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Entries in Pacific Rim [2013] (1)

Saturday
Jul132013

Pacific Rim (2013)

The Boy Who Cried 'Star Wars'

I burned my Geek Card yesterday. If accepting Pacific Rim as a good movie is a prerequisite for maintaining credibility with pop-culture devotees, I'll happily sit at the grown-ups' table, thank you very much. Guillermo Del Toro's latest film isn't just a slap in the face to fans of quality storytelling and imaginative entertainment, it's also the biggest con of the summer--perhaps the decade.

The troubles began as most such troubles do: with a marketing campaign. In recent weeks, you may have seen commercials featuring giant robots slamming into even bigger monsters in the rain; their scale denoted by cars and buildings flying swirling around them like Legos. But there's another element in the chaos: massive, stone-etched quotes from early Pacific Rim reviews, which get smashed as surely as downtown Tokyo. "Awesome!" they proclaim. "This generation's Star Wars!" they proclaim.

Take a close look at the fine print and you'll see that, uniformly, these blurbs come from geek-friendly Web sites*--the kinds of places where common wisdom holds that Del Toro is a god amongst men, and that Michael Bay has never shot a decent frame of film. It is within these forums that you'll find the saddest kind of movie-watcher, a unique breed that suspends all critical thought in defending the latest work of an esteemed director/writer/actor--despite all evidence suggesting that said work is indefensible.

Before we continue, I'd like to offer the following litmus test. It's for your benefit, not mine. Should you answer the question that follows the synopsis below incorrectly, you may want to consider reading the fan coverage on Ain't It Cool News instead. Here goes:

Aliens invade Earth, laying waste to cities across the globe. Following several devastating skirmishes, mankind's survival hinges on one final battle. Our secret weapon: a scientist who melds consciousness with one of the creatures, uncovering their galaxy-wide quest for domination, as well as a possible weakness. A pair of hot-shots pilot a craft into the aliens' command center and detonate a bomb, which counts down as the high commander's multiple eyes look on in panic. Following an explosion that appears to have killed both heroes, they emerge safely back on Earth and are greeted by cheering throngs. Side note: the celebration is bittersweet for one person, who lost an estranged family member in a last-ditch suicide run against the creatures.

Which movie have I just described?

If you answered Independence Day, you get a cookie. If you answered Pacific Rim, you get a double-brownie hot-fudge sundae--along with my sympathies for having sat through this thing.

Guillermo Del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham may believe they've created a great homage to the Japanese monster movies of their youth, but all they've succeeded in doing is remaking Independence Day in structure, Transformers in production value, and Roland Emmerich's Godzilla in spirit. The only thing protecting this film from the Geek community's ire is the fact that neither Michael Bay's nor Zach Snyder's names appear above the title--though any honest moviegoer would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Del Toro's filmography is replete with atmospheric and very personal special effects masterpieces. From comic-book adaptations like Hellboy to independent gems like The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. Watching the Pacific Rim trailers, all I could think was that, because Del Toro was attached, there had to be some heart to the movie, some brains; the terrible dialogue, video-game-quality tough-guy voice-overs, and done-to-death mechanical men punching things couldn't be the beginning and end of the story, could it?

Unfortunately, the answer is "yes". This is Del Toro's least inspired, least watchable movie to date, with absolutely no reason to exist beyond, I suppose, whatever advances in technology allowed his giant monsters to fight each other convincingly. The only thing Pacific Rim has in common with Star Wars is the fact that one of its first lines of dialogue was lifted from George Lucas' genre-defining sci-fi classic. That movie was also an homage, but it broke ground, too--exciting new generations of fans who'd never experienced Saturday morning serials or Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey" on such a grand visual scale before.

Del Toro only delivers more of the bland destruction porn we've been deluged with this summer. But at least Iron Man had a witty, likable hero. At least Man of Steel had a villain. Pacific Rim has Charlie Hunnam as a punk pilot who lost his brother to one of the monsters, and who wears the perpetually sour expression of a guy trapped in an elevator with a gaseous businessman. The film's antagonists are personality-free monsters that pop up from an interdimensional crack in the ocean floor and are smashed to ribbons after about ten minutes. Their designs are half as interesting as their counterparts in The Mist, and the human drama that results from their appearance is a sixth as convincing.

Let me get this straight: for more than a decade, gigantic, interdimensional monsters have emerged to destroy our cities, and yet people still carry on with their normal, everyday lives? Granted, the monsters only come one at a time, every few months--except when they conveniently show up in pairs. With that kind of onslaught, and with the creatures' increased ability to take out the machines we've made to defeat them, Earth should have been overrun years ago.

For that matter, why spend the time and resources building giant mechanical men instead of investing in technology that might seal the rift? Were all of Earth's scientists so dumb that they couldn't figure out in ten years what Charlie fucking Day discovered in five minutes--on accident?

And why in the world would two pilots be required to drive the massive machines while strapped into TRON: Legacy-inspired Nautilus machines, rather than controlling them remotely, like our Air Force specialists can do right now with simple drone technology?

And what miracle of science allowed these quarter-million-ton metal marvels to fight monsters at the bottom of the ocean with just about the same agility as they possess on land?

I know, I know. The answer to all of the above is a variation on, "Whatever! It looks cool!" Plus, I'm not supposed to take my brain with me into these kinds of movies.

Or am I?

Why is it that Michael Bay gets crucified for his giant-robots-smashing-cities-to-pieces epics, but Guillermo Del Toro's carbon copy is a love-letter to nerds who knew what a "Kaiju" was before Pacific Rim's marketing assault?

I suspect it's because Del Toro has sufficiently pressed the flesh, professing his adolescent love of all things Geek and gracing Comic-Con year after year like a held-back homecoming king. Bay looks like he he might have pantsed Del Toro during Rush Week, and has therefore been deemed incapable of making art.

Like Avatar before it, the filmmakers behind Pacific Rim know full well that their target audience will fill in the story's mammoth quality gaps with baggage wholly unrelated to the movie at hand.

("Having trouble shaking that pesky ID4 deja vu during the last act? Look no further than living, breathing nerd catnip, Ron Perlman! Whaddya mean, 'Is he even awake?'")

The reason no one beyond a relative handful of Anime-t-shirt-wearing mutants cares about trumped-up movies like Pacific Rim and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has nothing to do with societal prejudice or the "idiot masses" flocking to see Grown Ups 2. These movies fail because they look terrible and, upon further inspection are, in fact, terrible. All the beautifully rendered CGI plasma bursts and mechanoid throw-downs in the world won't cover up the fact that this is eighth-grade material at best.

By all means, see Pacific Rim. Squeal with adolescent joy as monsters you've convinced yourself are cool spit acid at mechas you'll swear you've never seen before. But afterwards, in the cold light of day, ask yourself what kind of movies you really want--indeed, what kind you deserve: quality productions where the directors, writers, and actors do as much heavy lifting as the computer wizards, or those that pander to your worst child-like half-memories of quality entertainment--the ones that are recycled and re-packaged every few years with the very latest in shiny-object technology?

You might think you can have it both ways. But you can't.

You really, really can't.

Note: If you'd like to see a movie with the heart, brains, and great performances utterly lacking in Pacific Rim, check out Real Steel. If you insist on hitting the multiplex this weekend, The Lone Ranger is still playing, believe it or not, and is also a much more interesting film.

*I should clarify: Kicking the Seat is geek-friendly. But I don't pander, and won't be pandered to.