The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pacific Rim

I saw the trailer for 2013's Pacific Rim and didn't have any screaming interest to see it this past summer. While it looked cool, I thought it looked like a hybrid Godzilla-Cloverfield-Transformers movie. I liked all those movies in one way or another, but something just hit me funny. It earned decent reviews and made some solid cash, but it took a couple positive reviews from folks I usually agree with to sell me on it. The main reason they liked it? Just a good, old-fashioned movie intended to be eaten with a big tub of popcorn. The verdict? Read on.

In 2013, Earth is under attack, immense, truly enormous creatures called Kaijus from another dimension that travel to our planet from an interdimensional portal on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The creatures wreak havoc, mankind responding with Jaegers, equally huge humanoid war machines piloted by two human pilots. The Jaegers hold back the other dimensional creatures, but years pass and the Kaijus become bigger, faster and stronger to the point they're almost impossible to defeat. When the creatures start coming through the portal quicker and quicker, mankind becomes desperate, turning to an impenetrable sea wall to stop the creatures. While the wall is constructed, the Jaegers must mount one last stand, the unit's commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), limited to his last four war machines. He turns to a former pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), to pilot one of the machines, but is it too late to save Earth?

Director Guillermo del Toro has said in interviews that his intention here was to make a tribute-like movie to horror and sci-fi creature flicks from the past. It's supposed to be big, fun, action-packed and entertaining, the perfect summer movie. Unfortunately, I think del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham just try to do too much in a 132-minute long movie. 'Pacific' is fun and dumb and goofy and exciting, but there's pilots, commanders, rival pilots, pilots who have daddy issues, science issues, tech issues, a pilot who wants a woman as his co-pilot but she's got some traumatic issues from her past affecting her, a black market dealer with golden shoes, and scientists who are more obnoxious than as funny as I'm assuming they were intended. It tries to please everyone and got taken down a notch or two in the process.

What is no doubt the best thing going here is the CGI, the visual look of the movie. It's good and bad, but more on that reasoning later. The Kaijus are something to behold, each of them with a distinct visual look, like a crossbreed between Godzilla and the gnarliest reptilian monsters you've ever seen. Their background isn't explained much unfortunately, but we know with each passing attack, the interdimensional creatures seem to have evolved into one indestructible being after another. How to do battle with them? Machinery, technology and in some cases, pure guts. The Jaeger fighters look like Transformers meet the Iron Giant, but with human pilots directing them. Each of these immense humanoid creatures has a personality of their own, typically reflecting the personality of the pilots inside, but also their own unique visual appeal. The CGI is incredible to watch. It's seamless, pretty much flawless. It looks real, not like something created on a computer.

But here I sit, the same problem I had with the Transformers movies. The CGI and the technology are ridiculous to watch, truly ridiculous. The advances in technology are remarkable, especially considering where computer-generated special effects were just 10, 15 years ago. Is it actually too good? It gets to the point that the battles between the Kaijus and the Jaegers become too muddled, too busy, too detail-oriented. Most of the fights take place at night, either in water or in congested, poorly lit cities so the battles become incredibly difficult to watch. On a simpler level, they get repetitive. Yeah, I know the pilots are human. Yeah, I realize the Kaijus are trying to annihilate Earth, but seeing one fight after another between the warring sides gets old. Sure, a Jaeger picking up an immense freighter and trying to beat the crap out of a Kaiju with it is cool, but these epically staged battles lose some of their effectiveness when we see the battles over and over.

Where I was encouraged was del Toro's decision not to cast any huge stars in this all. No A-listers in sight here, not by a long shot. The always criminally cool Idris Elba is the best performance here (and the coolest character name) as Stacker Pentecost, the driven, nearly obsessed Jaeger commander attempting anything he can that would turn the tide, his "We're cancelling the Apocalypse" speech a highlight. Hunnam is more hit or miss with a cool idea for a character, but something's missing. I can't decide if it's bad acting or just a bad part, the subplot with hopeful co-pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) lacking any energy or originality at all. Always Sunny star Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are cast for some laughs as a scientist duo searching for clues to take down the Kaijus, but the attempts at laughs are pretty painful. Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky are a father-son duo piloting the most powerful Jaeger while Clifton Collins Jr. plays a control room tech. Ron Perlman hams it up as Hannibal Chau, the world's leading black market dealer in Kaiju parts.

I keep coming back to something, a thought I usually don't associate with fun summer blockbusters. I'll give this one a slightly positive review, but it could have been a movie of a really good to great to near classic movie. Directing the film, del Toro set out to make a fun movie. Is it weird then to say there was potential on display here for a possibly really smart, even intelligent film? Space portals open up all sorts of doors about the immensity of space. What could be out there? What could be trying to destroy us? Why are they doing so? How does mankind respond? Hunnam's Raleigh explains it all in an interesting, well-told monologue over the movie's first 15 minutes. There just could have been more, SO MUCH MORE. The same from the human perspective. We see the heroic Jaeger pilots become genuine celebrities. How about the Drift technique, linking 2 pilots together through their thoughts and past? It's a brilliant concept that isn't fully explored. I don't know if I've written a review for a movie wanting it to be smarter, to embrace its intelligence, but here it is. Pacific Rim is good but it could have been great, and that's the most disappointing thing.

Instead, the explanations and scene-to-scene transitions are rushed and muddled. The two comic relief scientists manage to mind-drift with the Kaijuis and somehow learn EVERYTHING about them in seconds. I'm not buying it. Things happen because the story requires it far more than I'd like. The Jaegers seem to have one weapon that handles the Kaijus effectively, but Raleigh completely forgets to use it in battle...until he needs to remember. If he remembered earlier, then there'd be no battle! The same goes for the finale, certain characters surviving because....well, because they survive. I liked this movie, but I wanted to love it. Too bad.

Pacific Rim (2013): ** 1/2 /****

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