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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim (A Case For)

If I had to define my taste in movies, it'd be a stretch to say that I'm generally a fan of big-budget blockbusters or action movies. I never collected action figures or comics, and the CGI I typically enjoy is the sort that creates adorable, PG-rated children's movies.

That said, I absolutely loved every minute of Pacific Rim.

Word on the street about Pacific Rim is that it feels like a movie made for 12-year-old boys (an argument that is made both in the positive and the negative, depending on the review). Having never been a 12-year-old boy, I'd argue this is close, but not quite accurate, to the sentiment it's capable of stirring. The surprising thing about Pacific Rim is that it's high-end, flashy, and all very new-looking, but it manages to gently tug at the heart, producing pure joy and nostalgia by taking some of our favorite character archetypes and action mechanisms (robots, aliens) and delivering them in a way that allows us to smile, and laugh, and get excited in a way that so many terrible action movies don't.

This is something Hollywood's been trying to do for a long time. Why else do we have big-budget movies based on toys (Transformers), successful movies of the past (Star Wars), and even classic board games (Battleship)? The hope is that the name of the property adds value to the viewer by giving them comfort, familiarity, and perhaps even a nostalgic, emotional attachment to the film. But a bad movie is a bad movie, board-game-related or not.

With Pacific Rim, Del Toro presents us with a new world. We have our villains in the "Kaiju," aliens that crawl up from the center of the Earth and threaten to take over our world. We have our good guys in the "Jaeger," large-scale robots piloted by two humans who are mentally linked via a phenomenon known as "the drift." And instead of labeling the movie with some old intellectual property, we get more general nods to plenty of action movies. Mad scientists, ruggedly handsome pilots, a resistance, a wise teacher; we've seen all of these things before, but it doesn't come off as a hollow attempt at creating a high-grossing, dumbed-down action movie. Pacific Rim doesn't redefine or give us a new take on the action genre. Instead, it selectively leverages it.

The movie is about more than alien vs. robot battle scenes, but Pacific Rim isn't weighed down with personal drama and unnecessary character development. Basically we have pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who was traumatized after witnessing the death of his brother and has spent the several years since drifting aimlessly. But after the Jaeger program loses funding in favor of new protection techniques, Becket's former commander (Idris Elba) pleads with Becket to join his cause at using the few remaining Jaeger robots in one last assault. The character development here is unapologetically simple, and that's OK by me. If I were interested in delving into the psychological motivation or souls of complicated characters, I'd watch Citizen Kane or Magnolia. I'm more interested in seeing robots slap around some aliens.

And that they do! The battle scenes are incredible. They're shot in the dark and in the rain, using bright street signs and cityscapes for splashes of color. I've seen a lot of complaints about the fact that most fights occur in the dark, but I think this 1) helps mask some of the CGI feel of the scenes, and 2) gives the movie a darker, grittier feel. The ratio and length of the battle scenes is quite high; we don't get only 1 or 2 major fight scenes. Any more and the fighting might have tipped the scale into becoming less engaging or feeling like less of an event, but it certainly didn't need any less. It's likely you'll walk out of the theater remarking on particular "moves" employed in these scenes (but I won't spoil any of them for you).

Gushing aside, no movie is perfect. The biggest flaw in Pacific Rim is most likely the casting. Charlie Day and Idris Elba are wonderful in their roles, but Charlie Hunnam, who plays the lead, feels like fairly replaceable and generic eye candy. The movie uses lots of exaggerated, zany characters. It does this well with Ron Perlman, who appears briefly as a harvester of Kaiju remains. It does this less well with Burn Gorman, who plays an uptight, proper British scientist who straddles a very fine line between funny caricature and annoying supporting role. The exaggerated roles are, for the most part, fun, and they remind you of characters you could love as a child, but the casting could have been a little tighter in several places.

Overall, Pacific Rim isn't the sort of movie that you'd read a script for and think "Wow!" But the script gets the job done and allows the audience to immerse themselves in exciting battles that have just enough imagination and creativity (with a very Guillermo del Toro feel to many of the creatures) to avoid it feeling like a guilty pleasure.

I give it an A.

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1 comment:

  1. If you are a fan of the anime genre ( Gundam to make an example) you will find this American production very enjoyable. A good transposition of japanese cartoos to the Cinema of Special Effects. The robot movements are an improvement of the Mechanisms seen in the Transformers series


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