July 19, 2013

Pacific Rim (7/19/2013)

Lettergrade: C

I don't think I'm engaging in much hyperbole when I say that Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is the finest motion picture yet made where people in giant robot suits punch interdimensional lizard monsters that have arrived to Earth via portals at the bottom of the ocean.

That said, it's also a movie that I enjoyed greatly for a good hour or so, but ultimately kind of tuned out on during the third act. I'm not sure why that is... I think it's because the picture ultimately descended into a flurry of hard-to-follow action (and a climax that was bizarrely identical to the climax of The Avengers from last year) without generating enough interest in its lead characters to justify the bulky 132 minute running time.

The movie's main dude is played by Charlie Hunnam, whom I've really liked in various roles in the past (particularly Douglas McGrath's adaptation of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby in 2002). Here he plays a down-on-his-luck robot (or "Jaeger") pilot who was thrown out of the Robot Fighter Academy (or whatever) when he pulled a cocky move on a mission and got his co-pilot brother killed as a result. Now, with the program on its last legs due to political issues, and the monsters increasing in size and frequency, Hunnam must come out of involuntary-retirement and team up with a petite, untested rookie played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi. I've got to say that she's a little more interesting than he is in the movie, but by and large we're not really talking about a significant threat to the "great screen couple" status of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn here.

All in all, Pac Rim is kind of like Godzilla meets Robot Jox and Top Gun seasoned with Rocky and a dash of Rush Hour in there (at least, that's how I'm imagining the pitch meeting went). I took a lot of enjoyment in the intentional ridiculousness and the over-abundance of testosterone, but the whole concoction didn't entirely work for me as a satisfying movie.

As is true of the other del Toro pictures that I've liked (Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy II: The Golden Army) - and even the ones I haven't (Hellboy 1, Blade II and his English debut, Mimic) - the creature designs are imaginative and exciting, and the action feels very real and visceral, even when it's largely computer generated. The supporting cast is delightfully full of del Toro regulars - Ron Perlman, to be specific - and there are a few first timers in there as well, most notably the scene-stealing Charlie Day (from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia) and the freakish-looking Burn Gorman as a pair of scientists studying the alien "Kaijus."

When I think back through the movie, the scenes where Day runs around Tokyo trying to find a way to telepathically communicate with a Kaiju brain are the ones I remember enjoying the most. Many of the others sort of run together. I seem to recall a complicated backstory for Rinko Kikuchi involving her family dying in a much earlier Kaiju attack when she was little. The movie makes a big deal out of the fact that she was saved by Idris Elba (who plays the Robot Boxer League's crusty supervisor, and serves as sort of a Burgess Meredith / Pat Morita figure to her), but it didn't seem that shocking to me when the reveal happened. Honestly, though, I don't really remember much else other than some cool fights. And I saw this movie in the middle of the day when I was wide awake, so there's no real excuse other than that it just must not have left much of an impression.

My only other real thought about this movie is that it is another good example of a big expensive Hollywood blockbuster stacking its cast with actors who are popular in other countries... in order, I presume, to play to a much larger international audience. I actually think this practice is kind of cool: 2011's fantastic Mission: Impossible: Ghost: Protocol did this in spades (which I suspect contributed to the movie doing so well both domestically and abroad) and Iron Man 3 earlier this summer even contained an "extra scene" that was only part of the Chinese version of the movie and designed to play to that audience. I don't much like the idea that different counties might ultimately see different versions of big popcorn movies, but the overall trend seems to indicate that movies like Iron Man 3 and this summer's Japan-set The Wolverine, and this one will embrace other cultures (and pop-cultures) a bit more aggressively moving into the future.

There's something a bit more exciting about that to me than in seeing new action-adventure movies return to the same three cities in Canada that all the other ones have been filmed in lately, and I think it's a clear sign of things to come.

Other movies I've seen throughout the years where giant robots punch shit:
The Transformers (07/06/07)
Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen (07/04/09)
Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon (7/24/2011)
Real Steel (10/08/2011)

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