Dissecting Pacific Rim

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Guillermo del Toro has been away from behind the camera since 2008, but is Pacific Rim a worthy return for the talented filmmaker?

That answer might be complicated.

Zac: I am a big fan of del Toro’s last three films, though I have been cautiously optimistic going into Pacific Rim. It didn’t help that fanboys all across the internet have pre-hailed this film the greatest thing ever sight unseen, but I think I went into the film ready to give it a pretty fair shake. That said, it took me awhile to warm up to Pacific Rim, but once I did I was gladly hopping along for the ride. That isn’t to say the film doesn’t have some issues, but for every qualm the film made my mouth drop on more than a few occasions.

Lauren:  My relationship with del Toro is spotty at best, though I will always have a special place in my heart for the man because of Pan’s Labyrinth and his beautiful creature design, so his name was about the only selling point for Pacific Rim in my eyes.  You’d think robots vs monsters on a giant scale would be something I would be excited for, but I had a strong feeling that it was going to end up on the negative side of my films of 2013 list because I have been burned by the man before.

With little to no expectations going in, I was pleasantly surprised by the introduction to this world and the brief explanation of humanity’s current situation, but eventually all the large scale effects went from being spectacular too boring in my eyes.  There were still some great moments and I could appreciate this step in monster movies, but there were just too many flaws in the story that kept me from enjoying what was so easy to break down.

Warning: Spoilers will follow throughout the entirety of this discussion.  You’ve been warned!

One of the things I was seriously questioning going in was how they were going to explain monsters handing humans enough time to build robots to defeat them.  At first the exposition just explains that one day a Goliath of a beast showed up through the use of a portal connecting their dimension to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and it was eventually taken down by what was at our military’s disposal, and then in the near future another one showed up.  Eventually we realized that they weren’t going to stop, so we build giant robots piloted by two people each to hold them back.  Vague, but I will accept it.

Then the writers had to be all silly and try to further explain things.

Zac: I didn’t mind the silliness of the explanations, and they are silly, but I do wish the film was far less expository. Some expository beats should be essential in a film like this, but I rarely felt like anything anyone was saying was clearing things up. There are countless moments where a character chimes with what exactly just happened, what is going to happen or what needs to happen instead of just sitting back and letting the viewer take things in. The film is a visual feast, so why not trust those visuals to tell the story? You could argue that all of this explaining is for the younger audiences who this film is just tailor made for (and I would highly recommend taking your youngster to this, it is the least violent PG-13 blockbuster of the summer), but I don’t know if that is very strong footing to stand on.

When the film does stop and just show us the story the results can be breathtaking. Mako’s origin story revealed in The Drift is an amazing sequence, and an amazing performance by Mana Ashida, and without any exposition we know everything there is to know about her motivations and her surrogate father’s, Pentecost. And speaking of Mako and Pentecost, Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi are the all-stars of the film and I was fully on board with their work. Sadly they are often sidelined for some cliched archetypes of our hero Raleigh and an unneeded human antagonist, another Jaeger pilot, Chuck Hansen. I would have gladly taken a Mako as the hero film.

Lauren:  Mako’s history was cool, but the emotional significance and trauma we were led to believe would be a real piece of character development for Mako suddenly disappeared, and we never really see her overcome this.  After Pentecost spends so long being fearful of her stepping into this important role, and rightfully so considering she almost kills everyone when The Drift becomes too much for her in her first attempt at the mental handshake with her partner, the story is completely dropped from her perspective.  We still see these flashbacks in how Pentecost connects to this moment, but it was suddenly like Mako became peripheral and not central to the story.  We didn’t see her overcome the burden that was holding her back because there wasn’t enough time for her to do so before she was tagged into the next fight.  She gets a sword to honor her family (why didn’t she break that out in the first place if it was going to be so easy to slash everyone in half!?), and that’s it.

That was my biggest problem with most of the story elements as they were all half baked.  Why throw in details like the Kaiju actually being the dinosaurs millions of years ago and that they disappeared because they couldn’t handle our atmosphere?  This just invites unnecessary questions, where explanations given to explain these questions, such as that we terraformed the planet for them, are not satisfying enough to make them necessary.  How about they just showed up now and that is that?  But whatever.  Instead we have to get random explanations through Charlie Day drifting with a part of a monster brain, as well as a dead monster baby brain , to explain things like why we can’t just send a bomb through the pathway to the monster world, or that these guys are actually really intelligent and have been evolving to counter the defenses of the humans.  How about this, smarty pants: during those millions of years of waiting to return to Earth just clone the bejeezus out of your numbers and flood the humans with giant beasts instead of testing the waters on the first outing, allowing us time to prepare for the next attack.  Boom.

Zac: My biggest half-baked idea was the fact that Mako was apparently giving off the charts readings and then they never came back to it. But back to your point, I liked everything with Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, especially after they introduce Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman!) into the mix, so even though there was a lot of nonsense there I mostly forgave it. The whole thing with the baby Kaiju especially was a great and cool concept, but I wish they dug into this and the Kaiju Drift more than they do. Just as you wish they would have left all these ideas alone, I dug the ideas and wish they gave us more of all these cool world building beats. “More” was a feeling I have been wrestling with after seeing this and I think this is one of those movies I would love even more if it was longer. You would still have to work on the pacing early in the film and shift some focus around, but I would have loved to see a lot of these half baked ideas fleshed out fully.

I also think the film missed a real opportunity by not giving us more time with the pilots of Cherno Alpha and Crimson Typhoon as their fight at the beginning of the Battle of Hong Kong has no stakes, even if it looks and plays beautifully, because we have seen these guys do nothing but brood and storm around the Shatterdome. And really, all of your negative Nancying aside, you can’t deny the greatness that is The Battle of Hong Kong.

Lauren:  Yeah that battle was great, but first someone needs to explain to me how the heck Hong Kong still exists!  There are lights all over the place and everything!  It made for a great environment to set the scene, but if these beasts are going for all of the major coastal cities for the better part of a decade then Hong Kong should be tsunamied off the map by now, or at least a hollowed out shell of what it once was.  As for the battle, because there were no stakes for the first part of it all of the carnage over the first two bots didn’t really matter (as you said), but instead just left me worn out for the second half.  The effects were great, as was bringing a ship as a weapon, but by the time we moved to the two teams that I cared more about I was already starting to get bored.  And don’t get me started on that whole metronome ball thing…  There were a few laugh beats that worked, but that one took me out of the moment.  But then the wings beat me back in.

Zac: THE WINGS!!! This moment, and the proceeding flight and fall from space, was INCREDIBLE! Worth the existence of the movie good for me. The whole battle worked for me, even with diminished stakes, and I think it is easily in the running for top sequences of the year for me. As a fan of Godzilla films growing up, this was just bliss. The creature design is inventive, the fight was well balanced and the battle just felt real. That holy shit moment above was mounds of icing on the moment, and the scene went a long way to turning around any of my issues earlier in the film. I am really interested to see how the film plays a second time actually, knowing what I do about Mako and Pentecost’s relationship now I think some of that redundant, “she isn’t doing it,” might play with more heart; especially when he gives her the green light. Seems odd that they hid their true relationship as long as they did.

Lauren: What do you mean what you know about those two?  There was nothing to learn.  It was clear that he was always dying with those pills and nosebleeds considering what we knew about the first pilots, and the fact that going back into the machine didn’t matter because he was going to blow himself anyway.  And the relationship was a given based on the multicultural background, especially since their relationship didn’t feel like it was leaning towards a secret love affair.  So being within the current situation and their multicultural background, their history wasn’t too hard to figure out.

I think watching it a second time would make me more frustrated with  the lack of Mako’s character in the second half, and the Hong Kong fight probably did the opposite for me as it did for you because I was so frustrated with everything.  The simple power of just being in awe of what I was watching was no longer as effective at this point (again, minus the wings) because the world building between the fights was creating way more questions than they cared to answer in a satisfactory manner.

Zac: Well, I was in such awe that I caught myself with my mouth agape multiple times throughout that entire fight. How do you feel about that?!

Lauren:  I am not surprised seeing as we tend to disagree on things these days, and I can even say that I am sure a little drool fell off of my own dangling lip.  But while you were busy picking your jaw off during the battle side of the scene I was busy wondering if the monster was actually a part of Charlie Day’s sidequest to the extent that he believes it to be.  He made it more than possible to love his moments, but I still wanted to know what the heck was going on!  Was that monster really chasing him or was it all just paranoia (which would have been awesome and I loved how the group of people hiding turned on him like they did)?  Were they going to become brain besties had the monster not been killed!?  Was the baby going to think he was his mom!?  I would have actually accepted that because it would have been a quirky plot point perfect for the character, but instead it was a simple plot device so that Day would understand the troubles with the final battle plan.  Last, but not least, I really hoped he was going to yell “Jaeger Bomb!” at some point.  Out of all the characters, he was the perfect one to do so.

Zac: I agree, I would have preferred more info than making it an exposition point, but I think Day made the most of it. I also think the stuff around the baby was the comedic highlight of the film, so I wouldn’t want to lose any of that either.

One last thing I want to hit on is that I appreciated that the film wasn’t afraid to off its characters. Sure I wish Raleigh didn’t make back up from the Breach, but i could live with that because Pentecost and douchey Aussie got a pretty heroic send off. (Though, their Jaeger seemed in pretty good shape, no?) It’s rare we see these big blockbusters willing to kill people off, let alone an ending that had some feeling of finality and if we never get a Pacific Rim sequel I will be happy with this ending to the story.

Now that I think about it, the Hong Kong fight is so good it hurts this finale, which was fun, but didn’t hold a candle compared to what we’d already seen. In fact, the action was so balanced and believable, I was a bit disappointed they made things seem a bit easier at the Breach. I mean, they lost both Jaegers, two pilots and had to detonate two nukes, but still, I wish it had a bit more back and forth instead of one of the Kaiju getting cut down in like two seconds: even if he was awesomely filleted.

Lauren:  See, I liked the filleting.  At that point in the fight it was just like “Oh for F’s sake.”  Slice and dice and move on.

As for the deaths, if you think about it there were really only two characters that died that had any weight to them since no other pilots were developed, and that was in the finale.  Plus, Raleigh definitely should have died because they needed DNA of the Kaiju to get through the Breach so he and Mako should have been stuck anyway and how did the robots move so quickly in the water considering the limitations of how a human body moves in the water and how did a handful of tiny helicopters lift those things anyway to get them out to the Breach and why was rain or debris or something else always falling from the sky until the last scene and [passes out]…

Zac: Lauren! Wake Up!

I think they said they did some special thing to make them move faster underwater, but lets just say you were nitpicking a bit too much; even if I understand how you got there.

Well I guess Lauren isn’t waking up (I will get her grade by Drifting with her like she is a Kaiju) so I will just wrap things up here.

Pacific Rim certainly has its issues, but how you react to those issues is going to vary greatly as you can see from our review. Lauren and I both saw pretty much the same problems, but where it drove Lauren to go nitpick crazy, I was reined back in by the incredible action set piece. A bit of trimming here, better/more character development there and a lot of exposition exercised everywhere would have probably led to both of us liking the film even more than we did, but I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed this much more than Lauren did. That epic Battle of Hong Kong went a long way for my enjoyment of the film and I am intrigued to see where a second viewing takes me (my Kaiju, I mean Lauren, Drift data tells me she won’t bother with a second viewing).

Lauren: You never know. I’ll just need to remember my calming breaths.

Zac: SHE’S ALIVE!!!!!

Zac’s Final Grade: B

Lauren’s Final Grade: C+

7 thoughts on “Dissecting Pacific Rim

  1. Lauren’s the kinda nitpicking woman that usually means hell for the husband. She doesn’t seem to understand the subtle circumstances where she should stop nitpicking, go with the flow and just shut her trap – like in a big summer feel good action movie that is completely earnest, and free of hero-angst, racist robots, posing models t&a and product placement. could the characterization be better, the music score, of course but the overwhelming storytelling and action more than makes up for it. Pacific Rim is a BLAST!

  2. damn right. Laura, in addition to making a mean sandwich, you should also have good cooking n cleaning skills, seeing as how you don’t really have a career as a movie critic, you should have some womanly skills to fall back on.

  3. Zac,

    MOS deserved to be nitpicked. the tone of the movie is serious. if they wanted to make a ‘serious’ adult-based movie, then it should come with good logical plotlines, pacing etc

    PRim is a popcorn movie – it’s either plain, with salted butter or caramel. that’s it.

  4. I’m sorry ccdev, I know I am just a woman and not worthy of the same respect you are giving Zac, but at least call me by my actual name. I also respond to “woman” as I know my place in the world. But don’t worry, I will set my expectations low in your case seeing as you are not capable of complex thought based on your love of this movie for its simplicity and because you can’t spell a simple name. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some dishes to wash.

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