PACIFIC RIM Review

by     Posted 286 days ago

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One of the reasons I love going to the movie theater is that it can show off a level of spectacle an average home theater can never match.  No matter how big the TV screen, and no matter how many speakers, there’s no substitute for what a movie theater can offer.  Plenty of blockbusters attempt a level of spectacle that can do the big screen justice, but it’s not simply a matter of bigger being better.  There has to be weight and detail and a way for it to all come together that transports us into a world that’s larger than life.  With Pacific Rim, director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro has pushed the boundaries of not only increasing the size of the spectacle, but also in providing an imaginative premise where giant robots and giant monsters wrestle within a colorful, fleshed-out world.  Unfortunately, it’s a world where all of the style struggles to provide substance to the thin plot and flimsy characters.

Set in the year 2025, humanity is in its seventh year of war against giant alien monsters known as “kaiju”, which emerged from a portal deep within the Pacific Ocean.  In order to fight back, the world banded together to create giant mechs called “jaegers” that require two pilots to link minds in order to operate machinery.  However, the kaiju invasion is becoming overwhelming, and the jaeger program is on its last legs.  Former pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) is reluctantly pulled back in by project overseer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) in order to make a last stand against the kaiju.  With the help of rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Raleigh attempts to beat back the invasion alongside other jaegers from different countries.  Meanwhile, scientist Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) is hunting down a kaiju brain, which may provide the key for closing the portal.

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The movie never ceases to impress with the scale and sheer power of the fights between the kaiju and the jaegers.  It makes Transformers‘ Autobots and Decepticons look puny by comparison, and that’s partly because del Toro understands the physics he wants for his battles.  Not only does everything have weight so you can feel every blow, but the fights resemble wrestling matches rather than something based on quick, clean hits.  It’s an all-out brawl, and I was shocked at how much pain I felt at every hit even though the only thing being damaged was a giant robot.

Sadly, that level of empathy comes from the jaegers being more interesting than the people inside them.  Each mech, no matter how briefly we see them, has its own personality.  They have fun names like “Gipsy Danger” and “Striker Eureka”; they weren’t churned out factory style, but carry the signs of their origin country like the imposing, utilitarian Russian jaeger Cherno Alpha as opposed to the World War II bomber decals on Gipsy Danger.  Even the knuckles on Gipsy each have their own little decal.  It’s a nice touch especially when that knuckle is gigantic and you’re seeing it swing into a kaiju’s face.

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Del Toro tries to carry over these little details to his human players.  They all have catchy, ridiculous names like Hercules Hanson (Max Martini) and Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman).  There are minor but distinctive physical features like Mako Mori with her blue highlights, Geiszler having tattoos of kaiju on his arms, and kaiju organ dealer Chau wearing a costume to match Perlman’s scene-stealing performance.  All of these little details make the designs pop and help bring some more color to the world, but they’re just characteristics.  They’re not characters.

Surprisingly, for a filmmaker who has always devoted such care and attention to his characters, del Toro has vastly underserved his protagonists.  Beckett would be one of the most forgettable heroes in years if his blandness wasn’t so striking.  I’ve been told that Hunnam is great on his TV series Sons of Anarchy, but he couldn’t seem less interested here.  He reads his lines with all of the enthusiasm of someone ordering take-out, and his emotional backstory—he lost his brother while fighting a kaiju—is never resolved.  He quits for five years, Pentecost pulls him back, and Beckett leaves his fears and doubts behind.  At most, he’s Mori’s cheerleader, which causes him to butt heads with the over-protective Pentecost.

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The only upside to Beckett is that he at least provides the words and actions that give Kikuchi and Elba something to do.  Their 1.5-dimensional characters would be almost as unrewarding as Beckett, but the actors find some semblance of a heartbeat.  Mori is cute, determined, and we can understand why Beckett would want her on his side even though the two barely have any real connection—their emotional relationship is through their mental bonding known as “the drift”, which is an unrewarding shortcut that’s nothing more than flashes of images, and allows each pilot to see inside the other’s memories.  Mori has a stronger relationship with Pentecost even though they never “drift” together, and although the entirety of their backstory is never spelled out, their chemistry is all we really need.  It also helps that Elba commands every scene he’s in, and is more fearsome than any kaiju.

But we’ve seen these kinds of relationships before, and they’re perfunctory.  They’re the tiny dab of glue needed to connect us to the glowing, inspired world del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham have created.  Most movies couldn’t get away with coasting on the bare minimum, but del Toro makes it work because he’s brought us into the excitement of seeing a modern-day mash-up of classic monsters with futuristic mechs.  We’re not going through the motions of expecting a character from a licensed property to do the thing we’re expecting he or she to do.  The unfortunate expectation in Pacific Rim comes from a predictable story that’s designed to get us to the set pieces.

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And the set pieces are worth it.  They are pure action bliss.  As meager as the story can be, it’s serviceable enough to provide the pretext for some of the best action scenes I’ve ever seen insofar as their design.  I may not particularly care about the pilots, but what they’re piloting and how they use it is astounding.  Del Toro not only fills the screen with his creations, but always keeps the geography intact.  It’s not a mess of limbs and what we assume to be punches.  Every strike is seen, and every impact is felt.  And when del Toro unveils the secret weapons the kaiju and jaegers have at their disposal, the picture can illicit cheers (as it did at my screening).  Watching this action unfold, I can’t help but feel that seeing Pacific Rim in any format other than a massive screen would be a let down (the 3D post-conversion is fine; it neither helps nor hinders the movie).

At its best, Pacific Rim is an exciting, exhilarating reminder of why we go to the theater.  We go to be transported and we go to be to be overwhelmed.  That gigantic screen has an immense power, and it takes immense vision to truly take advantage of what it has to offer.  Audiences are retreating away from the theater, and given the poor quality of service and push towards home entertainment, the retreat is understandable.  Plenty of summer movies provide big entertainment, but it’s also material that can translate to a decent home theater system.  Pacific Rim is the blockbuster experience at its most forceful, most thrilling, and most breathtaking.  If only its characters shared that spirit.

Rating: B

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  • ddot

    Shitty review

  • ddot

    Shitty review

    • RIC

      It appears to be very consistent with the overall critical consensus. Certainly think it was written well enough.

      • tonymatthews

        True that. If it’s a ‘B’ from Matt, then I’m very much satisfied.

    • Daniel O’Reilly

      It’s actually the best score I’ve ever seen Goldberg give.

    • PolakNarodowiec

      He’s a Jew. What did you expected?

  • PANTS

    So the giant robots versus giant monsters aspect is MORE entertaining than the human characters in the movie?! Shocking!

    • IMPYEMU

      His problem was that he didn’t find the characters interesting, not that they weren’t more entertaining than the fights. Downvote.

    • IMPYEMU

      His problem was that he didn’t find the characters interesting, not that they weren’t more entertaining than the fights. Downvote.

  • n

    I have to admit that this is a somewhat accurate review, however rare from Mr. Goldberg.

  • TwiceBorn

    no A+?

    OHBOYHERETHEYCOMERUNFORCOVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sangbaran Sam

    oh man…need to see it now i guess :)

  • King of the Desert

    “Audiences are retreating away from the theater, and given the poor quality of service and push towards home entertainment, the retreat is understandable.”

    While you might get a bad apple as far as a team member or manager goes, I think that is about as far off base as you can get on why people are not going to the theatre anymore. Also the actual numbers don’t back up your statement. Ticket sales are at a high, notice I didn’t say ticket prices, which are. The amount of tickets being sold is higher then previous years. That isn’t a retreat, that’s moving forward.

    If anything, the decline of the experience is from the guests, the nonstop talking, the cell phone use. Those are issues that need to be corrected, and Alamo Drafthouse is one of many that are taking the steps to do that.

  • junierizzle

    I wish Goldberg would stop saying that going to the movies is dying off. They’ve been saying that for decades.

  • James

    Bad review, this movie will rock.

    • Strong Enough

      a B is a rocking movie you dipshit.

    • Emile

      A- and above usually are reserved for really, really impressive pictures and rarely do any hollywood blockbuster deserve such a score.

    • getoverit

      oh shut up you prat

    • Arthur Dent

      James demands A+++ or GTFO.

    • Arthur Dent

      James demands A+++ or GTFO.

  • Strong Enough

    too bad its gonna flop. I can’t wait for the Growns Up 2 review.

    • Anirudh Narayan

      HAhahaha :D

  • Elephant

    It’s “elicit” cheers, not “illicit” cheers. Come on Goldberg.

  • HeyZeusKreesto

    Honestly kind of surprised he was this kind to the movie. Usually sounds like he has a stick up his ass. Though if he’s saying this is the best action in years, compared to how he usually talks about movies, it might just be true. Regardless, I was planning on seeing this movie anyway. Maybe not this weekend, but soon.

    • Strong Enough

      …it might just be true”

      now you understand. instead of being a film critic that sucks every fanboy movie dick like the majority of blog critics, he gives his honest opinion, therefore when he reviews something he likes you know he’s not bullshitting.

      • evinrude

        Exactly.But check out the spite Matt gets with every review he posts.It’s not just the bloggers,it’s the readers too.Collider’s users want to ride that fanboy movie jock just like a stripper at Score’s.

  • Chris Parker

    This review is on the money. It’s an amazing spectacle, and the effects are insane (though I wish ONE of the fights was not either at night/in rain/underwater), but the story, acting and dialogue is downright bad (and sometimes, embarassing). I held out hope that this would be one of those movies that would get it all right – prove that you could do big silly summer action and have a story/world to back it up, but I’m afraid you won’t find it here. If you go for monsters fighting robots then you’ll be elated… if you go expecting it reach another level than that, then get ready to be disappointed.

  • Don Vito

    For once I agree with Mr. G. This movie is rocking awesome! Tell all your friends to see it on the big screen: spectacle, blockbuster, explosions, and lots and lots of punching! What MORE could you ask for???

    • eatupanyoldshit

      kids!!!

  • Doug_101

    Good review, Matt. I’d be more inclined to give it a B-, but that’s because the ending didn’t work for me. The action is unbelievably good, though. It’s literally an anime movie in live-action, right down to some of the cartoony characters. Michael Bay needs to take notes from this one for his next Transformers movie.

  • Doug_101

    Good review, Matt. I’d be more inclined to give it a B-, but that’s because the ending didn’t work for me. The action is unbelievably good, though. It’s literally an anime movie in live-action, right down to some of the cartoony characters. Michael Bay needs to take notes from this one for his next Transformers movie.

  • tim

    For once i agree, these were the flattest characters he’s ever produced. I missed the spark and wit of hellboy, that held together the gorgeous visuals. The spectacle of pacific rim is great, and most of the time the vfx nail the sense of scale and weight that is completely absent from transformers, along with the trademark del toro production design, detailed and sumptuous. It’s just a shame that asides from a few moments, the emotional heart of the film felt perfunctory and underdeveloped.

  • Captain Piha

    Nice review Matt, bang on. Possibly the best action I’ve seen committed to screen. Outstanding CG – it can’t be easy with all that rain, neon and water. But yeah, the acting and characterisation was off the mark. Hunnam was AWFUL. Perhaps the Japanese lass could’ve done the voiceover? FYI down here in New Zealand we think the Australian pilots are hilariously bad (but their Jaeger is badass). Whole audience cracked up whenever the Dad said anything. And not in a good way. But Perlman and Elba more than make up for it. And Charlie Day isn’t bad either. A- for me.

  • poppincherry

    These movies critics are like culinary douche bags. They think every fucking thing they cook needs,foie gras and truffle oil.
    A movie is a hot dog. Simple and pretty much to the damn point.
    Now, let Goldberg serve you that hot dog and what do you get? Here we go…
    Not a bun but a buttery ARTISAN ROLL. Ketchup? You have got to be smoking crack. Goldberg would serve it with the blood from the count of a virgin sheep.

  • the motherrucker

    The movie was really well done and the characters (as basic as they were) had good development, were really well written and the plot was good written and (unlike many movies like this) it made a lot of sense. Didn’t think it was a B.

  • Ashtalon

    I would argue the robots don’t have individual personalities either. Just like the humans having characteristics (like tattoos) yet not being characters, the robots have no distinct fighting styles. Absolutely none of the pilots personalities shine through in how their robots fight. None of the characters have any kind of arc in the film. Nobody learns anything or progresses as a person. The movie also liberally borrows from other source material. Shockingly so. The ending is lifted right out of ID4. I would say I was disappointed, but I wasn’t expecting much. At its best, it’s a mediocre film.

  • Pragmator

    Just got home from a viewing. Loved it! This is as close as we’re ever likely to get to a live-action Voltron movie.

  • memphis1001

    Unfortunately, Grown Ups 2 which was pure garbage is gonna make more money than Pacific Rim, and (surprise, surprise) is gonna lead to Grown Ups 3 (shudder!)….
    and everybody complains that Hollywood has lost its originality….of course they have…those sort of movies dont make money…Granted Pacific Rim wasnt a masterpiece, but in my opinion it definitely warrents a sequel….I really hope it performs well….

  • memphis1001

    Unfortunately, Grown Ups 2 which was pure garbage is gonna make more money than Pacific Rim, and (surprise, surprise) is gonna lead to Grown Ups 3 (shudder!)….
    and everybody complains that Hollywood has lost its originality….of course they have…those sort of movies dont make money…Granted Pacific Rim wasnt a masterpiece, but in my opinion it definitely warrents a sequel….I really hope it performs well….

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