The line between cynicism and art is pretty thin. Ultimately it all comes down to motivation, or the perception of motivation. If Michael Bay made a movie about robots punching Godzillas in the face, it would have been greeted with open hostility (and it would have made way more money than Pacific Rim actually made). But you put a fanboy nerd filmmaker like Guillermo Del Toro in charge, and regardless of the fact that we are still talking about a $190 MILLION Hollywood summer blockbuster, and the critics go quiet. Momentarily. Like, once they see the actual movie they are not as quiet. But the build up to Pacific Rim seemed to float along on an ocean of good will. I’m not complaining. I’m not saying Guillermo Del Toro shouldn’t be given a fair amount of leeway or respect or whatever you want to give him. I’m merely observing that Pacific Rim was always going to be a movie about giant robots punching Godzillas in the face, and no amount of genre-homage or Charlie Day comic relief was ever going to change that. You can’t make fun of Real Steel one year and then two years later pretend that the same movie is suddenly going to be a masterpiece. Not that you would, straw man, because even you know, straw man, that it wasn’t.

To its credit, Pacific Rim does a really good job of setting up its premise quickly: there is a portal to another dimension at the bottom of the ocean, and Godzillas keep coming through the portal and destroying the towns. So all of the armies of the world join together and build skyscraper sized robots to fight the Godzillas. At first it’s going great and everyone is very into these robots, but now the Godzillas are getting harder to beat and they are coming faster and faster. I think the movie actually explained it in less time than it took me, so if there is an Academy Award for the most economic exposition of a sci-fi conceit, I definitely think Pacific Rim will at least get a nomination. Admittedly, even in this bracingly quick set-up, the seams already begin to show. For one thing, the movie’s tag line is also a line of dialogue in the opening narration: “to fight monsters, we created monsters.” Well, no, we didn’t. We created robots. If your tagline is going to be “to fight monsters, we created monsters,” then it should end up being a story about how after we defeated the monsters we lost control of the robots and we had to fight the robots. Then it would make sense. As it stands, “to fight monsters we created monster-fighting weapons” is much more accurate. And also, REALLY? When it turned out that none of our weapons were powerful enough to defeat the Godzillas, the BEST we could do, relying on the ingenuity, expertise, and technology of the entire world, was create a robot to PUNCH THE GODZILLA IN THE FACE? I know that’s the premise of the movie. That doesn’t make it not kind of a crazy dumb premise when you think about it for any length of time longer than zero seconds.

Now that the robots are losing the fights to the Godzillas, the world’s leaders have decided to decommission them and focus their resources on building a giant wall around everything. Sure. Except two seconds later the Godzillas destroy the wall. And the leaders never really explain whether or not they have a plan c. So I guess everyone is just waiting around for the world to end. Everyone except Idris Elba, who has four robots left, and a plan to drop a nuclear bomb into “the breach,” which is the name for the portal. A friend of mine told me that Guillermo Del Toro wanted to make a movie in which the whole world comes together to save the world, and it isn’t just the United States, which is a totally admirable goal to have for a summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, the whole world coming together to save the world is weirdly reminiscent of a scene in a high school comedy where the new kid learns the social ropes of the lunch room. Like, does the Chinese robot really need to be the most acrobatic robot? And does the Russian robot really need to be a depressing soviet era block of gray sadness? And do the Chinese and Russian robots need to be destroyed within the first five minutes that they are deployed? Anyways.

There’s some training scenes and some Avatar-influenced mind-melding and Ron Perelman chewing and chewing and chewing the scenery. Even though we can’t go through the portal ourselves, only the Godzillas can go through the portal, we have somehow been able to map the portal, and also when we do figure out a way to fall through the portal, our radios still work, so that’s good. You might think that an inter-dimensional portal outside of our space-time continuum might cause at least some static on the radios, but the radios work. Maybe it’s because that one robot is “analog” LOL. (At one point, a Godzilla has some kind of organic-EMP, because what would a summer movie be without an EMP, and it shuts all the robots down and Idris Elba says we have no more robots because all the robots are digital, and Charlie Hunnam says “Not all of them. The Gypsy Queen (or whatever) has a nuclear core. It’s analog.” Uh, no. Your SKYSCRAPER SIZED BOXING ROBOT is not “analog.” You can understand why my entire theater erupted into laughter.)

In the end, the day is saved. The last line of the movie is “Uh, guys.” Although if you stay through the credits you will discover that the last line of the movie is actually “Where is my goddamned shoe?!”

It’s not that Pacific Rim is bad, it’s just that Pacific Rim is not good. Which is almost worse. There are few reactions to a movie that are more disheartening than “Oh well.” Charlie Hunnam has got to be getting tired of being typecast as “guy who walks like a fucking asshole and can’t keep his accent consistent.” Acting with a foreign accent has got to be terribly difficult, but Charlie Hunnam makes it look downright impossible. No one ever explains why they’re always saving their weapons until the last second. “We are all out of weapons!” “Not all out, we still have INITIATE SWORD.” Well but why didn’t you start with sword and work your way up? As my friend Andrew pointed out, how come we are six years into near-constant Godzilla attacks and yet there are still fishing boats on the water? Get those fishing boats out of there! Things like this. At one point, Charlie Hunnam says to Rinko Kikuchi, “Mako, are you OK? Talk to me!” This despite the fact we have already been told that the mind-melding process that takes place when you pilot a robot is so overwhelming and intense that it takes years of training and that the people who enter the drift together never have to speak again. So there are some problems. The logic of the movie is forever unfinished and easily penetrable, like that big old wall.

“Really, Gabe? A movie about robots punching Godzillas in the face had a few logistical problems?” Yes, but I’m just pointing those out for fun. The true problem with Pacific Rim is that it was just kind of dull and empty. The fights were fun enough, I guess. That one robot did hit that one Godzilla in the face with a giant boat, but surely there is more to life.

The movie actually reminded me of French rock and roll. Something is lost in translation. Guillermo Del Toro loves all of the comic books and action movies and Ed Wood sci-fi stuff that inspired Pacific Rim, but when he went to do it himself, at least this time around, it came out sounding like this.

The one thing that escaped Pacific Rim completely unscathed was Jerusalem my love for Idris Elba.

What a guy! He could create monsters to read the phone book and I would watch it.

Otherwise, though: “Oh well.”

Comments (46)
  1. I am going to premise my thoughts with two things:
    1. I bought two mini bottles of wine at CVS and snuck them into the theater.
    2. I watched a lot of mecha anime in middle/high school. Gundam, Big O, Evangelion, etc.

    There was really very little chance that I wasn’t going to love this. Yes, I fully acknowledge that the movie had no character development and barely any plot. That doesn’t really matter because what it did have was giant robots fighting monsters and that was super fun. Like, the most fun. Also, the girl character was fully clothed the entire time AND there was no gratuitous sex scene thrown in. There could’ve been more girl characters, but honestly it was a step up.

    I went in expecting 2 hours of robots fighting monsters and that’s exactly what I got. It was loud, it was colorful, it was really really fun. I did not expect this movie to change the world or be revolutionary. Hell, it was never advertised as such. And credit to del Torro, he actually used an original story, albeit one that is heavily influenced by a lot of things.

  2. This is a movie that probably loses a star and a half in my estimation if I’m not watching it four rows back in a large movie theatre. But I DID watch it four rows back in a large theatre. And it had me saying “holy shit, that is a big robot” and “oh wow, it punched that huge monster really hard” for two hours.

    That’s a genuine compliment. We get about ten of these $200 million CGI noise machines a year, and I kind of figured I was dead to feel anything about them. With Pacific Rim I feel like they put 90% of their focus on “how can we make the scale of this really impressive.” From isolating the fights mostly in the water outside of the cities to putting people right next to them all the time for scale, it worked.

    Also, cutting constantly to people in those cockpit getups getting rattled around with the robots went a long way to giving it a physical believability that a lot of “big animated thing fights another big animated thing” movie scenes lack.

    • The guys next to me in the theater kept leaning forward during the movie, especially during battles. I think it’s a movie that will lose a lot once it goes to the small screen.

    • This is good news. I was planning on taking my dad to a movie this week, and was hoping this would be fun!

    • I too am glad I sat up close for this film. I felt like I was a 10 year old enjoying a good ‘ole action flick once again.

      The scaling was definitely one of the coolest parts. I’m usually pretty skeptical for big budget CGI wank fests, but they really went out of their way to make me actually gawk at what is essentially computer rendering.

      Also, how have we not mentioned the scene where the robot punches through the building and taps the little metal balls on the office desk? That’s a lot of work and effort just to add a little, “Hey, we’re just having fun after all,” moment in the middle of a fight scene. I also loved the kaleidoscopic visuals throughout the movie.

      Lastly, can we give Charlie Day a long lived future in big screen pictures? So enjoyable.

  3. French rap music is pretty fucking rad.

  4. I loved it. I loved Stacker Pentecost (IDRIS ELBA’S NAME IS STACKER PENTECOST OMG!!!!), I loved Mako Mori, I loved the monsters. I loved the ridiculous Power Rangers outfits. I loved the hackneyed, hackneyed plot. I mean, this was Armageddon + Transformers + Godzilla, right? It had to be ridiculous.

    I thought it took those premises and played them so straight while still being crazeballs.

    Also, I dug Mako Mori’s hair which pretty much adds + 10000000 points to my enjoyment of a movie. ALSO squared, it was nice that of all the people protecting us from the monsters were very pretty. That was quite some luck, huh?

  5. Don’t we agree that the hate on Michael Bay isn’t so much owing to his concepts as much as his execution? Like, maybe Del Toro just gets better critical reviews because he’s a better director, whether he’s filming giant robots or nightmare creatures with eyeballs in their hands? I don’t care if Michael Bay decides to film a Nelson Mandela biopic, it’s still going to be greeted with open hostility.

    • Michael Bay’s “Nelson.” WE OPEN on a vegetative Mandela. His family around his bed. He wakes for just a moment, and begins to reminisce about his life. His first memory is of childhood…

      CUT TO Racist South Africa, 1948. Young Nelson is picking cotton while a white man who looks like Colonel Sanders whips him. But a beautiful girl catches his eye, and the sight of her gives him the strength to stand up straight, merely wincing at each blow. That girl? Winnie Mandela, his future wife.

      CUT BACK TO the death bed. Old Nelson match-winces as one of his children says, “But mother became sort of a terrorist when you were in jail…”

      CUT TO Winnie’s terrorist days. EXPLOSIONS fill the screen. There is a BOAT CHASE, then JETS…

      Yeah, his take on a biopic would go about like this, and deserve all the hostility.

  6. Pacific Rim could also win the Academy Award for Most Nosebleeds.

  7. I know it fails the Bechdel Test SPECTACULARLY, but I suppose that’s just par for the course. I mean, seriously. There were really only TWO women I ever saw on screen and one of them never even fucking spoke, really.

    But no, in all seriousness, why couldn’t Rinko Kikuchi have been the main character? Why do I always need to be subjected to Generic White Dude Who Can’t Act in order for a story to be told to me via cinema?

    • I know it failed Bechdel, but at least she was clothed? It’s really sad that you have to set such a low bar for hollywood.

      • Ain’t that the truth though. Like no, I totally agree with you… AT LEAST SHE WAS CLOTHED. And, for the most part, unsexualized. But, literally, a movie about humanity’s greatest challenge as an entire WORLD and I saw two (main) women, total. I’d like to go back and look at those crowd scenes and see if they fit the 70% male/30% female ratio that’s just standard in Hollywood.

        But SHIT that movie would have been so much more interesting with her as the main character.

        • Agreed! She would have been a badass main character. It’s just that Hollywood is still afraid of letting relatively unknown actors of color open a movie.

      • And for what it’s worth, it was kind of nice they didn’t make out at the end (though my friend says they already did it when they drifted, but he’s a spoil sport that can suck it).

        But let’s face it, the real travesty is Americans enjoy the wrong kind of stupid movie.

    • Because it’s a movie about giant robots fighting Godzillas; an Asian main character would have been totally out of place!

    • Big budget blockbusters usually have a bland white male in the lead because it is easier for an international audience to connect with them. (According to my friend who is a movie critic.)

      • Huh. Shouldn’t a bland Asian male be easiest for most people in the world to connect with? Who’s the Chinese Caspar Van Dien?

  8. You should at least remember that the analog robot was “Gipsy Danger” because it was spelled Gipsy throughout the entire movie. Measure twice, cut once, check if you’re using a weird variant spelling never, that’s what I always say. Also “gipsy danger” kinda seems racist?

    Also, can we talk about when Charlie Hunnam tried to grab Idris Elba’s arm and Idris stared at him? Tremendous.

  9. Oh I also definitely was like “man this movie has almost no female characters and there is no good reason for it”. Burn Gorman’s character could’ve been turned into a woman without even changing any of the dialogue!

  10. I saw this with my nerdiest buddies. We all left saying basically that it was solid but frivolous. The sword thing killed me! Come on with that! Also there was never this sense that the world was going to end – the stakes didn’t ever seem high enough for me to get anxious in the slightest. It did look crazy rad on IMAX though.

  11. I can’t disagree with any detractors— I mean, every plot point was fairly predictable, QUADRUPLY so if you’ve watched anime like Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still (example: Giant Robo is a nuclear relic in a world powered by Shizuma Drives, drives that get deactivated and only Giant Robo can still tear shit up)— but GOOD GOD, I was saying all sorts of things out loud and in enjoyment of this movie: just exclaiming ‘Oh shit’ and ‘whoaaa’ and ‘yeah’ and other things like that. Even when (minor spoiler) Charlie Hunnam delivered his opening volley of beat-the-shit-out-of-this-asshole-dude on the jerk son in the hallway, I was like, “SHIT. THAT WAS BANANAS.”

    I would totally go watch a double feature of Pacific Rim and the Wachowski’s Speed Racer. Both highly entertaining, and if you don’t agree then you don’t agree. I’d be there in a second.

  12. My favorite (least favorite) part of the movie is when they shouted something like “Engage elbow rocket!” and then an elbow rocket just happened. EVERYONE WAS SO SERIOUS ABOUT THIS ELBOW ROCKET!

  13. Us Australians would like to tell you people that we don’t speak like that. Whoever is doing your accent training fire them. Stop making us sound so fucking weird.

    In fact, those are the worst Australian accents I’ve heard in a film for some time and it made it hard to enjoy the film whenever those two actors were on screen despite everything else in this movie being easier to enjoy than a fumble in your pants.

  14. I honestly have NO IDEA why someone would feel like nitpicking this movie. Utter killjoy. ENGAGE ELBOW ROCKET TARGET BLOG.

  15. kind of disappointed that no one mentioned the best part of the movie: rza’s ’90s-style “end credits rap song that sums up the plot of the movie.” WHY DID YOU EVER STOP DOING THAT, HOLLYWOOD? is it because will smith stopped rapping?

  16. I have to weigh in on this:

    So, Guillermo del Toro’s work has been a mixed bag for me. I loved Pan’s Labyrinth, was kinda disappointed by Hellboy (just something doesn’t click for me in those movies and I don’t know what – but generally love that type of stuff) and when I look at his filmography I’m like “Ooo! I know that one – I liked that one” over and over. He leaves an impression for sure but doesn’t blow my socks off. I went to see this move strictly b/c my fav reviewer gave it 3 our of 4 stars and that’s plenty for me when seeing a robot/godzilla orgy. But still, did not think it’d be that great.

    I’m watching this fucking movie and I’m a kid again. The cheesy dialogue falls away, the plot holes, the fact that the one chick I’m meant to identify with can barely talk. I’m watching her as a little girl running away from that crab monster, them pulling out the sword they should have used like five fights before, dinosaurs emerging out of the water, and I’m actually smiling b/c – this is a fucking fun, “doesn’t take itself batman serious” movie (don’t get me wrong – love me some batman but it’s very serious) that you can see that they actually gave two shits about making. That’s all I’m asking for. I don’t need everything to “change the game” or change my life. It was adult-child fun. I watched one transformers movie… and like a day later, I couldn’t even remember what I watched. Seriously – it’s not even an insult. I DON”T REMEMBER IT LOL. However, I saw this movie saturday and I’m still thinking about it. Then, someone told me he meant it to be “live action anime” and it made total sense.

  17. It is a more intriguing and complicated question than it seems, ‘why does Michael Bay (and clones like Berg, Verbinski, or Scott) make these movies objects of ridicule while Del Toro gets a pass? Much of what everyone above seems to be saying indicates that part of the root lies in an ostensible lack of jingoism (and yet, white american soldier lands asian butterfly geisha in the end, as usual), a lack of contemporary camera movement, and a self-awareness not seemingly shared by the other filmmakers.

    Is it simply execution, or is there something more ideologically zeitgeisty about Bay et. al.’s representations of explosions and militarism that strikes a different cord than does Del Toro’s vision? There seems to be something undergirding these divergent narrative and visual thrusts that resonates differently with us than it seems to en mass, and yet the trajectory of recent filmmaking seems to be in favor of the furthered reproduction of the former over the later. The artifice of the merger of the two poles of a Bay/lumpin-vs.-Del Toro/artistic dialectic into the deformed form of Abrams/lindeloff becomes clear in the dissatisfactiory nature of these texts to both audiences.

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