So I saw Pacific Rim. And I’m reviewing it.
I’d like to do some other, smarter, lead in, but as I’m interested in seeing people’s reactions to the film, I’m not putting in any opening spoilers. Between the successes, failures, and unexpected opinions I’ve seen on film, I’m interested in getting other people’s reactions, unaffected by mine!
In fact I was surprised by some of my reactions and some of what I saw.
So, now with that said, let’s get to my opinions. Kind of spoiler-free.
My One-Paragraph Summary is this:
Pacific Rim is a good, solid, fun giant monster/giant robot flick that’s targeted straight at people that actually like this kind of stuff. There’s plenty of shout-outs and recognizable elements, a good cast, and some spectacular designs. The fight scenes that are the supposed attraction for the film are neat, but often way too overdone/dark/rainy/squealy for my taste. A film for fans and a film by a guy who clearly loved the subject matter – but not more than that.
So in detail . . .
Really this is a straight up mecha/kaiju flick, and it’s obvious that was the focus. There’s plenty of recognizable elements and character types (with some twists and good actors), to the point where the clear shout-outs are kind of fun to hunt up. I’ve heard comparisons to some of Tarantino’s works, and though I’m in no way fond of Tarantino, it does have some similarities in celebrating media elements the creator loves.
Technically, I think the film is far more Mecha than Kaiju, because there’s a lot of focus on the pilots and characters, and this keeps the film from being a bunch of endless fight scenes. You’ll easily recognize various archetypes from washed-out pilot, to jerk pilot, to military guy in charge, to quiet girl who kicks ass, and so on. Without this focus on people, the film would have been less interesting frankly, and there’s some amusing characters.
The film does not try to go beyond its origins, which is entirely understandable, though I think at times it constrains itself. There’s a strange sense of “bounding” to the movie, which is probably in part due to the editing to keep it down to two hours. The editing choices are ones I’d likely not have agreed with, as I felt a few things could have been cut to make space for other levels of detail.
However, this does limit the film. It’s a good mecha/kaiju movie, but I can’t say it’s truly great. There’s just great elements in it. Ultimately I don’t think it’s going to send people out with a thirst for Godzilla and Gundam, because most people seeing it are already going to have done that.
The biggest flaw is, ironically, many of the fight scenes. Though there’s a lot of cleverness and elements clearly derived from samurai films, wrestling, and more, they’re often too dark and chaotic. There’s moments where it felt like a better-directed Transformers, and that is not a compliment. Some of these scenes seriously decreased my enjoyment of the film – some of the shakycam news footage of past battles felt more effective and less annoying
The big surprise to me was the cast and acting, which I often heard panned, but I felt was decent to great, but I may be more acquainted with the archetypes of the film than many. There’s some good stuff here, especially Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, creating an interesting character with both trauma and restrained violence (and Mana Ashida who played her younger self was effective as well). Charlie Day does indeed steal the show as a Kaiju-obsessed scientist, and Burt Gorman as his nerdy math-centric counterpart presents some great scenes.
I’ve heard some criticism of Charlie Hunnam’s portrayal of major mecha pilot Raleigh Becket as flat, but I felt he was more playing an archetype than anything else. Then again this is in a way a film with three heroes: Mako, Raleigh, and commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, who is of course great).
So basically if you like mecha, kaiju, and anime, you will enjoy this film. You’ll catch references (I’m pretty sure I caught a blatant Matt Smith Eleventh Doctor shout out but am waiting to see if anyone else does or if I just projected it). However it’s not a film that goes beyond it’s source material; it just implements it well. It’s a film that has deliberately constrained itself, so this I think of it as good – but not great.
Was it worth it artistically? Actually, yes. I think it was interesting to see someone like Del Toro handle this subject matter, and frankly it took someone like him to not make this a terrible movie. There is some interesting artistry, and others may find themselves inspired, though again they will be part of a limited demographic.
What I liked:
- Great world building. There’s enough here for a cult of fans to run with.
- Great designs.
- A character-centric story and a sense of menace that was palpable.
- A great amount of shout-outs.
- Subtle, clever touches in the direction that added detail.
What I didn’t like:
- The grindy/squealy fight scenes that were too hard to see and could be irritating.
- Odd editing choices that made some things feel rushed and others go on too long.
- Wanted to get to know some of the other characters just a bit more.
What surprised me:
- The cast. I’d read some complaints about the cast and acting but frankly found no problem with it.
- The annoying parts of the action. I did not expect some of the chaotic, overdone, dark fight elements and those did affect my enjoyment. It also distracts from some of the clever elements.
- The level of little details and references. These add a lot to the film.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.