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With the Summer of '13 comes the obligatory film that spends several hundred million recreating a childhood wish-fulfillment fantasy about a brave band of misfits who overcome personal differences, physics, and plot logic in order to save the world by fighting back alien invaders and closing the portal between their world and ours. The filmmakers, recognizing the inherent silliness of the premise, cast strong actors but balance the dramatic elements with knowing humor. Look for videogames, action figures, and an amusing bonus during the final credits.

Personally, I preferred the Summer 2012 version, entitled The Avengers, but this one's pretty good. And, unlike most summer action movies of recent years, director Guillermo del Toro doesn't serve up a re-envisioning of, remake of, reinvention of, or sequel to some existing franchise, film, or forgotten Saturday Morning Cartoon. We have an original story, though it clearly reconceptualizes some well-established genres, with shout-outs to Kaiju, Mecha, and even China Miéville. You could base a drinking game on references and influences, but not if you have work the next day.

The premise takes little explanation-- despite the film's excessive desire to explain it, which I will discuss later. What do you do when massive alien Kaiju invade the world? Kick it Gundam style, with huge pilot-controlled robots called Jägers. But first, you have to settle the conflicts within and among the Jäger's meisters. These maverick pilots aren't entirely stable, and yet their brains must bond for them to operate the Jägers. The film also throws in some conflicting and conflicted eccentric scientists, and the obligatory self-serving but likeable rogue. They really must all work together, and thus, as in all big-budget films made possible by advanced computer technology, we have themes about the importance of the human factor.

Of course, the technology remains the key to this film's success. Pacific Rim boasts amazing effects. We see epic visions, both from the ground and above, of what Kaiju attacks and Mecha mayhem would look like. The effects impressed me; a few shots inspire something like awe. And, while IMAX 3-D remains a gimmick, that gimmick suits a movie about giant robots fighting to destroy all monsters.

Indeed, in places so much happens so fast and in so much detail that I didn't always know what I was watching. If anything, this film needed fewer effects sequences, and just a little bit more time with those human characters.

The characterization, while simplified, works. They've hired impressive actors to carry this movie, and they give us people we can like. As a bonus, Americans—though they play their part—don't stand in for the whole human race, and a marquee star doesn't save the day. Our heroes come from all nations, and no one character stands alone. Rugged and rockstar though the pilots-- such as Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi-- may be, the really memorable performances come from our resident nerds, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, and our obligatory self-serving but likable criminal, enacted wonderfully by Ron Perlman. These guys would do well in the next Marvel Comics movie. They understand how to play ridiculous characters in a film with a ridiculous premise, without turning the proceedings into farce.

And leave us face it; the premise is ridiculous. Only the original Gojira took anything like this seriously, and the series it spawned quickly lost its gravitas. Del Toro and company mostly understand this. We don't really need to worry about aspects that don't quite make sense. It's Pacific Rim's job to lick the cracks of doubt that appear if we consider the premise too deeply, and there's enough here to accomplish the task.

While I found Pacific Rim enjoyable, I cannot call it a perfect action movie. I'll accept the comic book physics and some dubious plot elements that make the story possible. If you don't expect these in a movie where giant robots fight giant monsters, don't go to see a film where giant robots fight giant monsters.

No, my pet peeve: it suffers from the Curse of Star Wars, the opening crawl. This technique made sense in 1977, because Star Wars was supposed to feel like Chapter IV (say) of an old-time serial. It has since insinuated itself in all kinds of films where it doesn't belong. Instead of text this time, we have a montage with narration. It's still a crawl of expository lump and it's not needed. Nope. We figure out pretty quickly what's going on in this world. Did I mention this already? Giant alien monsters invade earth and we build giant robots to fight them. Really. Even the little kids in the audience can figure this out. Ten minutes of backstory just slows the beginning, giving us an unnecessary opening sequence before the opening sequence.

Every time I see or read unnecessary infodump, especially front-loaded infodump, I assume an executive with limited imagination forced the decision on someone. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think enough of director del Toro to pretend that must've happened.

If they really found this information necessary, they should have filmed the story the voiceover drags us through, because that would have been fun, too. This movie could have been the sequel. And you can be fairly certain we will see a sequel.

I don't know if I'll watch it. I enjoyed Pacific Rim and recommend it to fans of the fantastic. A little of its big-budget excess goes a long way, however. Leaving the theater, I found myself thinking of the rubber-suit and model-city masterpieces that inspired it.

Maybe someone should do a real tribute: this premise on a shoestring budget. We all know that part of the fun of watching the old films lies with their flaws, the visible wires and obvious stagecraft. Dressing up like a rubber dinosaur and smashing a model city? That's a fun job to have, and the audience knows it. Making an epic film with little money-- that would showcase the human spirit.

Maybe the next great special effects extravaganza won't be Hollywood; it'll be hometown.


Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket
Idris Elba as Stacker Penetcost
Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori
Diego Klattenhoff as Yancy Beckett
Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler
Burn Gorman as Gottlieb
Max Martini as Herc Hansen
Robert Kazinksy as Chuck Hasne,
Clifton Collins Jr. as Tendo Choi
Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau
Brad William Henke as Construction Foreman
Man Ashida as Young Mako
Joe Pingue as Captain Merrit
Milton Barnes as McTighe
Robert Maillet as Lt. S. Kaidanovsky
Heather Doerksen as Lt. A. Kaidanovsky
The Luu Triplets as the Wei Tang Triplets

So Zephbro and I saw Pacific Rim yesterday and by golly was I underwhelmed for a number of reasons I can barely put into words. A few marked spoilers ahead, but really it's kinda impossible to spoil this movie.

I wanted to like this movie.

It's giant human-driven robots fighting inter-dimensional aliens that come from the ocean. It's a giant homage to those mecha animes and Godzilla-like Kaiju monster movies. It's an original story, not based around any other franchise. It's directed and written by Guillermo Del Toro for fucksake.

It was okay. Good, even. Certainly not bad.

And there were aspects of it that were spectacular. The Kaiju were legitimately threatening. The robot fighting action was phenomenal. There were cool background details that might've been missed, but if you see them then you appreciate them, like the base's automatic announcer voice being the voice of GLaDOs, or the Kaiju bones and teeth and stuff being used as architectural decorations in some buildings, or how, at the beginning when the brothers are robo-suiting up, the series of complex and flawlessly timed automatic suit-putting-on-rivets-and-bolts-and-metal-gizmo thing looked worn from use instead of being Iron Man levels of shiny, thus subtly adding a little credence to the narration's mention that they had already been fighting Kaiju for a long time when the scene begins.

Where the movie- okay, I don't want to say "fails" because there isn't anything close to a failure in this movie, but where it takes a significant turn to the less-than-awesome is the characters.

Don't get me wrong: these characters are pretty cool. You've got the Asian woman with a tragic past, a touching relationship with the Marshal, and who is an awesome fighter with reasonably explained weaknesses, rather than that "I'm gonna be kickass for the first two acts, then become inexplicably incompetent in the third so the male protagonist can save me" bullplop.

Spoiler. Mild not-quite but sorta-is spoiler. Spoiler analysis

It was just really refreshing seeing a female lead who didn't go all uncharacteristically incompetent and get kidnapped or something at the end.

The main male protagonist was likeable, as well. He's got the typical backstory of a dude who was really good at Thing A, has a terrible accident where something tragic happens, swears he'll never do Thing A again, then gets called back in because of Dire Circumstances. It's the plot of a zillion movies, but it's done well enough here, and we don't waste too much time on it.

Then there's the Marshal, who is basically the third protagonist. We don't know anything much about his backstory (something he intentionally made sure of in-story) except that Spoiler and Spoiler.

Now, perhaps you've noticed that I haven't used any of these character's names. Well, that is because although I saw this movie less than a day ago, I cannot remember them. I remember that Idris Elba played the Marshal, because that is a cool ass name for a real life person to have. I remember Asian girl's actress's first name is Rinko because people on tumblr have been fangirling over her.

The point is, Pacific Rim may be the first monster movie ever where having a little more squishy humans interacting and a little less robots smashing monsters would have been beneficial. I know; I'm surprised too. For most robot fighting monster movies I've seen, I couldn't wait for the humans to die or get off the screen so the robots could do their thing. Heck, I'm still convinced Transformers would have made an excellent short film if everything involving Laboof, Laboof's parents, and Megan Fox was cut so it was just robots and the occasional army dude running around. But Pacific Rim suffers for it because, unlike in Transformers, THESE CHARACTERS ARE ACTUALLY LIKABLE. Even the asshole Australian son guy who keeps trying to have a cock measuring contest with the Main Male Protagonist (okay, I looked it up and MMP's name was Raleigh) was a good guy. He was still an asshole, but you can be an asshole and still be a good person (it's just then you're a good person who people want to see hit in the face).

It's like the movie had these cool, deep, well thought out characters, and then decided only to give you the diet soda, skim milk, sparknotes version. "Ooh, you like this character? You want to know more about him? You want to see more of his personality and maybe him interacting more with the other characters? WELL TOO BAD HAVE MORE ROBOTS."

Which is, I fully admit, a ridiculous problem to have in a rock 'em sock 'em robots movie, but there you have it.

The story is simple. Everything about the story is simple. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it means that there is a clear point A to point B line of progress the plot is taking, but it almost feels too simple. I kept expecting some sudden twist or shocking moment or horrible reveal that never actually came. Usually when characters have a big ultimate plan for dealing with the bad guys, and the audience knows every step of this plan, there's a wrench in the works or a twist revealed where the characters have to dramatically alter their plans, sometimes several times through the course of the movie.

This one did do it once, and it wasn't that big of a problem to deal with, so you're almost expecting another twist because no way was it that simple, but nope. It really was.

There's also a lack of subplots compared to other movies, with just the one with the Kaiju-fanboy lab guy running around trying to brain meld with the Kaiju. Subplots tend to come with human interaction, so again if they had more time devoted to character interaction and development, there probably would have been a meatier plot platter.

I almost wish for more plot, but that's just a personal preference, and really if you're just here solely for the monster fights, you probably don't care. Speaking of the monster fights. . .

Why didn't they use the sword sooner?

They go the entire first half without using any melee weapons, settling instead for semi-effective plasma cannons and merely hitting the monsters when the swords are shown to be much more effective later. And why the hell did they keep tossing the monsters around? Sure it looked cool, but it made no logical sense, especially when they were fighting in the water.

I liked Hannibal Chau. He's this skuzzy crime boss asshole who dresses like a pimp and sells Kaiju parts on the black market. I have no idea why I like him except I guess I've got a soft spot for the fast talking pragmatic scum bag who knows more than the main characters.

One thing I really like about this movie was the lack of a romance subplot. In just about every movie ever, if there's a male lead and a female lead, then it's going to end with them banging (or one of them dying. Either or). So It was nice seeing these two not falling in love and ending with a smultzy kiss.

This movie did not feel like two hours. It actually felt a little short to me, though my brother was looking bored by the third act so maybe it just depends on how much you like seeing robots fight.

I will freely admit: I was not the target demographic for this movie. I've never seen Godzilla and I've never seen Neon Genesis Evangelion or Mazinger Z or Big O or any of those other humongous mecha animes, so take my opinion for what it is: a casual movie goer not particularly familiar with the genre who basically walked into this movie blind.

It was good, but not great. I don't regret seeing it, and even though I wasn't 100% in love with it, I still want to support this one because for fuck sake it's not stupid. Silly, yes, that goes with the premise, but it wasn't an insult like the Transformers franchise. It wasn't racist or sexist, it had spectacularly shot action scenes where there wasn't any ridiculously fast cuts or indecipherable shaky cam. It's an original story, and when my biggest complaint about the characters is that I wish we had gotten to know them more, then is that really a complaint or a compliment?

If you like robots smashing monsters, go see it. If you like monsters smashing cities, go see it. If you like pretty Asian girls tastefully kicking ass, baby monsters eating jerks, and summer action blockbusters with original stories rather than tired franchise cash cows, go see it.

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