[Review] - Pacific Rim

Courtesy of Legendary Pictures
Pacific Rim is an important film. It is one of very very few major studio films to be released between May and September that is not a sequel or a prequel, a reboot or a remake, an adaptation of a novel, comic book or television series. Pacific Rim is the most expensive, wholly original film being released this year, and it's success or failure, both critically and financially has the potential to drive the studio's production plans for the next five years. At a time when the studios are unwilling to take risks, preferring to make their money riding on nostalgia and the comfort of franchises, with big names and easily marketable tent pole properties, that Pacific Rim even exists is a wonder. An original idea (which, on paper, reads like a Syfy original movie) starring no established or proven stars. It's a gamble, and one I am happy to see that Warner Bros was willing to take.

It's just a damned shame that the final product was pretty much rubbish.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have never misused the word "evolve."

I love, and have immense respect, for Guillermo del Toro as a creator, and as a filmmaker. He clearly has considerable passion and imagination, and is able to bring to life concepts and ideas other film makers would struggle to even approach. But everybody has a bad movie in them, and for all the spectacle and big time excitement packed into Pacific Rim, I believe this is del Toro's bad film.

Sandwiched in between the money makers that were the Transformers films, and next year's Godzilla reboot, Pacific Rim was clearly and one would think easily sold on the "robots vs monsters" premise. And in that regard, it does deliver. It delivers that with swift serve and no need to leave a tip. And they are visually fulfilling, the special effects very impressively rendered, and lacking that obvious artificiality that plagues so many most digital films. I was concerned above that aspect of the film, as del Toro has always been a champion of the practical effect, and traditionally used digital stuff to a minimum. It helps that, due to the scale, most the digital work is divorced from the actors, so that a computer creation rarely shares the screen in any meaningful way with an actual person, and limit the instances where the flaws show through.

In the CG. Sadly, elsewhere, and mostly falling at the feet of the script and the acting, the flaws show all too well. The script has nothing to say, and says what it does poorly. The characters lack any personalities beyond single slivers of characterisation, that are meant to propel them forward. No one hear is a rounded character, each inhabiting an archetype and never growing beyond that. So, a hot head character hates the lead for absolutely no reason, and continues to do so for the entire film. Why does he hate him? The film isn't interested in explaining motivations, not when it can have characters shout mindless dialogue at each other until the klaxxons start screaming and it's time for the robots to fight the monsters again.

There is a great line in Roger Ebert's Lost World: Jurassic Park review, where he says that Pete Postlethwaite is the only actor in the film that honestly believes that he's on an island full of dinosaurs, and that is the best I can say about one of the actors in this film, specifically Idris Elba. He honestly believes that he's fighting back a hoard of monsters from another dimension. Everyone else is just reading lines off the page, and badly at that. The actors all only give one delivery, that sort of constantly breathless insistence that I hate, and often fills soap operas and drama on the CW. Charlie Hunnam, in the lead, gives nothing. The role is placid and affectless, and seems like it was written for a slightly older actor. The same is true for the rest of the cast, who aren't given time or reason to develop their characters beyond some stereotypes, or over-the-top, no reigned-in performances (with Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman eating half the sets, they were so hammy).

Coming out of the theatre, the only movie I could think to compare Rim to is Reign of Fire, the Christian Bale dragon movie. Both were made with serious intent, while both come off as glorified B-movies that aren't as good as they think they are. I warned, when the trailers for Rim started to appear, that the movie seemed like it would be goofy, and it is. It is goofy in a way that del Toro has never broached before. There is humour, and there is stupidity, and for any intentions Rim might have to inject humour into itself, it only ever comes off as just goofy and stupid. The scene where the robot deftly touches a Newton's cradle, sending it clacking away, I think was the moment where the film really and truly lost me. It was just so ridiculous, it pulled me right out of the film. If you expect me to take this all seriously, which judging by the look on Elba's face, you do, then I want you to take it seriously too. Or, if it's all meant to be a big joke, then own that up front and I will fall in behind. But both, neither in significant proportions, and both cranked to the extremes, just makes for a disjointed and tone starved mess.

Which has no concept of science. I get that it's science fiction, and science isn't of the utmost importance, but as I've long said, so long as a movie is internally consistent, I'll buy any premise. This film throws everything against the wall, watches slide to the floor, and uses it anyway. New concepts are thrown out randomly, seemingly meant to be great revelations, but more often then not it just seemed like the easiest way for the script to move on to the next thing. The kaiju are clones, apparently, except one of them is pregnant. They also have a hive mind, we discover when it's convenient, and that doesn't really play a part moving forward. The designers are world harvesters, though we never learn anything else about them. The bridge only functions at an inverse exponential rate, except when it doesn't. And only kaiju can pass through, expect when anything can. The bridge is a link to another dimension, and the link needs to be destroyed, except when the bomb goes off in the other dimension, but that seems to work too.

And for the love of gods, to any writers out there who want to dot their works with touches of real world science, either A) don't, or 2) look it up on Wikipedia at least before putting on the page. Because anytime they spouted off technobabble here, I wanted to scream. The bridge is atomic in nature, which is great, because everything is atomic in nature, so I don't think that word means what you think that means. The hind brain works great for monsters, but science settled that dinosaurs didn't have rear neural clusters a considerable amount of time ago (and it wouldn't have been a tiny brain, it would have been a cluster of nerves that forced involuntary reactions in the rear muscles). And the winner for worst piece of dialogue: "the Gypsy isn't digital, it's analogue. It has a nuclear reactor." Oh, the ways that sentence makes no sense and sounds supremely idiotic are immeasurable.

So, what we have here is a movie that is a flat concept, dressed up with bland, underdeveloped characters, ridden by cliches so well used and worn out that I knew exactly what would happen in the third act ten minutes after the film started, and using science it has no concept of. Add on to that the needless complexity of the universe. From the time the movie starts to the title card, the movie inundates us with exposition, filling in every detail via terrible voice over (something else I picked up on early from the trailers). And it never relents. Every piece of information thrown at us is thrown with the suggestion that it's the most important thing we will ever learn, and it's impossible to absorb it all while watching it. I assume the insane amount of detail was to make the film seem like it was more then just "robots vs monsters," but a duck by any other name still has a corkscrew penis. Trying to make yourself seem smarter rarely works. If they film had just owned itself, said "hell yeah, robots vs monsters," I might have at least respected the attempt. But this was like... adding story to porn, and calling it a movie. No, it's just porn with bits that aren't nudity ridden. And this isn't anything grander then all those monster flicks of the seventies, who at least had the good sense to own their own cheesiness.

So, rather then be the film that proves that original ideas are worth giving time and money to, Pacific Rim is an example of why original ideas are so "risky," and how the best of intentions can get bogged down in overzealousness and over complication, while at the same time being very shallow and lifeless. And that is a sad, impressive balancing act.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. You bundle Terminator, Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Iron man, Transformers, Battleship and other sci fi movies into one movie...you get Pacific Rim....ok that might be hyperbole but the movie is awesome...watch it in IMAX 3D if you can....you will enjoy every moment of it...