Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim: A Review

I'm of the opinion that spoilers do not ruin a movie for me. If you don't agree, then stop reading now and go see Pacific Rim, because it... is.... freaking... AWESOME!

Qualifier to above enthusiastic endorsement: Is this a fun-but-dumb movie? Yes! Excellent! Does it matter? Hell, no! I doubt that will be a problem, because if you don't get that, you won't be seeing the movie anyway. Me? Since I am 56 going on 12, I will be seeing it at least one more time, and then again on video with subtitles. There is a huge amount of visual information to absorb, and unfortunately I made the mistake of seeing it in 3D, which distracted from the experience.

Spoilers ahead: Okay, so you're reading anyway?

A minor spoiler, and one that can be overlooked: everyone in this movie is a hero*. There are no sneaky little snake in the grass bureaucrats like the Secretary of Defense wonderfully played by James Rebhorn in the fun-but-really-really-dumb movie Independence Day. Okay, okay, the UN (*cough*the 1%*cough*) representatives, ready to slag off the giant robot program in favor of a really big seawall ringing the Pacific that we all know won't work) are minor villains.

But the real, true heroes of this movie are the two nerdy scientists, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, and let me say that Burn does a fantastic mashup of Joel Grey's Master of Ceremonies in the movie Cabaret and Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove - a slightly depraved and demented Werner von Braun, but with with some warm humanity underneath and none of the used-slave-labor-for-Nazi-V2-rockets-past to deal with).

Sure, you've got the Jaeger (giant robot) pilots (known as Rangers, perhaps in a nod to the Japanese merchandizing market, and really, Jaegermeister must be slapping their foreheads), you've got the engineers and construction workers and everyone who has managed to construct an impossibly huge and impressive infrastructure to combat the kaiju, and most everyone is brave and dedicated and altruistic, but Humanity just does not get saved without those two seeming comic-relief roles.

Let me stress this point, because it is easy to lose sight in all the fantastic mayhem of who the real heroes are, and I'm going give writer Travis Beacham the benefit of the doubt that that (that meaning that scientists are people that identify and solve hard problems through drudgery and risk-taking and hard-to-do shit like math and physics, but still hugely fun, nerdy, enthusiastic nine-year-old kids) was intentional. My only quibble is there should have been a lady scientist in there somewhere for the geek girls to cheer on.

Let me step back for a moment. The speculative writer and possible genius Neal Stephenson once remarked that entertainment consists of either geeking out or vegging out. So, vegging out is obvious, in that you turn off your brain and watch the fireworks. Geeking out, much more rewarding, involves the exploration of ideas and themes. Example of vegging out: any Star Wars movie. No brain required. Example of geeking out: speculative fiction in general, but perhaps some of the better episodes of Star Trek.

I can tell you right now that this movie is a gold mine, and will generate tons of merchandizing, and comic books and maybe a cartoon TV show and bad rip-offs, but it will also generate a huge amount of geeking out in order to rationalize the absurdities and impossibilities presented in the movie. There will be many explanations of exactly what kind of wires and cables are necessary to suspend disbelief. And I think that's good. After all, Star Trek inspired Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre to figure out how to build a warp drive. Perhaps explaining away giant robots will inspire people to figure how to get some really immense energy densities out of our power sources and batteries.

We are going to ignore the fact that building a bipedal giant robot or monster is a majorly stupid idea. We will have to ignore the fact that an entire industry and infrastructure, a massively huge undertaking, is accomplished in a mere five to ten years by nations that haven't built anything big in a generation (save for the People's Republic of China). We have to ignore that the use of the standard terrestrial organic chemistry can build twenty story tall monsters (I mean, come on, there's no freaking way those giant bones are calcium phosphate). Doesn't matter. Shit will be figured out.

Okay, minor quibbles. There are archetypes and stereotypes strewn throughout this movie that are never quite taken advantage of, and that's fine with me, but could have been used to tweak the movie to a little higher performance.

Case in point: the Chinese and Russian Jaegers go down far too easily and too quickly. The Russian giant robot looks fantastic, like something out of a medieval nightmare, and the pilots are even better looking. All in all, as an American, it makes me hugely proud that we have such formidable one-time-enemies as allies. (Yes, I know I'm being manipulated). But, knowing what we know about Soviet technology, we know that they are designed to take a licking and keep on ticking, built solid, simple, and simply devastating. So there's no way that Russian Jaeger would have gone down without at least taking a major piece out of giant monster. And the Chinese Jaeger? It's piloted by a freaking acrobatic trio from the Shanghai circus or something. Hell, the freaking thing is the Shanghai Circus. Why, oh, why, did it not whup out some amazingly stunning and spectacular kung fu kick-ass moves is beyond me.

Perhaps the idea was to show how much of a badass the American-built Gipsy Danger robot is. But come on, you know the Americans are going to put too many bells and whistles in their machine. It's going to break down. A lot. It would be the first to fail. (Unless, of course, they somehow managed to pick the right people for the job, which occasionally happens).

And where the heck are the German and Japanese Jaegers? For that matter, why are the major shipbuilding nations not represented?  Perhaps this will be addressed in the sequel, which, from the visuals behind the end credits you know has to be made. (And here is my suggestion. For the sequel? Two words. Christopher Walken. Doesn't really matter what role. Doesn't really matter what dialog. Even "more cowbell" would suffice. Oh, and a very smart female scientist who bests our loveable geeks in the figuring out of shit, but doesn't become a romantic interest).

So, there you go. I give it 10 out of 10 stars, and the film critics who didn't like it clearly have a stick up their ass and don't know how to have fun. (And one was even dumb enough to think that the kaiju used to be dinosaurs, when clearly the message was the kaiju wiped out the dinosaurs. Sheesh!).

*Even Hannibal Chau is kind of a hero, played by the ever entertaining Ron Perlman as some type of ex-patriot American turned 1930s Shanghai gangster, (and you must, must sit through the credits to appreciate his character).


  1. I'm not reading the review, I stopped reading at spoilers. I'll come back. I've seen so many 3-D movies with the grandkids that they now seem normal to me, not distracting at all.

    1. Come back and tell me what you think!

  2. ditto, 10 out of 10 and it needs to be seen in 3D...,

    1. My very first time seeing a movie in 3D. Maybe it takes getting used to.

  3. Good review John. It was a good movie that allowed me to have a bunch of fun while I was watching monsters and robots beat the heck out of one another.

    1. Thank you, Dan. I think you have a good insight on Del Toro being the current Orson Welles, with the world's biggest train set to play with it. This is the Hollywood/Hellboy del Toro movie, not the Cronos/Pan's Labyrinth del Toro. Despite the disappointing box office returns, I think Hollywood del Toro has written himself a ticket to make ANY Cronos/Pan's Labyrinth he wants to now. But his track record is still better than Spielberg's or Lucas's. How can this not be viewed as a win/win for him and us?