I wonder if he’ll ever get back in that suit. Yeah, it’s going to be that kind of night. Nuclear core, you say? It’s too dangerous, you say? Don’t ever on any account do what? When Chekhov said “[If] there is a rifle hanging on the wall, … it absolutely must go off”, I don’t think he meant that every rifle that goes off has to be hanging on the wall. But this is the method of Pacific Rim (2013), or as it was originally titled, Transformers 5: Hong Kong Drift. That same kind of rough craftsmanship is apparent in the story (Travis Beacham) as well as the dialogue (Beacham and director Guillermo del Toro). You can feel your place on the dry erase board at any given moment–oh, this must be the Breaking Into 3 where the Hero decides to enter the final stage of his quest–and that can needle. I had hoped for more, but expected precisely what was given. Thus, I was entertained.
The trailer tells you most of what I will relate. At some point in the near future, a glowing rift opens in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean from which giant beasts emerge to destroy human cities. The first took out San Francisco and had caused tens of thousands of casualties before conventional weapons took it down. When more beasts, called Kaiju (“Monster”), kept coming, humanity put aside their differences and created the Jaeger (“Hunter”) program, building enormous mechanoids controlled by a human mind. These Jaegers required two brains to control the massive machines as one brain crumbles under the strain. They are initially successful, making the pilots rock star celebrities and launching a commercial interest in Kaiju-Jaeger products. But the Kaiju keep getting bigger and more elaborate and the Jaeger program too expensive to maintain. The governments slacken their support for the program, trying instead to build walls that would keep the Kaiju out, and releasing those in the Jaeger program to their own devices.
If Pacific Rim didn’t pound past that final plot point at alarming speed, it might have done irreparable harm to the movie. Why would they ever stop building these enormous fighting machines? Why would they think that a wall would keep these things at bay? Why would anyone live in coastal areas when these attacks become regular occurrences? Why am I nit-picking this thing? If I picked every nit, the film would be naked and sad. That’s not entirely unexpected.
What is less justifiable, however, is the fact that every bit of the mythology in this story is so unrepentantly vague. The pilots do this Neural Drift where they share eachother’s minds. It’s an interesting phenomenon with philosophical and psychological implications. And yet they keep yelling at one another what they plan to do next while piloting these things. They don’t need to speak at all, they’re mentally synced. If they were mentally synced, I don’t see how they would be able to remain independent characters operating with their own identity. That’s not a nit, that’s the realization of (or failure to realize) a mythology they created.
And how about these creatures. If Guillermo del Toro is famous for anything, it’s his monsters and his ability to create fear. There’s a game I’ve played on XBOX 360 called Iron Brigade (2011) (formerly called Trenched). Now, either del Toro stole from Iron Brigade‘s art design outright or created Pacific Rim in the most improbable example of convergent creativity the world has ever seen. (It’s a good game, I recommend it.) Whatever the origin, the monsters are interesting. Their physical properties, however, are puzzling. How does one of them [spoiler] survive a nuclear blast at point blank range? How do bullets and rockets deal no damage, but a mechanoid’s sword is able to cut through its skin? Why do these mechanoids take pounding after pounding, but are also susceptible to being stabbed or dismembered? In short, the physics are all over the place. You can say, “Hey, it’s a movie,” but then you’re saying Pacific Rim, the biggest original sci-fi property of this year (and many other years) is no more thought out than anime by Michael Bay.
In other words, Pacific Rim may stand as a tombstone for any artistic sensibilities Guillermo del Toro is thought to possess. What’s my logic for that? An artistic action film is one that is honest and realistic. Humans must act and fail like humans. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) is a good example. That’s the expectation that I bring to a movie. Del Toro’s art is, supposedly, his vision. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and even Hellboy (2004) are largely responsible for his being well known. I’d hazard a guess that 60% of Pacific Rim takes place during a rain storm in the nighttime hours. The remainder is in a set populated by humans and the occasional pulsing kaiju disjecta membra. The kaiju are super-huge monsters that roar and destroy with tools as varied as the Transformers. Is that the vision or is del Toro going to seek credit for the half-imagined drift mythology, the kaiju origins (which are very like something Will Smith recently dreamed up), or the weird ways in which people and kaiju are made to die? What hurts is that nothing feels as though pains were taken. Not even a little discomfort is perceptible. “Here lies Guillermo del Toro’s reputation. Covered by dark rain, thoughtless in execution, drowned under water.”
It sounds a bit like I hated it, but I didn’t have enough time to hate it. It kept on rumbling along, people shouting, applauding, screaming in fright–all of this on screen, none of it in the theater, by the way–without my being able to breathe a thought. While the projector kept rolling, I was under the impression that I was having a lovely time. I guess that means that the pacing was good. The dialogue was bad to mediocre, the acting was the same, the vision was as beautiful as a falling building, but the pacing kept me involved. If it wanted to satisfy my every desire, it probably needed to come in two parts with the bulk of the Jaeger fighting in part 1 and the final resolution in part 2.
I probably shouldn’t have thought about it.
Oh, and there’s a tag after the initial credits. It’s a good joke, told a little poorly. Maybe that’s how I feel about Pacific Rim. It was a good movie, done poorly.