The Trouble with Quibbles: Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIM

After the false starts of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit, director Guillermo del Toro finally returns to the big screen with Pacific Rim. It’s been a long summer with movies of epic epicness and very few rewards. So I found some time to talk with Adam Scott about whether Hollywood’s latest attraction is the blockbuster we’ve all been hoping for…or not.

BRYAN: I have a feeling you’re about to say a lot of things that I agree with and yet I think our opinions are going to differ on this one. Why don’t you tell us what you thought of Pacific Rim?

ADAM: I don’t even know where to start. I was never particularly interested in seeing this movie. I never understood what everyone was so excited about. Now, having seen it, I still don’t get it. Pacific Rim is exactly the silly sort of simplistic, shallow and juvenile attempt to bludgeon my inner-child into submission with robots and monsters. And I don’t care for that.

BRYAN: So are you saying you don’t care for Kaiju and Jaegers or you didn’t care for this film’s version of them? I mean we all know it’s silly, but even within that there are degrees and details that can make a world of difference.

ADAM: I’m on the fence about whether I care about Kaiju. I’m even more wary of giant robots at this point. But, all this is now thanks mostly to Pacific Rim. I don’t think it was done very well here AND I don’t particularly want to watch another movie about people in giant robot suits fighting monsters…I hate to say it, but maybe I’m too old for this shit.

BRYAN: Which is fair. You don’t have to enjoy this type of film. It is only a simple pleasure. And I will say a lot of this summer’s noisy roller coaster rides have been bland, boring, or inept. But I do think this particular joy ride has enough of the goods to succeed at being what it wants to be, which is a really fun time at the movies.

ADAM: What are these “goods” you speak of? Cause all I saw was a lousy script propped up with CGI and actors struggling to make flat characters relevant in a movie devoted to pixels.

BRYAN: Well the things you say aren’t good I agree aren’t great but I think they’re meant to be basic. So while I would love a more compelling script, I think what’s there is straightforward and sets up the action to come well. I think the characters are also basic archetypes from the annals of B-movie history. The scientist(s), the rookie, the worn veteran etc. They’re not meant to be post-modern and full bodied. Simple and uncynical can be a good thing once in awhile. This isn’t 150min of Superman wondering what to do. We have heroes trying to save the world, no questions asked. Now, Charlie Hunnam was a bit too simple, but not egregiously so.

ADAM: You can have archetypal heroes trying to save the world no questions asked who are actually interesting characters without making them cynical or dark or brooding… you just need an actual inner-conflict… besides the ridiculously literal “inner-conflict” of having your brother’s mind magically inside yours. Archetype doesn’t mean one-note.

BRYAN: True, and some of these characters could have been better no doubt

ADAM: All of these characters could have been better. These aren’t archetypes, they’re shadows of archetypes.

BRYAN: But here’s the thing, I still thought it worked. Even if you don’t think they were great characters, the movie HAS characters. That’s a step above something like say I don’t know Transformers 1-3. Also, having the machines require human operation, 2 humans at that, however forced that might seem, adds a huge dynamic to all that pixel-porn you were bemoaning. I feel like they did just enough to get to the set pieces without boring me, and that when those moments came it wasn’t just sound and fury but fun spectacle.

ADAM: The fact that you have to qualify this movie as being a step above a Transformers movie in and of itself, in my mind, points to how bad it is.

BRYAN: Well not really. It’s just the film everyone keeps saying this looks like, sight unseen, and then I have to remember that awful film series and explain why that’s not the case.

ADAM: If you’ve seen the trailer for Pacific Rim, then you know exactly what the movie is.

BRYAN: You’d be surprised.

ADAM: Well, that would be the first time Pacific Rim surprised me.

BRYAN: Funny, but I will concede that point. It’s not like there’s anything you don’t see coming. The only unpredictable moment is HOLY SHIT AWESOME SWORD!!!

ADAM: That’s in the trailer.

BRYAN: The sword maybe…but not the moment.

ADAM: Did you just go re-watch the trailer?

BRYAN: NO!!!

ADAM: I probably would’ve liked this movie when I was 10. How did your kid like it? I’m assuming he did. I’m assuming children everywhere will be running around shouting “Elbow rocket!”

BRYAN: He did. And you know what, it is a kid’s film. Straight up, 100% kid movie. He seemed a little uninterested during the non-fight scenes, but when the pilots suited up he was blown away. And that’s about where I’m at too. I think the battle sequences are so well staged and executed and FUN, that they overcome any of the other problems. I agree that sometimes that’s not enough, but with this film I found it agreeable until it was awesome, as opposed to annoying until incomprehensible like so many other convoluted CGI fests.

And dude…ELBOW ROCKET!!! COME ON!!!

ADAM: I dunno…I was never excited about this movie and I was even more perplexed by everyone else being so excited about it. I guess I just really don’t care about people in giant robot suits fighting monsters, especially when it’s all CGI and the people are so poorly defined. Maybe it was just easier to care about people in robot suits fighting monsters when it looked like a guy in a fake plastic suit. Maybe I was never all that into giant robot suits. I didn’t hate Pacific Rim. It didn’t make me angry, but it also didn’t make me care.

BRYAN: I can’t say I cared either but I do think this film does a lot of little things very well that payoff in the big fights. The little details and the universe they create are great. I might not care about the people a ton, but I wanted to explore this world further. I liked that they avoided forcing a romantic story thread. I liked that it doesn’t feel like chapter one of a bigger story. It’s not killing time until part two where the real fun begins. And though the fights are mostly computerized, they are shot clearly with unique and rising action on par with something directed by James Cameron. It’s not just same, same, same.

ADAM: It’s robots fighting monsters. It’s all the same.

BRYAN: I was talking to Rosko about this with Man of Steel. I want images, moments, something memorable to take away from all the noise. If this was just punch, smash, punch, smash, punch smash, I would not be recommending it.

ADAM: Robots fight monsters in the ocean. Robots fight monsters in the city. Robots fight monsters in the ocean. Ooh… how ’bout a twist…robots fight monsters…UNDER the ocean. I have no emotional investment in those 1s and 0s.

BRYAN: Said like that and it sounds repetitive, but within the fights you have, ELBOW ROCKET!!! SWORD!!!!!! Two blades! Surprise EMP, acid spit, fistful of shipping containers, surprise wings, the punch through the office…etc. I think there’s just enough investment and that the 1s and 0s are incredible.

ADAM: It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly not good. It’s spectacle. It’s not storytelling. This is ride at Universal Studios, not a movie.

BRYAN: There’s too much great craft here to dismiss it so easily.

ADAM: Are you talking about the craft of CG design?

BRYAN: Besides being a sad old man, and not enjoying the characters, are you saying there was nothing else you liked or thought was good?

ADAM: How am I the sad old man for wanting characters to care about? I’m not going to apologize for wanting complex human characters–yes, archetypes can be complex humans, because we are inherently complex–to take precedence over spectacle. That should be the foundation of your film. I’m sorry that when they built this world they built on a foundation of cardboard cutouts.

BRYAN: Whoa, whoa…calm down. I was joking. You said you were too old for it perhaps. Was throwing your words back at you…comically. But seriously, if it wasn’t the worst…what was something you did like about it?

ADAM: You know, maybe it’s cause you’re right. I am a sad old man. I’m sad that this is what people are excited about. I’m sad that this is what qualifies as a great summer blockbuster. This could’ve been way better.

BRYAN: Well I don’t think it reinvented the wheel or blew me away like say Inception. But this is a very good summer blockbuster especially considering how bad/generic they’ve been. A lot of fun goes a long way.

ADAM: See, but that’s the problem. I feel like this film is only perceived as being a “good blockbuster” because of how shitty this year has been for blockbusters. Our friend and contributor Nate said that Pacific Rim is this generation’s Independence Day… and that’s just sad.

BRYAN: It’s better than that.

ADAM: Better than Independence Day?

BRYAN: You know a blockbuster I’ve watched more than you’d think? The Day After Tomorrow. That film is dumb but a lot of things work and it is really easy to watch again and again. Sometimes that is a bar to aspire to. I would like more Inceptions and T2s and Die Hards, but I’m happy to have these too. Pacific Rim is cheesy and earnest but not juvenile or crass. I’m not going to say it’s this generation’s anything. It’s a really fun time at the movies in a summer with much, much, worse.

ADAM: Well, thank goodness for lowered expectations.

BRYAN: If it was that, I’d call it that, but it isn’t. I wanted it to be pantheon. I’m a little disappointed honestly. But I still like what I got.

ADAM: Pacific Rim, along with most of this summer’s blockbuster offerings, makes me wonder about Lucas and Spielberg’s prophesied implosion.

BRYAN: People in other countries will need to stop seeing everything Hollywood makes first. That’s a whole other discussion though and I don’t feel like this film is anywhere near the end of cinema.

ADAM: Not the end of cinema, the end of these tent-pole blockbusters. I’m tired of CGI and explosions.

BRYAN: Cheer up grandpa…Only God Forgives comes out Friday.

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10 responses to “The Trouble with Quibbles: Pacific Rim

  1. ianbrettcooper

    I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but I’m with Adam on this one – I’m tired of CGI and explosions, even when the actual story is not all that bad. The problem with Pacific Rim is that there’s nothing new here – it’s the same as any ten other crappy Sci-Fi CGI-fests. World at stake, our heroes fight the monsters, bam, crash boom, happy end, yay. Sure, Del Toro is better at it than Michael Bay. Woop-de-fricken-doo.

  2. Bryan Parrill

    I’m with you guys partly. But Sci-fi CGI fests are not inherently bad, they’re just starting to feel that way because of all the bad ones. I’m not tired of it if it is done as well as this movie, and I know it can be done better.

    Another way of saying I still have hope for Elysium. District 9 is a fantastic Sci-Fi CGI fest.

    Also, even Michael Bay is better than Michael Bay. His early stuff is simpler and better. Sometimes clear stakes makes all the difference.

    • ianbrettcooper

      District 9 was good because it had a good script and likeable characters, and the CGI was used to serve the script and the characters, not the other way around.

      Independence Day was good because although the script was hokey, the characters got taken seriously and the CGI was subservient to the characters. We enjoyed that movie because we wanted to see whether the characters survive. Same with The Day After Tomorrow and even Battle Los Angeles, all of which are movies you can watch over and over again because it’s not just about special effects.

      The same can’t be said of pacific Rim.

      Pacific Rim had a cookie-cutter script from the Michael Bay mold and there were no characters we could really identify with or care about. The closest I came to liking anyone was Ron Perlman’s character, which just goes to show that a good actor in a lead role might be able to save a film like this. Unfortunately, Perlman was not in a leading role. The leading actors were all either bland muscleman types or cartoon stereotypes, and that works if you’re 10. It does not work at age 50.

  3. Bryan Parrill

    I still think the good in this case outweighs the bad. But I do agree with a lot of your points.

  4. Jose Garcia Jr.

    I think good visuals were a given with GDT on board. I knew that stuff would work. I was looking for a great story and characters to go with it. I thought GDT would elevate the summer blockbuster but he played it safe just like all the other movies have been. While I liked it overall I was still underwhelmed. I wanted to be blown away but GDT didn’t even try. I can’t go on board with everyone and say I loved it because the visuals were awesome.

  5. Bryan Parrill

    Well I don’t think everyone is loving it.

    I do think GDT tried. I mean you don’t just accidentally create this kind of picture. I also think the simple story and simple characters are on purpose. He’s trying to do a 21st century version of the 50s B-movie. At the end of the day this is a movie about robots fighting monsters, it’s not supposed to be complex. I think even within that it could be better, but this is LOTS of fun. It certainly achieves what it set out to do.

    • ianbrettcooper

      I think Jose’s point is not that he didn’t try to make a movie, but that he didn’t try to bring plot and characterization. He has a point.

      I don’t think GDT was trying to do a 21st Century version of the 50s B-movie, but if he was, it was an abject failure. ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’ did it so much better.

      What I think he was trying to do was a live action version of Japanese anime, and if so, bits of it worked, but it just didn’t hang together because, as I keep saying, the plot and the characters were AWOL.

  6. Bryan Parrill

    I think if we’re drawing a line in the sand with regards to big dumb CGI extravaganzas that Pacific Rim is the wrong film to do it with.

  7. Jose Garcia Jr.

    Yes, that’s what I meant, ianbrettcooper.

    Im just saying it could have been better. I know it’s ultimately a movie about Robots fighting Monsters and it delivers in that aspect but because it’s a GDT movie I was expecting more from a Robots Vs. monsters movie, perhaps unfairly.

  8. I like GDT, but I don’t tend to love his movies. He’s not up on a big pedestal, though I love Devil’s Backbone.

    I still wanted this to be better, but I thought it was on par with something like Hellboy 2.

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