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The Good, The Bad & The Weird Of Guillermo Del Toro's 'Pacific Rim'

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 15, 2013 at 2:13PM

This weekend, Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim," a monster mash about giant creatures that come through an inter-dimensional portal on the ocean floor and the giant robots constructed to fight them, was neither an outright dud nor a smash. Beaten to number one by "Despicable Me 2," we can't imagine a third place finish was what Warner Bros. had in mind for their $200 million summer movie. Was it too much of a fan letter to nerds and comic book stores for the general public to care? Did the marketing campaign stumble? Did it need an A-list star? We're sure conference rooms at WB today are having meetings asking those exact same questions, but there's also the simple question of whether or not the movie actually delivered.
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Pacific Rim
Bad Kaiju

Murky and repetitive fight scenes that are hard to follow.
At first, the different kaiju types and jaegers are pretty thrilling, and exciting, in their size, power and unique capabilities. Then, del Toro throws them all in the ocean, at night (is it ever daytime? or not raining?) by the handful. The behemoths gnash and clash, and while there are a few notable moments, such as the much-trailered barge bat maneuver, it’s mostly a crashy mashup of gray and black against gray and black. At least Crimson Typhoon had three arms, and was, uh, crimson. But in the mid-film pile up of Crimson Typhoon, the Russian jaeger, and and the other kaiju, it was nigh impossible to discern which kaiju was doing what to whom, which jaeger was being drowned or blown up. Even when the fight made its way to land it just seemed repetitive and stretched on too long. Whatever goodwill and excitement was built up in anticipation of these clashes is quickly worn out in the smashy-smashy that just looks all the same. 

Pacific Rim

Charlie Day and the Other Nerd/Everyone's Accents 
There were at least two points in the movie where we leaned over to our seatmate and said, “What accent is that?” with Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam, both Brits, two of the worst offenders. Elba, a master of accented disguise in “The Wire” seemed to be using his British accent, which is slightly Americanized, whilst Hunnam was definitely doing an American accent but unfortunately with a British lilt. Then the Aussies showed up, egads (Max Martini, do not pass go, do not collect $200 and proceed directly to Australian accent school again), which resulted in Rinko Kikuchi being the only actor with a believable accent (though she's not the easiest low-talking actor to understand either). With this collection of wonky accents, rapid fire delivery and nonsense future science jargon, we understood about one-third of the dialogue (but maybe that’s for the best). Then we have Charlie Day. While Day doesn’t have any accent problems and he pulls off an annoyingly shrill mad scientist/Rick Moranis in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” his lightning speed patter is nearly impossible to discern and his shrieking persona is so obnoxious you want to club him to death. And don’t even get us started on Burn Gorman as the mathematician counterpart to Day’s scientist, sporting a parody bowl cut and limp and doing his best Crispin Glover. Maybe every other sentence out of their mouths is intelligible, and because they’re either talking about kaiju math or Vulcan mind-melding with a seafaring alien dinosaur at a high pitched, panicky squeal, it only complicates matters. As our seatmate said, “that might as well have been in French.” 

Pacific Rim
The Fundamental Premise Doesn't Make Much Sense
We live in probably the most advanced military age imaginable. A guy sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen can send an unmanned drone plane around the world to drop a bomb on a target; all manner of computerized imagery gives personnel unprecedented information about geography, topography and enemy troop movements; weapons are being made smaller but even more deadly. So when a monster rises from the bowels of the Earth in the future, the best plan of action are big, clunky robots that require a neural bridge to operate them? (Side note: it’s never quite clear what the advantage is in using a neural bridge, particularly when the pilots wind up shouting commands to each other anyway). In the crazy near-future of “Pacific Rim,” can we not simply send drones boasting devastating payloads to deal with these guys? Surface-to-air missiles? While there is a certain my-gun-is-bigger-than-your-gun logic to humanity building equally sized robots to deal with these monsters, the all-or-nothing, go-Jaeger-or-go-home-and-build-some-big-walls-that-won’t-work framework of the movie doesn’t make much sense. Is it a dealbreaker? Probably not, and this kind of movie requires at least some suspension of disbelief, but throughout the movie, as the jaegars fall, get blasted by plasma and/or rendered useless and ripped apart, you do wonder if this is the best plan that humans can come up with.

Pacific Rim
Movie Breaks Its Own Rules
“Pacific Rim” presents us with a bad boy jaegar pilot (Hunnam), who doesn’t follow the rules, but still is one of the best out there... until he follows orders exactly to save the day (what happened to his rule-breaking creativity to defeat the Kaiju?). The jaegers are outdated relics that can’t possibly defeat the increasingly huge and constantly-adapting Kaiju rising the depths of the ocean... until the “analog” old-timey version manages to miraculously survive a vicious beating at the bottom of the ocean, jump into a dimensional portal, and return both pilots alive. Oh no, Gipsy Danger is being flown (what?) into outer space (HUH?), but no worries, bro, it had a hidden sword the whole time! Oh no, it looks like our heros are going to run out of oxygen and die somewhere between our universe and another galaxy, but it’s cool, the jaegars (who inner geography expands and shrinks as necessary) have some high-tech escape pods (that none of the other killed pilots used). Also, it turns out that in the future, the military has some bitchin’ wifi that allows them to communicate with people at hundreds of miles at the bottom of the ocean, and even further in the Earth’s core, from even more hundreds of miles away. In short “Pacific Rim” never really has many dramatic stakes, because right around the corner, there is an 11th minute deus ex machina device introduced so our heroes can escape danger. The movie doesn’t really have a playbook... it writes it as it goes along.

Pacific Rim
Bland Characters With Little Characterization
While Mako and Raleigh are given a bit of backstory, no one else is really given anything or any motivation beyond just a hint (Pentecost is protective of Mako, the father and son are... father and son), and this is glaringly obvious with the Chinese and Russian pilots of the jaegers in Hong Kong. The Chinese triplets who pilot Crimson Typhoon are shown playing basketball and then always holding a basketball, so apparently... they like basketball. It’s too bad they don’t have any lines! The Russian pilots are even more badass, a male-female duo who sport cheesy platinum dye-jobs and look intimidating, sexy, and weird. Apparently the extreme hair and affinity for basketball are supposed to make us like them, because they play a rather crucial role in the 4 on 2 jaeger v. kaiju battle in which Gipsy Danger, Raleigh and Mako prove themselves. But, we know nothing about them, so when a kaiju smushes them into the ocean to drown, it’s fairly anti-climactic. “D2: Mighty Ducks 2” has better characterizations of its supporting characters and villains. Then there's the main characters themselves. Raleigh is simply a blander version of Tom Cruise's Maverick character in "Top Gun" and all the other leads are mostly one-note characters. Idris Elba delivers throaty speech after speech, Mako is the ace-in-the-hole fighter with a heart of gold or whatever, Ron Perlman plays the eccentric Ron Perlman character (who ultimately has zero bearing on the plot and could have been removed entirely), Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are insufferable Twiddle Dee dummies, etc. etc. And of course, there's the Australian pilot who plays the Iceman character and rips off the "Top Gun" internecine pilot conflict once again (Beacham apparently loves that movie). None of these characters mean much to the movie. They're all silo archetypes to fulfil the movie's various plot needs, which obviously put monsters and robots before human beings.

Pacific Rim

Weird & (So-So) Kaiju

Post-credits sequence is exactly the same as the climax of Sharknado. Nuff said.
So we didn’t watch “Sharknado,” the viral SyFy hit on Thursday night, but we did read a recap right before we went to see "Pacific Rim" and wouldn’t you know it, but someone is copying someone else’s paper. In the climax of “Sharknado,” one of the great whites gobbles up the lady friend of Ian Ziering’s character, Fin (yup, that’s his name). What else is Steve Sanders to do but launch himself, chainsaw first, into said shark and cut out his lady love Nova (yup, her name)? So, it seems a little fishy that, SPOILER ALERT, in the post-credits sequence, Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau character cuts himself out of the baby kaiju that gobbled him up earlier, grumbling about his shoe (what’s with the shoes?). Of course, this has sort of been a trope since Biblical times, but it at least seems telling that one low-budget, so-bad-it’s-good, made for SyFy shark movie would use the same gag as one of the contenders to the summer blockbuster throne. Let’s try to aim higher than that next time, shall we? 

Pacific Rim
The Multiple Ethnicities 
One of the more refreshing aspects of "Pacific Rim" is that it isn't, like most big movies of this ilk, a case of America (fuck yeah!) saving the world from the threat of giant hulking beasts. “The other sort of big summer movies often feel to me like it’s about one race, one credo and one country saving the world, and I wanted to make it about the world saving the world, no matter what skin color you have, what race you have, what belief you have – everybody in the movie saves the world,” Del Toro told Salon, and it's absolutely true. Del Toro's cast has more multi-culti diversity than the crew of the starship Enterprise, but it never feels phony or forced. The world comes together to fight the monsters and it adds texture and flavor to what could have another boring Caucasians saving the world effort. The only problem with this is: see above. Diversity is great, but it's not so fun to see Asians, Australians, Russians that are poorly drawn, one-dimensional characters.

Pacific Rim Robot
Weird Alternate Dimension (It's Mercifully Kept Short)
During the climactic battle, the Jaegers intend to head to the underwater breach where the kaiju are keeping the clone army (or something). Striker, piloted by Idris Elba and the bad, mean Aussie son do some sort of suicide thingy. Then, because Hunnam and Kikuchi’s jaeger is a nuclear warhead, they drag a kaiju carcass to the breach in order to access it (BECAUSE DNA!) and then fall into Kaiju alt-dimension, which doesn’t make much sense because are they in the center of the earth or space? Electric purple labial folds open up and envelope the jaeger into their midst, where some kind of crazy, bug-eyed kaiju overlords ready their armies. It’s all very confusing, bad, dumb-looking, and dangerously close to the pyschic alien mummies of “Indiana Jones 4.” Thankfully, it is blessedly short and the jaeger ejaculates its two escape pods before blowing up all the kaiju. (But what happens when you set off a nuclear bomb at the center of the earth?? Nothing good, I imagine). This sequence looks very dumb, makes little sense, and they are smart to keep it as short as possible. 

There's a lot more to discuss with a world as rich and wonky as "Pacific Rim," including the names (Stacker Pentecost? Hercules Hanson? We want to see the futureworld's version of a baby-naming book.), the way that the movie was always referencing whatever is in del Tor's fabled mancave, and "Game of Thrones" composer Ramin Djawadi's admittedly boss score. Also the debate rages on as to whether "Pacific Rim" is riddled with tired cliches or if it was just hitting all the right beats, exceptionally well. Please, by all means, continue the discussion below. We can't wait to drift with you. - Katie Walsh, Kevin Jagernauth, Drew Taylor

This article is related to: Features, Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro, Charlie Day, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Idris Elba, Clifton Collins Jr., Feature


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