently now.
Each killer robot is run by two people, who are psychically linked because the robots are too complex for one person to run... though I suspect there is an ap to run these things remotely if they looked. Anyway, with the robot program such a stunning success, the governments of the world decide to shut them down and to build a huge sea wall instead... an impenetrable wall. But no prophylactic is perfect and the first monster to encounter the wall blows a hole right through it and then terrorizes some coastal towns – which is why it pays to live in Colorado.

Naturally, everyone is upset, but they can’t do anything about it because the robot program has been shut down. Or has it? When the program shut down, the leader of the program, Commander Stacker Pentecost, actually took the remaining robots and moved them to a secret base in Hong Kong. They are preparing now to drop an atomic bomb down the crack to seal it shut. Of course, they need one more robot driver and that would be hero Abe Finkelstein, who was a hotshot robot driver until a monster killed his brother.
Some stuff happens. The credits roll.

Why I Didn’t Kill Myself

Ok, seriously, let’s go through this thing and point out the good and the bad and why this film was actually quite watchable.
On the bad side, you have a typical slacker hero. His name wasn’t Abe, but I don’t know what it was and I don’t care, and you won’t either, and no, I’m not going to look it up. He’s “Generic Blond Reluctant Hero With A Dark Secret v.1” and that’s all you need to know. There is one woman on the planet, Mako Mori, and she digs him and they will hook up eventually. Oops, spoiler.

The plot is not very interesting either. Monster come from ocean. Robot flown to monster. Fight!! Monster die. Everyone worry about next monster. Must drop bomb to kill all the monsters. Will they succeed? Oh, the tension!
So yeah, not much to see here in those departments. Beyond that, however, the film does a lot to entertain you. First, they cast Idris Elba as Commander Stacker Pentecost... a stupid name, but a great character. Elba has tons of charisma and he works his magic to the max here. In a cast of people you won’t remember from scene to scene, he stands out as someone you will pay attention to when he’s on screen.

The CGI is pretty decent for once too. These robots don’t fight so much as primp, which gives the whole thing a wrestling feel rather than a true fighting feel, which pays off in that you get to see what is happening quite clearly for once.
The story itself is worthless, but wrapped within the story are some bits that keep the story interesting. In particular, there are two scientists who are researching what these monsters are with the goal of finding a way to defeat them. As the story progresses, they are starting to learn something about the monsters that could affect the mission. The film smartly dribbles out their discovery over the course of the plot to give you the feeling that unless the scientists beat the clock, the mission will be a disaster. That creates actual tension.

At one point, one of these scientists hooks his brain to part of a dead creature and discovers that he can read its mind. To do this again, he needs to find a still living brain. To do that, he needs to venture out into Hong Kong and make a deal with a shifty monster-part collector. This guy, Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) really adds life to the film. The scenes with Perlman are fun, funny and just all around lively.
The politics of the film are refreshing too in that there aren't any. There's no animal rights jerkoff telling us the monsters have rights. There's no traitor, no evil military contractor, and no talk about the military being bloodthirsty. This is just a straight up film about robots fighting monsters, and I appreciate that.

Next... well, that’s about it actually. This is a very simple film. It is what you expect from a relatively decent summer tent pole film, unlike most of the turds they are passing off today. It’s formulaic and you won’t care about the film the moment it ends, but it’s entertaining enough throughout to hold your interest because it offers enough to keep you engaged. Also, the film is pretty enough and you’ll like some of the characters. Don’t expect anything more though.

29 comments:

shawn said...

Yeah, I had fun with this one too. It's a movie about giant robots fighting against giant monsters- and that is exactly what you get. Not much else needs to be said.

AndrewPrice said...

Exactly. This one has no pretensions of being anything bigger than that. On the other hand, it does do a decent job of keeping you entertained by the story throughout rather than just trying to dazzle you with CGI.

ScottDS said...

They actually don't hook up at the end. Finkelstein and Mako (I mean, Raleigh Becket and Mako!) have a purely platonic relationship, which I think is why my asexual lady friend loves this movie so much. She resents (and sometimes rightfully so) the fact that in seemingly every movie, the lead couple hooks up... just because.

The big plot hole in this movie is: if they know where the monsters come from, why not set up sentry guns to shoot at that spot any time monster movement is detected?

I enjoyed this movie. I thought ILM did some of their best work on the effects and it was nice to see a movie take advantage of the ENTIRE color palette, and not just orange and teal like so many other movies of this type. The scientists were a little too zany for me. It was like, "And here come the nerdy scientists and their crazy jargon!"

Tennessee Jed said...

Stacker Pentecost? Really?? What happened to Charlie Sheen as Chopper Harley.Are you positively certain you didn't stumble into somebody doing a satire on the genre? This sounds like the kind of film where I used to waste good money on the DVD or (later on) Blu-Ray in order to demo my theater. Woe is my lot that these days for all of it's flaws (and there are many), I'd much rather spend money on the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" than have to sit through "Pacific Rim" good CGI be damned. At least in "Davis" the music was awesome. Of course, that may be just another by-product of dating myself.

tryanmax said...

As I know I've said before, monsters + giant robots = tryanmax opens his wallet. I enjoyed this film immensely. It's light and fun with plenty of spectacle and just enough tension to make it seem like something is actually happening. In that sense, it's exactly what you want from this sort of film. 10/10

For all those put off by the weirdness of zany scientists, commanders named Pentecost, and all that is Hannibal Chau, there is a simple--if not satisfying--explanation. I'm not a big anime fan, but I've seen my share, and this film is basically a live-action anime film. Everything in it is a recognizable anime trope, and I mean everything, right down to the bow-tie, suspenders and slick-back mullet combo on Pentecost's right-hand-man. I'm frankly surprised they didn't CGI little emotion lines over the actors' heads.

tryanmax said...

P.S. Someone find TJed a paper bag to blow into, LOL!

In all seriousness, this is an excellent film to demo a home theater system on.

Anonymous said...

GDT's politics are pretty left wing but he does good entertainment from time to time. The world leaders strategy being wrong had shades of anti-war critique. He seemed to be trying his hardest to not make the jaeger organization american but keep it american without mentioning america. These guys are badass rocknroll (but not american), the entire world doesn't believe in them (but they're not american) and they're humanity's last hope for freedom (but they're not american). Strong female lead, GRRL power (but she's not american). Maybe I'm wrong but those tropes always smacked of hollywood, even the japanese anime he was inspired by were inspired by american pulp stories/tv/film.
UN-Lite?
Guys like Chris Nolan who are far more intelligent than GDT get how to combine mindless action with a good story. You can either try your hardest to be a rebel or you can get people to come see your movie without dumbing everything down. IMHO GDT tries too hard. He needs to rewatch his early work like Blade 2 & Hellboy.

Anthony said...

Perhaps because I respect Guillermo del Toro so much, I was not a fan of this movie. The CG fights are elaborately animated, but lacked punch and the story was completely terrible.

I get that del Toro was reigning himself in a bit because he wanted to make something kid friendly (which could draw them into giant robot/monster movies) but I don't think its well paced or visually interesting enough to draw anyone but genre fans so that was kind of a wasted effort.

Ron Perlman and Idris Elba were good in the movie, but it was more due to their screen presence than anything the script did.

If it wasn't a Guillermo del Toro movie I might have found a place in my heart for Rift. I confess I enjoyed watching Battleship (which kind of like Rim, relegated the most interesting character in the movie to the status of glowering boss/father of love interest).

ScottDS said...

Jed -

What happened to Charlie Sheen as Chopper Harley.

I believe the character was named Topper Harley. :-)

(Though my favorite character intro is Ryan Stiles in the second film: "Rabinowitz, demolitions.")

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - I suspect it's not a truly a question of your believing the character's name was Topper rather than Chopper; rather, you KNOW that it was. This alternatively makes you (as the mob might say) "a man of respect" and "just a bit scary" all at the same time :) Tryanmax and Scott, there is so incredibly much content out there, that a review from Andrew that states: "typical slacker hero, non-interesting plot, and worthless story", hardly inspires me to go out of my way to see it. Telly you guys what though, ...I'll see this next week if you both see Mulholland Drive, and we can discuss the two films in detail. Deal?

ScottDS said...

This alternatively makes you (as the mob might say) "a man of respect" and "just a bit scary" all at the same time :)

I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

I'd love to check out Mulholland Drive but it might be a while. :-)

tryanmax said...

A'ight.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, They didn't hook up? Huh. I thought it was implicit.

I too liked that they use the entire color pallet for once. I'm sick of monotone films.

"The biggest plot hole"? Seriously? This thing was more hole than plot. As you note, they know where the things are coming from, so just build a weapons platform there and kill them when they show up. Also, there's no way they can't build a robot that only needs one operator... a remote operator. Not to mention that missiles would make more sense.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Chopper Harley indeed! LOL! Yeah, the names are really stupid in this one.

In terms of the film, let me put it this way: it was surprisingly entertaining based on my expectations. It blew Transformers away, but I can't really call it a good movie. Indeed, while I enjoyed it, I would not want to see it again.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, This is absolutely live action anime. It screams anime out of its pours.

As a giant robots v. giant monsters go, this one was quite good. It was probably as good as you can get in that regard. As films go, it was watchable if you don't really expect more than giant robots v. giant monsters. I do find it telling that while I enjoyed it, I have no desire to watch it a second time.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, The world leader strategy struck me as just a pretext the director never thought about for putting the robot program into jeopardy. Without it, they wouldn't be down to a handful of robots. If we were to consider the politics of it, it would actually be anti-anti-war. Basically, the people who want to shut down the military and hide behind a wall are blown away at the first opportunity, proving the warriors right.

The whole thing does have an American feel to it even as they don't claim on. In fact, while all the drivers are made out to be obviously not American and this is an independent group in Hong Kong, the whole thing screams AMERICANS! and the culture feels totally American. So I don't know if the intent was to hide the Americanism, but this feels like an American organization right down to Mako being a Japanese girl who was protected by an American whose footsteps she eventually followed. That said though, anime typically blurs nationality lines giving you odd mixes of Japanese and non-Japanese characters who all seem to be nationless, so I'm not sure any national statement was meant.

Even the girl-power aspect I felt wasn't really there because despite her skill, she was very passive and was held back by Pentecost.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I'm not really a fan of Guillermo del Toro. His movies always feel flat to me, like there's something missing. In any event, I didn't expect this film to be anything more than robots fighting monsters. In that, it satisfied. It was better than Transformers by a mile, but not nearly as good as Real Steel.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That is exactly the point to remember: opportunity costs. If there are lots of good things you want to watch, then watch those. This is the kind of movie that will entertain you at a very low level, but is forgotten literally the moment you turn it off.

ScottDS said...

it was surprisingly entertaining based on my expectations.

This was pretty much my reaction to Battleship and I described it in my review the same way you describe Pacific Rim in this review: loud, dumb, stupid... and fun. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I would put this on a par with Battleship.

Anthony said...

Andrew,

I haven't seen all of Guillermo del Toro's movies, but I really enjoyed The Hellboys (very different vibe than the comics, but Ron Perlman absolutely nailed his part and one can say the same for all of the major characters), Blade 2 (no less formulaic than PR, but not afraid of the red stuff and Snipes played his part very well, channeling Shaft better than Sam Jackson did in the Shaft remake) and most of all the amazing Pan's Labyrinth (one of the my favorite movies, and I watch a lot of movies).

Labyrinth is an absolutely amazing movie that felt like an old school (read: dark) fairy tale to me.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I like the )Hellboy films, but to me, they are both lacking an emotional climax. That makes them feel flat. The big saving grace was the actors who were stellar.

On his other films... I thought Mimic was weak. Blade 2 was ok, but kind of generic. I couldn't get into Pan's Labyrinth, but I should honestly give that one another shot. I haven't seen his earlier stuff.

Anthony said...

I've seen Mimic. Don't remember much about it but I remember not being impressed.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I will try to see Pan's Labyrinth again. I know a lot of people love it and I didn't see it under the best of circumstances, so I'll check it out and see what I think with a more clear head.

Tohokari-Steel said...

I've pondered why I enjoy this movie so much when it's just so stupid and I think I have an answer:
It's honest about what it is. It's a stupid-fun movie where robots punch out giant monsters. It doesn't pretend to have some profound message when it's actually recycling things we've heard a million times, it delivers EXACTLY what it promised. There's something to admire in movies like that. They seem to have some kind of sincerity to them that makes them endearing.

AndrewPrice said...

Tohokari, I think that's very true. This film is very up front about what it is and it doesn't try to pretend it's anything more, and there is something nice about that. It's nice not to have the film overreach or once too.

PikeBishop said...

Enjoyed the movie as a "Saturday Matinee" fun type of feature, and had the same beef about "Why the hell don't they just ring that rift with aircraft carriers and battleships and blow the hell out of anything that surfaces".....but hey. :-)

My problem was that all of the Jaegers have some form of missile or long range weapon, but they insist on hand to hand combat first, and then go to the other weapons. "Hey Gypsy Danger," blow the thing away with your laser first! If that doesn't work, then try to knock it out with your hands..

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Yeah, this is the kind of film you can't think too hard about or it all falls apart.

PikeBishop said...

Also perhaps a little weakness in the script design, its not made clear in the openning that the first three Gaijus (San Francisco, Manila and Sydney) were only brought down at the end with nukes. This is not mentioned in the film, but is on the wiki page and some supporting media. We started building jaegers because we realized we couldn't be using nukes near cities. That face would have cleared a few things up.

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