Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim review

Whenever an auteur director does a big blockbuster film, it comes with big expectations. When a studio executive has enough confidence in the vision of a director that they give him $150- $300 million dollars to make a film, people notice. Look at James Cameron's Avatar. Look at Christopher Nolan's Inception. Some of the most successful films of the last few years were original, sci-fi action blockbusters that surprised people due to the vision of the director and the quality of the film (I beg to differ on Avatar, but that's for another time). Now, Pacific Rim (out today), is the latest film to have a massive budget and an original action property from a director who is well known in the art house world: Guillermo del Toro. While Pacific Rim doesn't quite reach the heights of Inception, it is a great bit of summer action fun and a much better film than Avatar, the other film I would draw comparisons with. It's storytelling ability is weak at times and the first half of the film really drags, but del Toro's vision completely immerses you in the story and the action scenes are the best ever done. But did it live up to my sky-high expectations?

Pacific Rim tells the story of what is essentially, World War III. While most assumed that alien life would come from the stars, in far out galaxies, they really came from the Pacific ocean, in a portal. These giant kaiju ravage cities and completely destroy the populations. As our hero says, it took multiple days and millions of lives to take down one in San Francisco. However, it didn't stop there. They kept coming and destroying more cities. So the governments of the world united to create the Jaeger program, in which we create giant robots to fight giant monsters. Flash forward several years to the final days of the war in which the Jaeger program is in turmoil. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) must rely on his four remaining Jaegers and pilots from Russia, China, Australia and hot-shots from America, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) to fight the monsters that are at our doors and CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE!

That's only a basic summary as there are several more characters and several more little touches that make Pacific Rim better. I will say this: the first hour of Pacific Rim is mediocre. There's little tension and a lot of it feels like useless exposition. But it does have it's moments. And those moments are spectacular. Whether it's a sparring match between Raleigh and Mako or just the great performance from Idris Elba or the hilarity of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Kaiju scientists, when the first half is good, it is great. And also, the set design and visual effects are probably the best ever. They are so beautifully created, so luscious, so cool to watch, that you can't help but be in awe at some of the shots.

However, the fact that there are some great moments and really great supporting characters doesn't mean that the first act doesn't have problems. It does suffer from the Man of Steel problem of rushing to its conclusion (despite its conclusion being MUCH superior to the superhero "epic") and it does suffer from a bit of narrative boredom. The first hour is mostly boring. I was fretting, I was worried that it wasn't living up to my expectations. But everything that is good in the first hour. The fist-pumping, awesome music score. The action scenes. The really good performances. The colorful, lush set design and occasional lightness. All of that is amplified by ten once the films reaches its stunning conclusion. My only complaint in the second half of the film is that the final battle isn't as good as the one before it.

Now for some comments on the action, which is probably the reason why you're interested in Pacific Rim. It's pretty stunning. The Hong Kong battle will probably go down as one of the greatest film battles of all time and the underwater one after that isn't too shabby either, it's just more of a conclusion than it is a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring sequence. The design of the Kaiju and Jaegers are great. You can tell that a lot of time went in to make them look that great. The set design is stunning, the robots are stunning, the monsters are stunning, everything in those final battles is stunning. It's all really cool. And epic. Those final battles made me really happy and I think that they work for everyone. When a Jaeger hits a Kaiju with a battleship, you can feel a shockwave of happiness ride through the theater.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the performances in the film. Charlie Hunnam is a serviceable lead but there isn't much depth to the character. Rinko Kikuchi, I felt was a much better addition. There was a decent love story between the characters, but once again, her character is slightly under-developed. Idris Elba gives the best performance in the film. He's rock-solid in his role and has a bit of interest and depth that none of the other characters have. In addition, he's just a commanding screen presence. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman also give great performances. They're quirky, and funny and make for a great team on screen. Ron Perlman is charismatic as usual.

Travis Beacham, the film's screenwriter, also wrote Clash of the Titans. No, not the one from 1981. The one from 2010. The one that was one of the most awful films ever made. With Pacific Rim, he proves that he can make an interesting film with characters that are funny and likable and deliver action that is distinguishable from other action scenes. And he also creates a lush and stunning world that can stand on its own. But he's still lacking in story and delivering a first act that isn't so full of exposition. However, it is a sort of necessity for a film this beautifully complex.

Pacific Rim is the sort of equivalent of a cinematic drug. It's entertaining, it's beautiful, it's fun to watch and you instantly want to be transported back to the world the film creates. Anyone who calls Pacific Rim a perfect film is out of their mind. It's got some major problems but I would see it again in a heartbeat and I just might, this time maybe in IMAX 3D. I just love the world that del Toro and Beacham have created here and can't wait to return to it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                            (7.4/10)



6 comments:

  1. Liking the scientist characters is a real knock on this review. Please dont confuse good acting with scene chewing that might only be topped by a kaiju in a top hat and tails dancing for his supper.

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    1. A real knock on this review? How is that even possible? How can you discredit an opinion? It's not fact. Sure, Day and Gorman aren't Daniel Day Lewis. But for what their characters were, they gave solid performances. Maybe it doesn't qualify as a great performance, but they sure are entertaining.

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  2. I've read a few of your reviews today (this morning I was googling reviews trying to work out whether to see Captain Phillips and came across your blog). To be frank you reviews are total crap. I browsed a few more of films I had actually seen to make sure I wasn't being unfair - take your Pacific Rim review for example - to think that was a good film and write the review you did means you've either got really bad taste in films or your reviews are pulling their punches. Check my review of that film out and see if you disagree.
    http://diaryofaneastlondontramp.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/pacific-rim-job/

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    1. Thanks for visiting the site!

      I will say this. Your opinion on Pacific Rim is perfectly valid. I think that you completely entitled to the beliefs that you have about the film being garbage. But it's an opinion. I encourage you and half the internet to look up the definition of that word. You can't call a cogent, well-written review crap because you disagree with it.

      Also, beyond Pacific Rim, which is a very divisive film by all means, what else did you read on the site? I am curious, because in reading your comment, I was wondering what else you found that you disagreed with.

      Anyways, thanks for the traffic, and please come back soon!

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  3. My issue isn't really with your opinion on the film - as you say, you're entitled to it and I wouldn't call your review rubbish based on that. It's more to do with the content of the review itself. You don't seem to be able to make up your mind - people will read it looking for an opinion but yours is all over the show. One minute you're saying it's half decent, then you're saying it's got major problems. Your whole review is just one massive equivocation. I know you're trying to be balanced and fair to the bits you did think were good which is admirable but having read the review I didn't have a clear sense of what you thought of the film. Get off the fence. I think you also need to re-think your grading system. Firstly, do you really need a 13-point grading system? Does it really need to be that nuanced? How does that help the reader? Apart from anything else, with that level of detail, it is going to make it difficult for you to score consistently from film to film which is what people are looking for if you want them to trust your reviews.When all said and done, what really is the difference between a D+ and an F? A 'C' is a 'major disappointment' yet a C+ is an 'okay film'. As a grading scheme it's just an unnecessary level gradation given the inherent subjectivity of watching a film. Why not give a broader indication and let people make up their own minds on whether it's a 7 or 8 once they've seen it rather than force your opinion on them. As for this film, you've given it a B. Possibly worth buying despite the major problems evident? And only a cat's whisker less than a B+ which you say is 'virtually the same as an A-' which using your definitions makes it not that far off being a great film and possibly a top-ten contender! Do you see where I'm coming from? Fair enough have an opinion but your score is at odds with your narrative at best and confusing, contradictory and unhelpful at worst. I'm not trying to be an @rse here - I wouldn't usually bother to write to a blogger - but I read yours and felt strongly enough to put pen to paper to make what I hope are constructive criticisms.

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    1. Thank you for replying. This is much more helpful for me to understand your constructive criticism and improve my sites quality than your last comment, where all I essentially saw was "your reviews are crap". I see that most of your problems lie in the fact that my Pacific Rim review was unfocused and that my grade system is messed up. A couple of points.

      -For the fact that I point out major problems in Pacific Rim, yet say that I really liked the film, that's just a fact of how I do reviews. I hold to the notion that no film is perfect and like to critique many aspects of it despite my overall enjoyment of it. I believe that if you thoroughly read the Pacific Rim review, you will get a clear understanding that I enjoyed the film, despite having several problems with. I mostly give the film complements, despite mentioning a few bumps in the road.

      -The grade system is more of a tool for me to determine what I will grade a film. I admit that certain grades come very close to each other, but that's just for me to evaluate the films that I review and post what I believe to be an accurate grade. Maybe I'll keep it on the site, maybe I'll just keep it to myself. I will take your comment into consideration on that one.

      Anyways, thanks for pointing out the problems with the grade scale. While I mostly use it for myself, I see your problems. As for the review, I find it necessary to point out the flaws in films as well as their overall entertainment value/film making.

      Thank you for the comment and the more details on your problems with my site! I encourage you to examine some of the other reviews from 2013 and see what you think about them, or if it is just the Pacific Rim review you had a problem with. Thanks!

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