Pacific Rim: Not as meh as I expected, but still pretty meh

pacific-rim-poster-bannerI wasn’t expecting much from Pacific Rim, but I don’t miss anything with the name del Toro stamped on it. But while there is some del Toro-ness in the film (hey, we actually SEE the monsters, even if they are a little campy at times), it’s not too terribly different from other blockbuster summer fare.

I expected the movie to be a relatively straightforward variation of a simple story: 1) boy meets monster; 2) monster kicks boy’s ass; 3) boy kicks monster’s ass; 4) boy grows cocky; 5) monster pulls out the ace hidden up its sleeve and kicks boy’s ass again really badly; 6) boy momentarily loses faith because the situation seems so darn hopeless; 7) after a sudden insight, boy finds strength in his previous weakness and emerges triumphant; and 7) boy turns to kiss girl, a pretty-but-not-very-interesting minor character.

And, to a certain extent, Pacific Rim is that story: the monsters are kaiju, who come from the floor of the Pacific Ocean and bear a more than uncanny resemblance to the enemies of Ultraman (thanks, Bob). (Imagine an unholy coupling between Gamera and Guiron. Something like that.) The “boys” are jaegars, skyscraper-sized robots piloted by two people who undergo a Vulcan mind meld “neural handshake” that allows them to each donate a hemisphere of their brain to powering the huge machine, preventing either from suffering the nosebleeds fatal neurological overload that would be experienced were one to attempt the task alone.

A neural handshake is supposedly more successful if the two soldiers are already intimate or at least simpatico, so, as we would expect, there are teams made up of twins, siblings, fathers and sons, but THERE ARE NO MOTHERS AND DAUGHTER TEAMS BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS THAT WOMEN ARE TOO STUPID, WEAK, AND EMOTIONAL TO SERVE AS WARRIORS EVEN IN SITUATIONS IN WHICH MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL CAPACITIES WOULD DIRECTLY TRANSLATE INTO PHYSICAL POWER. Come on, del Toro, have you forgotten about a little movie called Aliens?

Image of Ripley from Aliens

Ahem. Anyway, yes, so Pacific Rim does follow a standard boy meets monster plotline, but what surprised me was that stages #1-4 and much of #5 happen in about the first ten minutes, before the title screen even appears. That alone made things a little more interesting. In other words, the trailer is NOT a plot summary of the entire film.

But the film still doesn’t do much that is unexpected and does a lot that is drearily commonplace. Although the film knowingly makes at least two specific references to Star Wars (the first pilots we see totally look like stormtroopers and one father tells his co-pilot son, “Great, kid, don’t get cocky,” like Solo to Skywalker), it also seemed to plagiarize from a bunch of others. There was something totally Armageddon going on in places, and at one point, someone said, “I think you just pissed it off.” How many times has THAT line been used? Just like the ticking clock/time bomb/detonation system plot device that has become so trite, someone needs to make sure that line never appears in a movie again.

And, Lord, do we need another of those inspirational-going-into-battle speeches, which date back at least to the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V?

Compare:

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered–

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother . . .

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

At the edge of our hope,

at the end of our time

we have chosen not to believe in ourselves,

but in each other . . .

Today we are cancelling the apocalypse.

Pacific Rim

Cheer!

And I think they stole the soundtrack from Inception.

Pacific Rim was good fun, but not nearly as much fun as The Avengers, another film I expected to merely amuse but which did so really really well. I can’t wait to see what critics do with the racial dimensions of the film, though. Yellow peril, anyone?

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3 thoughts on “Pacific Rim: Not as meh as I expected, but still pretty meh

  1. You had me at campy monsters.

    And I second your *subtle* point about women warriors. For laughs, here’s a favorite historical feminist story:

    “The niece of the great Mongol leader, Kubla Khan, Princess Khutulun was described by Marco Polo as the greatest warrior in Khan’s army. She told her uncle she would marry any man who could wrestle her and win. If they lost they had to give her 100 horses.

    “She died unmarried with 10,000 horses.”

  2. I actually disagree with this breakdown of the film. I went in to Pacific Rim expecting a dumb over-the-top action film and was instead taken in by some great characters and what I thought was a pretty good display of effects and futuristic technology. The lack of female warriors didn’t bother me because there were two–two that we saw anyway, and we only really got a small sample of the warriors anyway. And before you point out that one of the female warriors was depicted as overly emotional, I think it’s fair to say that the trauma she experienced justifies her reaction.
    Anyway, I thought the story was awesome. Even before the movie started, the story about the two original brothers was practically a movie in itself. I’m not saying that some of the scenes and some of the dialogue wasn’t cliche/unoriginal–much of it was borrowed or redone. But I didn’t think that was enough to detract from the story-line. Charlie Day carried many of the science scenes by himself and I thought that part of the film was extremely engaging. The drifting and Asian influence on the film was cool, especially considering the Godzilla parallels. There were enough backstories to keep everything interesting, and many complex themes–parenthood/childhood, brotherhood/soldier bonding, a little bit of romance, revenge, etc.
    To sum up, I think the movie was yes, a little bit redundant in its use of action genre inspirational speeches but overall a really great adventure story. Sorry, didn’t mean to write so much but I thought the movie was fresh and interesting enough that it warranted some defense.

    1. I’m glad you liked it. Our reactions are based so much on expectation. I wasn’t expecting “a dumb, over-the-top action film” because of Del Toro, but I’m probably was basing my expectations too much on the fact that women dominate Spanish horror (think The Orphanage, Rec, Pan’s Labyrinth, Mama. At any rate, my expectations were pretty high.

      I only want to challenge one thing: is it really true that Mako’s trauma “justifies her reaction”? Hmm. I was expecting a little more PTSD for Raleigh, all things considered, but he’s all like, “I can’t WAIT to get back in that jaegar. Gipsy Danger’s so PURTY.” Meanwhile, Mako’s trauma stems back to childhood, but all the training, time, and exposure to the source of her trauma hasn’t helped her at all. And the screen time given to male v. female emotional suffering? Think of the first male-female jaegar scene, and the oddly beautiful and very stylized depiction of Mako’s trauma, and what is up with the red shoe? Cinderella reference? The message I got was that boys don’t cry (much), girls cry all the time (unless you’re a stoic, tall, platinum-blond Commie), and I think the message is damaging to both genders. I also found myself annoyed by the fact that Mako, though clearly intelligent, driven, well trained, etc,. has to get permission from two men to even play. But, no, I can’t say that the gender stuff here prevented me from enjoying a good kaiju-jaegar fight. Those were pretty awesome.

      But how AWESOME would it be to have a Ripley-Newt combo in a jaegar?

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