I have been involved in some inflammatory arguments over the years. Being outspoken, as well as opinionated, that is a given, once even turning an entire college against me during a debate. I don’t shy away from confrontation. As of late, though, I have gotten into rather heated discussions on a specific subject. On what you may ask? Obamacare? Abortion? The legalization of marijuana? No, no, and no. I’m talking about Pacific Rim.
I will start by stating that I didn’t like the movie. Because of this heretical view, I have been accused of being a film snob, a mouth breather, and simply not “getting it” by the geek community. I watched the movie, I have my own opinions, and I will lay them out, point by point, to finally make my view clear. So, without further ado:
1) There is a lack of dramatic tension. In the first five minutes, the background of this universe is explained with the emergence of the first kaiju, the creation of the jaegers, and the state of the world since. Those five minutes are what would have made an awesome movie. The rise of a new threat to civilization, the wrecking of entire cities bringing us to the brink, forcing man to come together in order to survive before it is too late. Come on, who wouldn’t want to see the build-up to the first appearance of kaiju, the use of jets, tanks, and
artillery to stop this menace, the literal widespread destruction and panic on both sides of the Pacific as humanity worries how they will overcome such an insurmountable force. Instead, this is all negated and we are dropped into the present day.
It is a wet fart of storytelling. Whereas the threat of the kaiju could have been gradually built up and explained better, teasing their appearance leading up to the first attack on San Francisco, the writer and director commit the most heinous sin of telling rather than showing. We rush through important events, the destruction of numerous cities and the deaths of millions, and are brought to the “present” which is a mere five years ahead of our own. Don’t you think these events deserve more than a casual quick few minutes to leave some impact? I mean, ffs that is the movie I was expecting to see. The world is at risk from giant frickin monsters. Instead, what we are handed is a flick where we are told that the world is once again at risk because there are more advanced kaiju, though they show up only several times and really never seem to leave much impact as a ragtag collection of jaegers and their pilots are initially able to hold them off with a limited budget. Hell, the kaiju, for no reason other than serving the plot, head directly to Hong Kong where these jaegers are located to battle. Why not head to any of the other major cities in the Pacific since the jaegers are no longer protecting them?
And then there are the jaegers themselves. They are over-stylized, cold monstrosities themselves that more resemble gargantuan toys rather than a feasible war machine. And don’t even get me started on the need to “drift” to control these quasi-transformers. Ok, that’s bs, let me go into that. So jaegers can only operate with the control of two minds, joined together, to guide and direct our toy-tie-in. Whereas this could have been used as a means to humanize the bots, I mean, they function with human intelligence, instead we are simply shown the two pilots dancing around inside their dangling Ikea chairs as they order their Voltrons around. What we are left with is the disconnect between man and machine which strips the jaegers of any humanity and thus of any real emotional investment.
I can suspend disbelief as need be to accept such advanced tech, which magically emerged in a mere several years because “humanity came together,” but glossing over such important events in a mere five minutes to get us up to speed in a world where “humanity has turned kaiju into jokes” really just proves too much. Is the movie trying to say it is our hubris, and not the external threat of the kaiju, that will inevitably destroy us? No, that is me thinking too deeply. And seriously, we defeat terrorists on a regular basis, people who threaten our way of life in a much smaller way, but I don’t see us readily mocking them. Which begs the question…
2) What is the impact the kaiju have had on this universe? The emergence of alien life on Earth, and aggressive alien life at that, hasn’t challenged views philosophical and religious? What about the social and cultural impact in Asia and the Western Americas after being wrecked at great cost of life, realizing we aren’t alone and what’s out there wants to destroy us? Hell, what is the economic impact of all this destruction and the increased defense spending required to beat back this threat? The movie just makes the destruction moot with
how readily cities are rebuilt, no civilian complaints at the inability to defend their cities (seriously, Americans wouldn’t be protesting, let alone rioting, at the continued razing of their cities), and the refusal to acknowledge the human loss that comes with so much destruction. You’d think the consistent assaults on important ports, financial centers, and the increased risk of traversing what is an important trade zone we’d see people surviving in a lower living standard than today. Give me a gritty reality! If people are still living in brightly lit, bustling cities wearing the latest fashions while watching glossy programs about neutered kaiju, then you are screaming for me to withdraw my emotional investment.
And with this threat of the kaiju still lingering, it begs the question why hasn’t humanity pulled back a bit from the coasts in order to give them valid warning and defensive bulwarks against the kaiju threat? In fact, who in their right mind would want to live in such a high risk environment where they are constantly at risk of being killed? Then again, this isn’t helped by the characters in the story…
3) The acting is awful at best (Elba and Perlman excluded), but the writing doesn’t do the actors any favors. Characters are either clichés, paper thin, or miscast.
Let’s start with the writing. As stated above, the important introduction of the kaiju and jaegers is rushed through as if this is the second movie in a franchise rehashing the events of the last movie. The gravitas of what we are being dropped into is stillborn as we’re given glimpses of an awesome movie that could have been. It is obvious del Toro wanted to hurry to what he was most excited about, the battles between the kaiju and jaegers. That is the problem. The build-up is simply not there. It is basic knowledge to anyone who has watched boxing, MMA, hell, even professional wrestling, that it is the build-up to fights that truly makes them memorable adding that needed drama. Instead, we’re subjected to the amateurish attempt of a sci-fi Top Gun (minus the homoeroticism) dealing with the “intense” competition between pilots.
Clichés are used to lazily fill gaps in the story in order to hurry on to the next big battle. We have the stern, but withdrawn, commander, the soldier seeking redemption, the national stereotypes who look like their representing their countries at a racist freak Olympics (love the brother/sister Drago pilots by the way), the government officials trying to stop these noble fighters from protecting us (while said noble fighters destroy cities and curiously don’t seem to feel guilty about it), etc. etc.
That last part, come on, why didn’t the officials use that as the reason they withdrew support for the jaegers? Wrecking cities in epic battles may sound “awesome” but makes little to no sense in a real world setting. How would you feel if the military deliberately set up battles in your city rather than guiding them away to more suitable battlefields? In a world where casualties in the dozens are enough to spark outrage, how the hell has humanity accepted this sort of destruction? Why not have the jaegers wreck a city for the first time in years after the last major battles with the kaiju setting up outrage over such nonchalant care for citizens. The people seem to think the kaiju are no longer a real threat, so why wouldn’t this then cause a decision by government to shut down the jaeger forces only to realize, too late, a new threat is coming and thus rapidly struggling to bring them back? That’s drama. Not the governments stating, “we’re going to build and hide behind a wall.” Really? How frickin expensive would building THAT big of a wall be compared to merely running jaegers? The movie even shows how the kaiju break through a part of the wall being built proving its defensive capabilities aren’t realistic.
Now for the actors. I love Charlie Day, I really do, but his portrayal as the doctor who drifts with a kaiju brain is the same character he has played in everything else he has ever been in. He is abrasive, out of place, and takes me out of every scene I see him. He has this juvenile “look how desperate I am for attention” style of acting that distracts from what he should be doing, making us focus on what he is doing, aka revealing the plans of the kaijus’ masters.
Charlie Hunnam, likewise, just doesn’t seem to possess that leading man presence required to carry this film. He lost his brother, his drive, and his confidence with the destruction of his jaeger, yet he is more than ready to jump back in and challenge the odds without showing any internal conflict or doubt, especially since the odds seem so daunting (italic sarcasm). Where is the PTSD (he claims he is hesitant to step back into a jaeger. My ass. Elba had to ask him twice, in the space of several minutes, to convince him.)? Hell, where is the stubble!?! Well coifed, ripped body, clearly well slept. Yeah, I see how he has been struggling to make it day to day.
And poor Rinko Kikuchi, an Academy Award nominee, isn’t given much to work with here, being required to play the demure, emotionally distant love interest who,
through her trust and eventual love for Hunnam, opens up and achieves her full potential. Oh wait, she fails in the final battle and has to be rescued by
Hunnam. Quite progressive.
Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are the only two people in this movie who gives memorable, stand out performances and why shouldn’t they? They always do with their natural charisma and talent that they bring with every role they play being the seasoned professionals that they are. No one, save these two, seem to be having fun with the movie which is exactly what this flick needs to draw you into it.
Pacific Rim is a B-Movie with a A-Movie budget. What you’re watching is ludicrous. Monsters and giant Robots battle through cities. The sheer insanity of it needs to be embraced but no one expresses that. There is this hollow, distant feel to the directing. That leaves us with…
4) The lackluster brawls between the kaiju and jaegers. Almost every battle is the same: at night, in the rain, either on the coast of a city or the outskirts of a city. The battles, when you can tell what is going on, are simply tame. Kaiju biting and slashing at jaegers, jaegers punching kaiju (and leaving little to no damage most of the time mind you), one or the other being thrown into some object, them getting up, and once more back to the brawl. The fights seem empty. The jaegers come across as poor avatars of their pilots leaving you nothing to really root for. The kaiju never really seem a threat because they are never really shown to be a threat. Both combatants are so oversized, so outside the realm of anything alive, that it makes it incredibly difficult to empathize with either. Hell, Iron Man is merely a suit, but the way Robert Downey Jr. plays him, the way the character is portrayed, you see the suit as a human character. You root for him knowing it is Stark inside. That doesn’t happen in Pacific Rim. Lacking any true character development, Kaiju listlessly stomp around on buildings, which, when we see the limited real world impact of these attacks, strips them of any real menace. You never feel like the kaiju are trying to wipe out humanity. Rather, that they are appearing to set-up the next fight, which is exactly what they are doing. The only real fight that carries any weight in this flawed flick is between Hunnam and Mako as they duel with sticks. Why? Because these are “people” you can relate to, there are stakes, and the scene is set up perfectly.
5) Finally, plot holes and lapses in logic. I’m not sure if the writer(s) were simply amateurs or trying to insult my intelligence. The “analog” line, dinosaurs having two brains because their bodies are too large for one brain to control it all, kaiju being genetically built yet one is “pregnant,” jaegers requiring two pilots and Hunnam being able to guide one halfway across the damn ocean by himself, and I can go on and on. I found myself taken out of the story every time something happened that contradicted what had come before it or simply took the air out of so much potential. Mako, in her first drifting attempt, becomes lost in her own memories, concerning kaiju mind you. This could have been mined for increased drama as she struggles, in future attempts, to accept and control her emotions (which the movie sets her up as an internalizing, untrusting, arrogant, cold bitch) as the stakes increase forcing her to open up to Hunnam and trust him. Instead, her second attempt is successful with no repercussions to follow. Come on, the memory clearly shows that she has a personal grudge against the kaiju. They killed her parents, wiped out her city, and she very nearly was devoured by one. Why can’t we see her having difficulty facing the kaiju because of those fears created by that one event? Why can’t that be what makes fighting the kaiju difficult for her, that inherent fear or perhaps her lack of trust in anyone? Drama 101 people.
This movie had potential. The problem, in my opinion, is that it started at the wrong point. It should have started with the initial
appearance of the kaiju, building this universe properly setting up Pacific Rim to serve as a sequel giving the audience a deeper knowledge of what and where they come from. Giving the story time to breathe and develop. Instead, Pacific Rim tries to cram too much into too little time, does it
poorly, and expects clichés and action (the latter far too limited) to carry the movie. In that, it fails.