Friday, January 31, 2014

Pacific Rim

Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
2013. Rated PG-13, 131 minutes.
Burn Gorman
Max Martini
Robert Kazinsky

If you believe that there is life somewhere besides Earth then you probably also think that if/when they reach us, they will first appear in our skies after having traveled many light years to get here. Makes sense, right? Well, you would be wrong. Turns out, they come through a fissure located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that is really a portal between their dimension and ours. And since we live in a big-budget movie, they most certainly don't come in peace. By the way, these are not little green men with over-sized bulbous heads and football shaped eyes. These are monsters the size of skyscrapers with really bad dispositions. In an apparent nod to Godzilla flicks we have taken to calling them kaiju - the Japanese word for monster. To combat them, we develop the jaegers, the 'j' makes a 'y' sound, German for hunter. These are gigantic fighting robots controlled by a pair of human pilots located in the head. So yeah, someone took one of my favorite things of all time, Voltron, and one of my least favorite, The Power Rangers, put them in a blender and poured the concoction onto the screen.

That someone would be none other than Guillermo del Toro. He is the mastermind behind some outstanding movies like Pan's Labyrinth, Blade II and the Hellboy films. Whether he is practicing patient story-telling as in Pan's, or delivering an action-packed blockbuster as in the Hellboy pictures, his work is often visually stunning. He continues that trend with Pacific Rim. Both the kaiju and the jaegers are excellently rendered and give the whole movie a larger than life feel. This is evident right from the start when one of the kaiju slams itself on The Golden Gate Bridge. The battle scenes make the movie fun. They give us what we have come for: giant robots fighting giant monsters.

The issues come when our main attractions are not on the screen. The overall story is bland and predictable. Individual subplots hold slightly more intrigue, but fail to generate the emotion they seem to be going for. Worse, they also leave plot-holes as they go. For instance, there's "the drift." The drift is a portal where our two pilots must link mentally in order to properly operate a jaeger. Basically, it couples two people's brains together. The first time we meet Raleigh (Hunnam), he's piloting a jaeger with his brother who is literally ripped out of the machine and killed while the two were still mentally connected. We're made to understand that Raleigh now has to not only carry around his memory of what happened to his brother, but his brother's own memory of what happened, as well. Imagine having a loved one brutally killed in front of you and also being able to actually see the event from their point of view and feel what they felt at the moment. Sounds traumatic, doesn't it? Of course, it is. That's why Raleigh quits the jaeger program and disappears from the radar for five years. In desperate need of capable pilots, his old boss Stacker Pentecost (Elba), what a name, finds him and re-recruits him. So what's the problem? The problem is we soon meet Mako (Kikuchi), a young lady who has aced every test there is to become a pilot. Stacker won't let her anywhere near a jaeger because of something in her past. He tells her point blank, "You can't take that level of emotion into the drift!" Excuse me? Did you not just bring back a guy with at least "that level of emotion," if not more? There is no evidence of Raleigh ever receiving any therapy or dealing with his brother's death in any way other than stewing over it since it happened. Therefore, we have no choice but to conclude that how the drift works is subject to the needs of the plot making it a not self-contained entity. The sad part is it's a great idea and further exploring what our hero is going through would probably have generated the empathy this movie needs. We spend much more time on Mako's story. Her history is somewhat interesting, but too obvious for us to really get worked up about.

I know, it's a guy flick. Guys don't care about all that touchy-feely stuff. It's all about robots and monsters. Monsters and robots. I'm a guy. I get it. Except guys who say that are either lying or fooling themselves. Even for the ruffians among us, the story is what draws us into the movie. When this happens and we love or hate the people on the screen, we have a vested interest in what happens to them. We actively root for or against them. Action can do this if it's of a brutal, particularly visceral nature and...AND...seems realistic, not some stylized Matrix fantasy stuff. Even then, the movie has to give us sufficient reason why we should care. No matter how good it looks and how much of it there is, this can't be achieved simply by ridiculously large beasts taking on equally gargantuan machines. Therefore, even as we enjoy watching it, we remain distant from what we are seeing. That distance means Pacific Rim is okay, probably a good choice for a fun movie night, but ultimately forgettable.

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