erik lundegaard

Pacific Rim
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Pacific Rim (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

What is it? What’s the movie?

Well, it’s a sci-fi action-adventure movie. Specifically it’s giant robots battling giant monsters. If I were pitching it to a Hollywood studio, I’d say it’s Transformers vs. Godzillas.

But what else is it?

Written byTravis Beacham
Guillermo del Toro
Directed byGuillermo del Toro
StarringCharlie Hunnan
Rinko Kikuchi
Idris Elba
Diego Klattenhoff

Right. Since the battles between giant robots and giant monsters only take up a portion of the movie’s 131 minutes, things have to take place between the scenes in which giant robots battle giant monsters. And what fills these gaps is a soap opera involving stock characters and bits cadged from other movies: the headstrong younger brother whose older, better brother is killed in action, a la “Battleship”; the rivalry with the cocky fellow pilot that ultimately leads to respect, a la “Top Gun”; the Asian girl with a tragic past and fierce martial arts skills, a la every comic book fantasy ever; the tough-as-nails commander leading his team; the bureaucratic, governmental indifference; the impossible odds. But wait! The inspiring speech! The fierce final battle! The sacrifice! The final bit of information rushed in by the comic-relief scientists! The explosion! The hushed breath. Does our hero survive? Wait for it ... Wait for it ...

Yeah, you don’t have to wait.

What I liked (about 10 minutes)

“Pacific Rim” is an awful, derivative, joke of a movie but first let me say what I liked about it.

I liked the opening, which, in 2-3 minutes, narrates how the creatures, called kaiju, first appeared in San Francisco and killed tens of thousands, then in the Philippines, then Cabo, back and forth like that across the world, until we created these giant robots, called jaegers, with two people inside them, a kind of left brain/right brain thing, to defeat them. And the men and women who ran the jaegers became heroes. They became pop cultural flotsam. They wound up on talk shows. The rest of us got cocky. We developed kaiju toys and made jokes about them, but then, off the coast of Alaska, they came back stronger than ever and laid waste to the jaeger program. And we began to build walls to keep them out. Even though we would never keep them out.

I liked the further backstory: how the kaiju, who emerged from a kind of extra-dimensional rift under the Pacific Ocean, had actually come here before. Dinosaurs, yo. But the environment wasn’t suitable for them and so they went away. But we, being us, inadvertently heated up on our planet and terraformed it for them. That’s your global warming message for the summer, kids. Not that it’ll get through.

I also liked the scene where Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), the headstrong younger brother of the deceased soldier-hero, can’t understand why the headstrong commander, Stacker Pentecost (yes, that’s his name, and he’s played by Idris Elba), won’t let the beautiful Japanese girl with the tragic past, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), operate a jaeger with him. So, being headstrong, he grabs his superior officer’s shoulder before he can get away. Pentecost stops. He shoots him a look. This is Idris Elba, after all. And Pentecost tells him this:

Two things. One, don’t you ever touch me again. And two, don’t you ever touch me again.

It’s Elba’s best moment in the movie.

What I didn’t like (and the rest)

I mean, what’s with his accent here? Elba’s British, and he’s doing British, but it’s worse than his American accent in “The Wire.” That’s pretty sad.

How sad of a bad imitation is “Pacific Rim”? When the two pilots of a jaeger are strapped into the jaeger, they communicate with one another via something they call “the drift.” As in: “The drift is strong today.” As in this line from the father-figure commander, to Mori, just before he dies: “You can always find me ... in the drift.” So it’s like the Force except, you know, meaningless.

When did scientists become comic relief in these types of movies? “Battleship” had one. Here we get two: the loud, vaguely Jewish one who tries to communicate with the kaiju via the drift (Charlie Day), and the Dickensian British one, who walks with a cane and is compiling data as to the timing of the attacks (Burn Gorman, Guppy of BBC’s 2005 “Bleak House”). These two are smart, but they bicker, and it’s funny because they’re funny-looking and they think they’re so smart but they just bicker all the time, ha, like eggheads do, man. Using words. But there’s a moment in Hong Kong when they figure out why our final plan of attack won’t work and they need to communicate this information as quickly as possible to Shutterdome, which is the name of the final jaeger station on Earth. Or is it Shudderdome? Or is it a pun on “Shut her down,” since that’s what the leaders of the world wanted to do with the jaeger program? Thank God Pentecost was there, right, to save us all from their cowardly bureaucratic incompetence.

Anyway. They have this info. It’s 2025. They’re scientists who have figured out a way to tap into the brain of a kaiju who just died. So how do they get this information to Shutterdome? Do they phone? Walkie-talkie? Use Morse code? No. They fly there in a helicopter, of course. Then they run to the command station. Then the loud, vaguely Jewish one grabs the microphone to talk to the jaegers who are battling the kaiju. This takes hours rather than seconds, but what’s the rush?

How about the nationalities of these jaegers? You have the Russian one and the Asian one and the Aussie one and the American one. The Asians and Russians go down first, because you know them. The American one is the last one standing. It delivers the final, crushing blow. Hooray for Hollywood.

How about the nationalities of the actors playing these stereotyped nationalities? We get a Brit and a Canadian (Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff) playing the swaggering Americans, an American and a Brit (Max Martini and Robert Kazinski) playing the swaggering Aussies, a couple more Canucks playing the silent, glowering Russians. Why this shell game? Is it easier to stereotype others than your own? And why didn’t they just make Elba American, too? His American is so much better than his British.

One of the things that began to amuse me as the story continued in its horrifically predictable fashion? It’s a small thing but I couldn’t let it go. Hollywood is still using green teletype in the lower left-hand corner to tell us locations and times of the events onscreen. It’ll type out:

SHUTTERDOME
JAEGER STATION

Then it leaves the cursor there blinking for a second. I mean, when did we first see this? In “War Games”? It’s a futuristic movie but this conceit is like something from a 1977 Apple computer.

See: “Writing American Fiction,” Philip Roth, 1961

Anyway. You knew this was going to be this going in. You hoped for better but writer Travis Beacham (“Clash of the Titans”), and writer-director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy”), delivered this.

If you like the idea of giant robots battling giant monsters, you might like “Pacific Rim.”

If you like soap operas about good-looking stock characters acting through the dilemmas seen in other features, you might like “Pacific Rim.”

Otherwise “Pacific Rim” is so derivative, so by-the-numbers, so absurd, it’s as if it’s satire. If we did satire anymore.

—August 12, 2013

© 2013 Erik Lundegaard

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