Quick Thoughts On Pacific Rim

Pacific_Rim_FilmPoster

…because honestly, not that much thought is required.  This movie turned out to be exactly as awesome as it looked, no more and no less.  No surprises, but no disappointments.  It did exactly what it set out to do, and didn’t try to be more than it was.  I can respect that.  I like the 2009 version of My Bloody Valentine for the same reason. 

Two-sentence review: Three out of five stars.  Spend the fifteen bucks, because you’ll want to see this on the big screen. 

Want more?  Below the fold.

Backstory to the movie: sometime right around now (Barack Obama is still president) a dimensional rift known as The Breach has opened in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  We learn this when a giant monster comes out of it and attacks San Francisco.  Conventional weapons eventually bring it down, but only after enormous damage and loss of life.  The world grieves and returns to normal…until another one comes out.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, if there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s turning our predators into our victims.  After the first few giant monster attacks (the monsters are referred to by the Japanese word kaiju, which most readers of this review will know simply means “strange creature”, but which the movie defines – incorrectly – as “giant monster”), the governments of the world build giant warbots called Jaegers (which is German for “hunter”, but that doesn’t matter much).  Jaegers are controlled by hooking the pilots into some sort of psychotronic setup that allows them to control the Jaeger with the movements of their bodies, as if it was a giant suit of armor instead of a vehicle.  And yes, it does have to be “pilots” and “them”, plural, because the psychic strain is too much for one person to handle.  Thus, an important qualification for being a Jaeger pilot is psychic compatibility – relatives, couples and close friends tend to work best. 

Don’t ask me how they develop this technology by the time this movie is set, which is next Tuesday.

For a time, the Jaegers defeat the kaiju easily – kaiju become a joke, and Jaeger pilots become rock stars. 

Unfortunately, Our Protagonist (one Raleigh Becket) is at Ground Zero when that changes.  The biggest kaiju on record (a “Category 3”) (I like that touch, by the way, treating kaiju attacks like natural disasters) smashes his Jaeger to flinders and kills his co-pilot (his brother) before he manages to kill it and get his Jaeger to shore on his own – an almost unheard-of feat. 

Five years later, the kaiju have adapted too well to fighting Jaegers, and the governments of the world have decided to stop funding the program, putting their faith in a giant Coast Wall.  But since all of the kaiju coming out of the Breach are now “Category Fours”, you can imagine how well that works out.

Meanwhile, Our Protagonist is working as a migrant construction worker, helping to build that wall.  It turns out that being in psychic contact with your brother when he’s torn apart by a giant monster will mess you up a bit.  Who knew?

Anyway, Our Protagonist is approached by his old commanding officer, one Stacker Pentecost (yes, really.  Check IMDB if you don’t believe me).  Raleigh refuses at first, but soon agrees.   

Once at the single remaining Jaeger base, Raleigh meets Stacker’s assistant/foster daughter Mako Mori.

Our Protagonist’s story is pretty by-the-numbers from that point on:

1) Obnoxious asshole questions Our Hero’s abilities and is proven wrong.  I must say, I like the scene where they come to blows.  In so many movies like this, the Obnoxious Asshole wins the physical altercation because while the Hero might be an experienced brawler, he needs to learn “control” or “precision”.  Nope.  Not this time.  Our Hero is an experienced warrior, and he has precision and control.

2) The co-pilots offered to Our Hero prove to be insufficient, and Our Heroine (Ms. Mori, of course), proves to be right.  The Authority Figure tries to refuse, but the fit is so obviously correct and necessary that he has to relent. 

3) A serious setback (the psychic connection gives Mako flashbacks of her family being killed by a kaiju, almost causing her to plasma-blast the control booth) grounds Our Heroes, but an emergency (two kaiju attack Hong Kong and defeat the defending Jaegers) forces them into the fight, where they prove themselves.

4) The Stern But Reasonable Authority Figure continually chews out the insubordinate hero, but never actually punishes him.  (Justified in this case because they’re not technically in the Army anymore, and Raleigh is irreplaceable).

Note that I’m not actually complaining about this.  I went to this movie to see giant robots fight giant monsters, and by God that’s what I got.  It is glorious.  Though I have to ask: Ms. Mori, why the fuck didn’t you deploy the swords sooner?  They’re much more effective than punching the giant monster in the head over and over!  That’s why we invented swords in the first place!

Still, in some ways, it’s the secondary characters who have the more interesting – certainly the more original – story.  I appreciate that.  I like that the ground crew is clearly necessary and, in their way, just as brave as the Jaeger pilots.  During the aforementioned near-accident with the Ms. Mori’s first run in the Jaeger, the ranking officers of the ground crew stay behind after their subordinates have been evacuated, working to take the weapon systems off-line…weapon systems which are pointing right at them. 

Of particular interest are The Scientists.  In movies of this sort, scientists come in two flavors: useless eggheads who annoy the Heroes while interfering with what really needs to be done, or The Real Heroes, who end up solving the problem themselves.  These are both.  Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, anal retentive and generally nonfunctional human being, is the mathematician who predicts when the kaiju will be emerging from the Breach, and how many will be coming.  Dr. Charlie Day is the kaiju-groupie biologist who has the idea to mindlink with a kaiju brain, which gives them a key piece of information: the kaiju are merely bio-engineered weapons of mass destruction, sent by their masters beyond the Breach to cleanse the Earth of vermin (us) so they can colonize.  Note that it requires enormous courage for him to do this: it inflicts the same damage as trying to pilot a Jaeger alone, and has the unfortunate side-effect of making him a specific target of the kaiju (since it turns out they have a hivemind, they know what he knows).  When the two of them, working together like Jaeger pilots, perform a second mindlink, they learn another key piece of information: the existing plan to close the Breach will not work.  So Our Heroes come up with a plan that does.

In other words, the annoying eggheads make the saving of the world possible.  Nice mix, Guillermo. 

I have only two problems, and they’re small:

1) Maybe it’s because they’re all so completely immense that it’s easy to lose sense of scale, but it seems that the size of the kaiju varies at random, regardless of “Category”.  The first kaiju to attack San Francisco looks bigger than the Category 4 that breached the Coast Wall in Australia, and the Category 5 at the end doesn’t look significantly bigger than the Category Fours that accompany it.

2) It’s good that Del Toro gives us badass female characters in the form of the Mako Mori and one of the Russian pilots, but he doesn’t go all in on it.  The Russian pilot is little more than a background character, and Ms. Mori isn’t as badass as she could be.  When Raleigh and The Asshole get in a fight over her honor, she stands meekly by and doesn’t contribute one way or another.  When Raleigh looks like he may be dead, she cradles him in her arms and pleads “don’t leave me”, rather than, say, peeling his armor off and starting CPR.  That’s what I would have liked to see. 

On the plus side, at least they don’t force the love story.  There’s attraction, and there’s companionship, but for now there’s giant monsters to fight.

Like I said, small problems.  Overall, as awesome as it promised.  Let’s get some butts in the seats so we can have more giant monster vs. giant robot movies in our future.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Quick Thoughts On Pacific Rim

  1. Yep, beasties in the hundred-plus-foot size range are dubbed daikaiju, meaning ‘great strange creature’. But you likely already knew that.

    Speaking of unforced affection, I’ve been partial to that little forehead-to-forehead bonding gesture at the end ever since Perlman & Selma Blair trotted it out back in Hellboy 2. Kinda conveys companionship & more without drowning the audience in sap.

    As for (1), all I can figure is that Cat-5 (which gets the charming codename “Slattern”) might’ve been a big bugger, but its size was kinda downplayed by (a) its quadrupedal build and (b) the underwater hurly-burly. Either way, the sucker survives a near point-blank nuking…visibly tattered & maimed, true, but damn.

    Ah, you caught Mako’s curious lack of initiative regarding the Aussie jock. The lady’s intense, but clearly had some long-simmering issues to work through, so perhaps tumultuous formative years somewhat account for her assuming Wallflower Mode(C) on this particular office friction. Also found myself hiking an eyebrow at her transparent copilot-peeping…just a smidgen awkward bordering on creepy there. I get the feeling this gal hasn’t been out much (if any) more than the Eggheads.

    Regarding the practicality of going gauntlet-blade early, all I can figure is that the fights we saw onscreen involved mostly point-blank scrapping in waist-deep water for starters. Those shiv-rigs seem to require a couple seconds to deploy, and these beasties seem quick enough on the bumrush to exploit that. Though of course said momentum works against ’em at least twice in the final strike. Perhaps a less complicated (or even a more conventional, grippable pointy tool) would’ve done the deed (and may well have been tried in prior engagements).

    Anyhow: smashing, rollicking fun. I can only hope next year’s Godzilla isn’t too caught up on dire fallout-related gravitas to provide comparable brawling thrills.

    • Yep, beasties in the hundred-plus-foot size range are dubbed daikaiju, meaning ‘great strange creature’. But you likely already knew that.

      Yep. Pity they didn’t use that, actually. It would have satisfied the nerds and sounded even more badass. Perhaps Del Toro was watering things down for his American audience, as so often happens.

      We’re not that stupid! Really! You can call it the Philosopher’s Stone just as easily as the Sorcerer’s Stone! You explain what it is in the text anyway!

      As for (1), all I can figure is that Cat-5 (which gets the charming codename “Slattern”)

      Really? Come on, guys…

      might’ve been a big bugger, but its size was kinda downplayed by (a) its quadrupedal build and (b) the underwater hurly-burly. Either way, the sucker survives a near point-blank nuking…visibly tattered & maimed, true, but damn.

      That could explain it. And as you say, nuke. That degree of toughness does put it at the next level. If you’re familiar with the tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade, you could compare it to a low-generation vampire that put all its points into Fortitude instead of flashier powers.

      Ah, you caught Mako’s curious lack of initiative regarding the Aussie jock. The lady’s intense, but clearly had some long-simmering issues to work through, so perhaps tumultuous formative years somewhat account for her assuming Wallflower Mode(C) on this particular office friction.

      Oh, I didn’t expect her to take a swing at him herself. If anything, I expected her to step in and tell Raleigh that he’s Not Helping. As Stacker’s right hand, it seems she’d want to maintain order. Still, given the situation, I can imagine that she’d be too depressed to bother. It was the moment at the end where she really should have been doing CPR that stuck out to me.

      Also found myself hiking an eyebrow at her transparent copilot-peeping…just a smidgen awkward bordering on creepy there. I get the feeling this gal hasn’t been out much (if any) more than the Eggheads.

      Seconded. I more or less expected her to cross the hall one of those nights, but I kind of appreciate that she didn’t.

      Regarding the practicality of going gauntlet-blade early, all I can figure is that the fights we saw onscreen involved mostly point-blank scrapping in waist-deep water for starters. Those shiv-rigs seem to require a couple seconds to deploy, and these beasties seem quick enough on the bumrush to exploit that.

      Actually, that was a problem I had with the plasma caster. How long does that thing take to charge up while you’re trying to hold a giant monster away from your face?

      I can only hope next year’s Godzilla isn’t too caught up on dire fallout-related gravitas to provide comparable brawling thrills.

      There’s going to be a new Godzilla? Ohhhh boy. Let’s hope it works out better than the last one. Atomic breath and no ripping off Jurassic Park, please.

      • Yeah, I’m still not sure whether the ‘Ugly American’ stereotype smacks more of international bitterness or sick, sad truth. But speaking of terminology, another slip: I’m pretty sure the plural for (dai)kaiju is equivalent to that for ninja-the same thing, no ‘s’ suffix required.

        Never did play a round in White Wolf’s various settings (or any tabletop franchise, more’s the pity), but I certainly knew of ’em, and that analogy sounds about right. Apparently ‘more nuke-resistant than any organism has any right to be’ doesn’t quite translate to ‘impenetrable,’ however, ’cause “Slatts” takes a double skewering from Eureka, then the atomic tenderizing, and finally gets finished by a point-blank reactor core vent, having failed to learn a thing about bearhugging Jaegers. The Rimmers (argh) might’ve sunk a few too many potential I.Q. points into that brute’s Fortitude pool.

        While Mori’s combination of skill & neuroses made for decent drama, I have to agree on the post-ejection first-aid issue…in the event that PR II ever rolls around, hopefully experience has dialed down her Moe’ Simper Factor(R) a notch or two.

        As for the arm-zapper…hmm. Perhaps the output attenuates in nasty weather/overcast conditions, somewhat like RL lasers; hence the short-range execution-style use in those Ominous Raging Storms. Raleigh’s also damn lucky that Cat-3 (a.k.a. “Knifehead”) was too busy mauling to, say, ponder what the funny light was about…

        As for Big G’s 2014 return, signs almost point to Legendary Pictures erring in the opposite direction if you ask me: ( http://collider.com/godzilla-encounter-comic-con-pictures/ ) As much as 90’s brats like myself devoured the G-flicks of that era & the early 2000’s, most of those mean-looking, built-up daikaiju designs slapped on so much suit actor-hobbling mass that the later series’ duels had an unfortunate over-reliance on breath-weapon exchanges. Motion-capture tech might just be what the director ordered to render Big G massive and mobile, but in my eccentric opinion there’s a time to iconically wade through defensive lines, and a time to shift gears for the vigorous pulverizing of would-be-usurpers. I’ll take a Godzilla that nuke-roasts with the worst of ’em, but could hang with King Kong-O’Brien, DiLaurentiis, or Jackson-punch for mountain-shattering punch if need be.

        Oh, and get me some Blue Oyster Cult somewhere in that damn soundtrack, ’cause their omission was one of the ’98 travesty’s less noted crimes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T65rW_SIzg0

        • Go to far the other way – you mean, be too slavish in their imitation? Could be. Looks like this could be a labor of love by a bunch of fanboys…and we saw how well that worked in Battlefield Earth.

          (Though admittedly, that started as lower-quality material).

          And yes. That Blue Oyster Cult song needs to be in every giant monster movie forever.

          • Pretty much got it in one. I keep tripping over blogosphere blurbs regarding the developers’ desire to properly homage the original…which I’m concerned might translate to 2&1/2 hours of gloom-and-doom lumbering, with plenty off melted military hardware but a bare fraction of the energy-laced spectacle Pacific Rim displayed. Pardon the digressive rant.

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