Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim - Initial Review

Score 9/10

Plot 7/10
Cinematography 10/10
Characterization 7/10
Design 10/10
Special Effects 10/10
Sound and Music 10/10
Action 10/10

I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro since Mimic, and in all that time he has only disappointed me one time, The Guardians.  Pacific Rim is not his best movie but it is fine addition to his resume and adventure film making overall.  Over his career del Toro has made dark fairy tales, ghost stories, children’s movies, supernatural adventures and science fiction horror.  His imagination goes to dark places but his heroes are not brooding protagonists bemoaning the horrors they face.  They are larger than life, vivacious, determined stalwarts.  Alright maybe Liz Sherman broods just a tad.  Pacific Rim is not a war movie.  It isn’t even really a last stand movie.  Yes, it takes place in a war humanity is losing, and yes it is the last stand, but this movie does not dwell on the darkness but rather strides towards the light.  In this case, the lights of massive robot warriors and their nuclear powered weapons. 

This is a gorgeous and well realized movie.  It has a sort of stately grace to it, a monumental quality personified in the jaegers, but seen in the set design and in the stoic manliness of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).   The Shatterdome, where much of the human action takes place is a utilitarian cathedral to big ass machines, with soaring vaults of steel, attended by droves of human workers all united in the cause of keeping these last few glorious machines in action.   The pilots are with few exceptions not truly characters but archetypes, big symbolic cults of personality intended to be immediately read and understood by the audience.  They aren’t just pilots they are elemental forces embodied in machines of steel and fire.  Everything is bigger than life.  This massiveness is matched by the raw ugliness of the kaiju, big ass freaky creatures whose designs are comfortably familiar to fans of anime and Japanese monster movies, but designed by the incomparable Wayne Barlowe.  They are toothy, multilimbed, tentacle tongued, nuclear powered monstrosities that have laid waste to much of the Earth and they are coming faster and faster.  The fights are the showcase of the movie and they are lit from sources like helicopters, street lights and the combatants themselves.  Cynically, I understand that this eases the burden of the special effects department but it also creates a sense of verisimilitude as if we were watching a real event.  These things move like giants.  They are not ultra-fast blurs of motion.  They are huge pondering engines of pain.  No shaky cam either.  Everything is filmed from a dynamic perspective but done without the conceit of a shaking camera to further distract the eye.  The camera is a participant in these fights, closing in and moving out for the most dramatic angle, and nothing moves so fast that we cannot follow the action.  If the giant robot thing really is a genre then Pacific Rim perfects that genre. 

Spoilers Below

There is an ever increasing threat level that serves as the heartbeat of the plot but the characters do not spend their time worrying about the end of the world.  They simply do what they have to do. This is not an introspective movie, it is an adventure.  If there is one complaint about the tone of the movie it is that I never truly felt worried for our hero.  I never doubted that there would be a heroic sacrifice and that he would win in the last moment.  The result was never in doubt.

I saw this in 3d and XD, and in both cases I was pleased.  The 3D is gorgeous and immersive with no overt getcha moments.  It created some fantastic depth of field effects and the particulate effects engaged the viewer.  The XD wide format really suited the action of the film and the better sound system really put you in the midst of explosions.  Speaking of sound, the music is really exciting and fist pumping for a score, much more rock and roll than most scores.  The end credits theme by RZA and Blake Perlman (daughter of Ron Perlman) is actually really good.  I thought it was some kind of crazy Tori Amos song when I first heard it.

If you don’t want to see a big adventure movie filled with big fights and manliness then do not watch this movie.  There is a lot of testosterone in this film.  Most of it coming from some very good looking dudes.  So good looking they almost overshadow the complicated partner/love interest/co-pilot/girl Friday played by the adorable Rinko Kikuchi.  For fans of the genre this girl is not Rei Ayaname.  She has some fire in her downplayed by her supposedly demure Japanese attitude and constantly broken by her frankness.  She is really fun on screen and brings up the performance of Charlie Hunnan.  Their relationship is a fairly complex thing for as little time is actually spent on it, created in large part by the movies secondary conceit, the Drift.  This exchange of memories that allows to people to pilot the jaegers creates an immediate bond which is why so many of these pilots are family.  Creating that bond between strangers will have consequences.
If you do want to see a movie where you can sit back and enjoy a spectacle without your intelligence being assaulted then this is the movie for you.  It’s fun.  It’s quirky.  It’s crazy over the top and hugely overwrought.  It’s also really damn pretty and never feels like dick and fart jokes are the only dialogue worth anything in the movie. 

There are mistakes in this movie.  For instance the scene where Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnan) is supposed to interview his co-pilot candidates just devolves into silliness.  Apparently the interview process is to fight with bo staffs until… Beckett loses?  This is never clear.  Instead we get a few minutes of him kicking the ass of various contenders until he cannot stand hearing Mako Mori’s (Kikuchi) little sniggers any longer and they fight.  This becomes flirting with staffs as they both get points on each other by the other not moving.  Then they finally decide to actually fight and it is a draw, both getting four points.  He tells her it is not a fight, it is about compatibility, yet the result is decided like a fight.  What should have happened was they should have been essentially danced, both whirling and fighting in a natural way where neither could score, proving their equal skill.  Most people won’t be bothered by this.  I just felt it was a missed opportunity.

Jaegers fight things from the ocean.  They fight in the ocean.  Yet no one’s plug suit is self-sustaining and pressurized.  Why? 

I thoroughly enjoyed this jmovie and it is rare that I have so few complaints in terms of plot and development.

1 comment:

  1. After that snore-fest known as Lone Ranger, I'm just glad to get a movie that's fun and knows what it is. For better or worse. Good review Kane.