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.”