Monday, 29 July 2013

'Pacific Rim' (2013) Review

Every time I decide to write a review, it's done the night of me seeing the film. This is why my posts usually go up during the weekend at around midnight. I find it best to write my thoughts about a film after the thoughts are still fresh and they can pour into the review. Otherwise they rot, become moldy and more slosh than pour into the review. But sometimes a movie can be either so good or so bad that your brain has to let it sit for a few days. I could not sit down and accurately get my opinions across on the page. I was too excited or too furious to focus my literary efforts to a clear and coherent 8 to 10 paragraphs with a fitting conclusion, although some people would say that's the case for all my reviews, consistently feeling as if they were written by a monkey.

                                  
                                                              
                                                                The monkey's name is Carl. He's the next Ebert.

Of course 'Pacific Rim' would naturally be the film to cause this, and for good reason. On the one hand it seems to be the latest CG monster destructorgy from explosion veteran Michael Bay, swapping out Megatron and the gang for some Godzilla wannabees. On the other hand sitting in the directors chair is not Mr. Bay but instead Mr. Guillermo del Toro, director of thought provoking horror and fantasy pictures devoid of the doom and gloom that comes with the genre and instead swapping it out for relatability and humour. Being a fan of del Toro's previous works, I kept optimistic, until I made note that the film was unapologetic sci-fi with little to no supernatural undertones. Not exactly Guillermo's forte. I decided to instead go into the film completely blank, which is next to impossible. I would let the film be what it was without trying to fit it within a predetermined classification box.

Once I did that? The movie surprised me.

For those that don't know, the premise of 'Pacific Rim' is relatively simple. Giant monsters from another world called Kaiju come through a portal in the Pacific, hence the title, and tear the world a new one. Mass destruction is caused in all the world's major cities and the nations of the world pool their efforts towards the production of giant mechas called Jaegers in order to combat the Kaiju threat. Each Jaeger belongs to a different country and they are appropriately used in epic battles against the Kaiju whenever they see fit to launch an attack on humanity. Giant robots fight giant monsters.



A tale as old as time itself.

Honestly if that doesn't sound appealing then you might not like this movie. As ridiculous as it sounds the movie does a fantastic job at establishing it's universe, particularly the rules by which it plays relative to the real world. This is no doubt helped by the fact that the movie begins with a narration by lead character 'Raleigh Beckett' played by Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam. The narration is played over a montage of news clips of Kaiju attacks around the world, experimentation with Jaeger prototypes and other tidbits of information, cementing within the viewer that the war against the Kaiju has been waging for more than 10 years at the beginning of the film and is coming to an end. The choice to set the film so late within the war provides the audience with characters who are experienced and learned, avoiding the tired trope of characters who are thrust into a situation and eventually as the film goes on, rise to the occasion and overcome the conflict. This is where the world of Pacific Rim is established and all within the first 10 minutes of the film, in a coherent and distinct manner. It also raises the stakes of the film. As one character puts it: they are no longer an army, they are the resistance.

It's refreshing to see a film avoid such mundane cliches of fiction by opting not to tell an origin story, avoiding cliched and annoying characters bewildered by the situation and it's also refreshing to see a film take it's premise so seriously, which helps to sell it to the audience. But while 'Pacific Rim' does this masterfully it also does the opposite, laughing at itself and being riddled with cliched caricatures. Characters in the film are basically picked out of a box and thrown into the plot.


There's the egotistical jerk with daddy issues, the reluctant hero with a dark past, his rookie sidekick/love interest with supreme talent who helps him overcome his reluctance, the hard ass military superior with a heart of gold. There are more of these in the film and they're not lost on the well versed movie goer, in fact the characters outright describe the cliches they inhibit (at one point a character actually calls another an egotistical jerk with daddy issues) but what's interesting about 'Pacific Rim' is that it seems to be aware of their character's unoriginality, embraces it and then has fun with it. It doesn't pretend as if these characters are new to the viewer, but instead revels in the fact that they aren't and somehow it works. It's as if the film decides to take a look at these characters, depends on your familiarity with them, and writes them in a way that's sort of meta and tongue in cheek. Instead of rolling your eyes at Burn Gorman's over the top posh British accent, mannerisms and flamboyance, you're laughing along with it. I mean for crying out loud, the movie has characters named, 'Stacker Pentecost', 'Hannibal Chau' and 'Hercules Hansen'. Clearly these characters are not to be taken seriously.

                                

This man speaks through that snobbish pout throughout all of his scenes and I love every second of it.


To speak of the way in which the film doesn't take itself too seriously I'll simply describe scene in the film that really makes me smile. If you'd really rather be completely surprised you can skip this paragraph and just take my word for it. After a Kaiju attacks a city the two scientists in the film go down to the area in which the Kaiju corpse can be found to conduct an experiment. After conducting the experiment the posh scientist suddenly becomes sick. They're surrounded by rubble and Kaiju guts so one assumes he would simply vomit on the ground. Instead the character manages to find a toilet that just happens to have survived the attack in pristine condition and vomit in the toilet bowl. There's no reason for it, the toilet just happens to be there, and he could have just as easily been sick anywhere else. Instead he finds a toilet and vomits into it. Maybe it's just me but I find that hilarious and think it shows that the film isn't afraid to have ludicrous moments like that, of which there are enough in the film so as not to wear out their welcome.

Now although I've mentioned that the unoriginal characters work to the films advantage, this is only for the most part. There are a three characters in particular that did not benefit from this methodology. Specifically the two scientists. Although I found Gorman's over the top performance as the uppity and posh doctor delightful and Charlie Day's squirrel like performance hasn't worn it's welcome yet (although I'm starting to feel that effect) I did not like the banter the film has between these two. The film tries to set up and antagonistic relationship between them, as they have opposing methods of combating the Kaiju threat, through making the characters argue every time they're on screen together. The contempt between these two is purely surface as although you can see what you're meant to get from watching them, it's just never funny or quick enough to have it's intended effect.

The other character I have a problem with is Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau. The set up given to this character before he is actually shown on screen is intriguing and causes the viewer to shiver with anticipation for his reveal, but unfortunately not enough time is spent with him for that to pay off. You get a little taste of it and then he isn't seen again for the rest of the movie. I was deeply disappointed when I realized the man with golden armour plating on his shoes that sounded like a sword being unsheathed every time he took a step would no longer grace the screen and instead would leave me feeling as if something, perhaps a scene or a few lines of dialogue, was cut or simply thought inconsequential to the character along the script development.


"Ah jeez, y'know it's the darnedest thing? I completely forgot what I was doing in this movie. Welp, call me when you need me for Hellboy 3."


Outside of the characters, the plot moves itself along at an even pace, with a total of 4 or 5 complete Kaiju/Jaeger fights. Which are EXTREMELY FUN and stunning to watch. The digital effects are some of the most incredible I've ever seen and makes Transformers look like the cartoon it was based on. Fights are dynamic and fun to watch with surprises withing them. The Jaegers themselves are diverse with characteristics that match the country they were built in. (The Russian Jaeger looks like it's wearing a ushanka and the Chinese one is red with yellow dragons on it) They stand out amongst each other and you can create a semblance of a connection with them, as well as the pilots inside, much like a James Bond car or Tony Stark's suits. The Kaiju are unsurprisingly extremely well designed as is per Guillermo del Toro, with each of them taking cues from existing animals but exaggerating them in a way that looks mutated and alien. (One Kaiju has crustacean elements to it while another is more shark based.)

                                      
Just looking at pictures for this caption made me want to go see it again.

To be honest there's not a lot to say about 'Pacific Rim' in defense of it. Yes the plot is simplistic, the science behind it is dodgy and the characters are laughably played out, but amidst all it's apparent issues that would normally bug me to no end and cause me to hate it like other movies do, (I'm looking at you Independence Day, it's a crime that I am guaranteed to be reminded of your existence every July 4). In fact 'Pacific Rim' embraces its similarities with other films. There are slight nods to the films 'Aliens', 'Jurassic Park' and even 'Star Wars' and their influence is certainly felt in the overall product. For my money 'Pacific Rim' does it all really well and with just enough self awareness to not become eye roll inducing. It knows what it's trying to be and knows you know it too, once it gets past that it makes no apologies for being just that. If what it's trying to be appeals to you then you will have the time of your life like I did.

Arbitrary numerical rating: 9/10

2 comments:

Alison Irvine said...

Good review...and really nicely written, though I doubt I would go to see such a movie. Don't you find it disappointing that so many "destructorgy" movies are made and so few that focus on other themes?

Damian Levy said...

It's not so much that those movies aren't being made they're just not given the same attention a movie like this is. They certainly wouldn't be released in the summer.