Friday, March 28, 2014

Rockin' Roy's Drive-By Reviews: Pacific Rim

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: I don’t do starred reviews. I either like a movie, or I don’t. I liked Pacific Rim. There. See how easy that was?

Once again, I am grateful to the good people of the Pikes Peak Library District for making last year’s blockbusters available so I can see what everyone was excited about until the next shiny thing came along. It’s one of those precious and rare Good Things in this benighted empire in decline ca. AD 2014.

Pacific Rim is director Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to the Japanese kaiju (lit. “Great Beast,” monster) movies that you either loved or didnt when you saw them on weekend afternoon television in the 1970s and 1980s. I can only imagine what younger people make of this. My inner 11-year-old was beside himself, but he’s weird.

As described in the trailer, Pacific Rim is set in the near future in which an undersea rift in the Pacific Ocean has opened to spew other-dimensional giant monsters that surface to terrorize and destroy cities along the Pacific Rim. Nations got together and started building what kaiju fans call “mechs,” giant mechanical battle machines that look like either the monster they’re fighting or, as is the case here, a more humanoid Transformer-type bot. Interestingly, they’re not called “mechs” here but jaegers (pr. YAY-gurr), which, as the opening card tells us, is German for “hunter.” This makes no sense because they don’t do any hunting. The techs at HQ know where the monsters are. 

Also, partway through, the nations of Earth decide the mechs, I mean jaegers, arent cost effective and decide to build a giant wall around the Pacific. (Yes, you read that correctly.) So the folks running the jaeger program have gone rogue. Or something. What it amounts to is they only have so many jaegers left to use because they dont have the funding to build more. There is another way they could have introduced the Declining Resources issue to add tension to the plot.

No matter. What matters is it takes two people to operate the left and right “brains” of these jaegers, hence the obligatory I Lost My Partner drama, which is amped up here by the need for such partners to be very compatible, or they won’t make a very good jaeger brain.

Like a lot of films these days, Pacific Rims narrative falls apart fast under reflection; it’s best to savor the residual excitement of all that crash-bang monster fighting you’re left with when the movie’s over, and forget the rest. Although not nearly as preposterous as much that goes on in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, there is an antagonist whose antagonism makes no sense (and who takes his beating by the hero early on), and a general world-threat that’s supposed to be extinction-level threatening, but we never get to really see how. As near as I could tell, if you didn’t live anywhere near the Pacific Ocean, you didn’t have a problem.

I was impressed by the writing inasmuch as I expected the cliché  of “I won’t partner with a woman!” when the cute Japanese actress showed up. I got the impression the writers were trying hard to avoid overused tropes. But building up to a threat which doesn’t seem all that threatening, going on about a never-before-seen “Category 5” kaiju that we don’t see a lot of (at a point where mystery should be out the window; it’s the Final Boss, for God’s sake!)—I’m reminded I don’t see enough monsters for what’s supposed to be going on here. Also, while I understand the geographical necessity for an underwater battle (they have to take it to that undersea monster-spawner hole sometime), visually, it was hard to see what was going on.

Still, I had a good time. Pacific Rim works great if you like big monsters, big smashy-crashy, clang-bangy action, and CGI urban renewal projects. If not, then you know what to do.