Throughout Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, if one were to glance over at me, they would see me sighing heavily, frowning, rolling my eyes, and doing the Jackie Chan meme face.
They would also see me grinning, excitedly looking over at the person next to me, and even fist-pumping quietly to myself while mouthing the word “yes!”
With all the hype the nerd community had for Pacific Rim, I was expecting to write a much shorter review than usual, in light of my preparation for San Diego Comic Con. I was hoping a simple, “It’s amazing, go watch it!” would be sufficient, along with a few lines about plot, special effects, etc.
It turns out, my expectations were set a bit high. But that’s not to say this is a bad movie.
The plot is mostly ridiculous, mostly recycled, and mostly cliché. However, in a movie that attempts to be taken seriously as being based on science and technology, yet features giant mechs as the best solution the world came up with after pooling all their knowledge and tech, the plot can only be weak.
I guess for me, the most frustrating part was constantly feeling like “I’ve seen this movie before.” This is Independence Day, an episode of Power Rangers, Top Gun, most Kung Fu movies, Rurouni Kenshin, Godzilla, etc. etc. It was very obviously either influenced by these other movies and shows or it’s lazy in not trying to bring anything new to the genre.
You know what doesn’t help a weak plot? Weak acting.This is a live-action anime, and the acting is overplayed by everyone except Idris Elba and Max Martini. Ron Perlman overplays his part in the most spectacular way, so he also gets on the “good actor” list. Gorman and Day both create characters who are almost caricatures or archetypes of characters, the crazed, stuck-up mathematician and his rival, the laid-back mad scientist (clearly Jeff Goldblum was considered too old here?). Hunnam kept distracting me with his hands in his belt and his terrible delivery of simplistic lines, and Kikuchi was tiresome as an Asian/anime girl trope.
After venting about the movie, a friend recommended I check out the IGN review. I agree wholeheartedly with everything she said, especially about the main character, played by Hunnam, and main love interest, played by Kikuchi:
“Hunnam plays it mostly straight, which is fine, but he doesn’t necessarily infuse an already thinly-written character with much life. Kikuchi’s performance, on the other hand, is occasionally perplexingly cartoonish. It seems clear that her exaggerated “little girl with big eyes” portrayal is a conscious choice, and likely a call out to some of the mecha anime that del Toro was referencing. However, her choices simply don’t make sense for a living, breathing adult woman – nor for an adult audience.”
Honestly, I recommend reading that entire review, because it pretty much sums up how I feel about the characters and plot. I left the theater feeling like I just watched a movie made for children, a movie that my pre-teen self would have loved and watched over and over again, because I had much simpler taste as a child: kill the monsters and save the world!
Role of Women
Speaking of my taste as a child, even as a kid I would have been disappointed in the strange absence of women in the movie. And I mean strange, because the movie even pointed it out to me, when Elba gave his speech saying “you men and women” and then you see the crowd and go “…where…are those women?” We have a giant factory that gives the impression of hundreds of workers, and I saw maybe five women total, two of whom were pilots.
It doesn’t help that Mori, the female lead, is so dramatically enamored of Becket. She has literally no reason to like him – it’s just a physical crush at first. Then she kicks his ass in a fight and then he steps in to defend her honor against some other guy instead of letting her fight. It’s that classic Hollywood, “oh we made a strong female character, now let’s make her the damsel in distress and completely useless in the real fights.”
On the other end of the spectrum for the character of Mori, we have the most detailed backstory and a truly compelling and creepy flashback. It was wonderful! But, in the end, it only served to explore why the two men in her life interacted with her the way they did. It wasn’t a story important to Mori, it was a story important to Becket and Pentecost. On my other, other hand, she was never used as a sexual object, wearing mostly baggy clothes, sporting a short hairstyle, and boasting the best scores possible on her entry exams. They didn’t do everything wrong with her character, just a lot.
There were also no women speaking in the first half hour of the movie, and no women at all in the first twenty minutes. Again, what I knew of Del Toro was coming from Pan’s Labyrinth, so this was a little shocking to me. I looked around the web to see if anyone else noticed, and I found this excellent article that goes into great and logical detail about why it’s so strange. I felt that many of the characters could have been switched out with women, no problem. Why do we need two male scientists? Or no all-female Jaeger pilot groups? Or no female potential Jaeger candidates but Mori? And the one woman in the cliché scene of world leaders DIDN’T SAY A WORD because…why?
All-in-all, I think it was a perplexing choice and a true missed opportunity. Especially since, as I mentioned to my friend as we left the theater, they could have removed Becket from the film and had damn near the same movie, he was so useless as a character.
Oh, also I’m pretty sure GLaDOS was in this movie.
Special Effects and Action
“But Sarah, you told me this wasn’t a bad movie, but you’ve been complaining the whole time. What gives?” Well, the one part of the movie that most of you nerds would come for is totally badass.
The opening sequence of the movie reminded me strongly of Cloverfield, as did the part of the movie involving going underground. The camera angles were quick, the scale was massive, and the 3D was used to give an amazing sense of weight to both the monsters and the mechs.
The camera angles were close and the monsters looked wonderfully creative yet realistic. I actually screamed a little during the first fight as the monster leaped towards me from the screen. Yeah, it was as embarrassing as it sounds.
The fights were everything you’ve ever wanted to see in giant monster fights; each Kaiju was creative and different, and the danger felt real and thrilling.
I only have two complaints about the action and special effects: 1.) Sometimes it was hard to actually see what was going on because of all the rain and debris and 2.) I wanted more creepy parts like the underground bunker and the underwater section.
Overall, I would say that I felt like this should have been a TV series or a trilogy or something to actually give me time to get to know and care about the characters. The live-action anime style doesn’t work in anything other than the monster and mech fights…but boy, do those fights work! I have never been so very satisfied with the use of 3D in a movie, as towering monsters crashed debris into my face and screamed their defiance into the faces of giant mechs. This is good, expensive B-movie fun, and if you love Godzilla, Independence Day, or giant mechs in general, you will enjoy this ride.
And hey, let’s give credit where credit is due: the promo info for this movie heavily featured an Asian woman and a black man. This is progress! Now if only one of them were the lead…