Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim / **½ (PG-13)

Raleigh Becket: Charlie Hunnam
Stacker Pentecost: Idris Elba
Mako Mori: Rinko Kikuchi
Dr. Newton Geiszler: Charlie Day
Herc Hansen: Max Martini
Chuck Hansen: Robert Kazinsky
Ops Tendo Choi: Clifton Collins Jr.
Gottlieb: Burn Gorman
Hannibal Chau: Ron Perlman

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by Travis Beacham & del Toro. Running time: 132 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language).

According to the advertising department at Warner Bros., “’Pacific Rim’ is this generation’s ‘Star Wars’.” Why is it that any movie that involves aliens or monsters where all the characters have individualized nicknames, including the monsters, is invariably compared to “Star Wars”? This movie is nothing like “Star Wars” in content, vision, impact, or (hopefully) legacy.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but it seems to me this movie is nothing more than an excuse to show us giant monsters and giant robots beating the snot out of each other and destroying cities with the ease and consideration of a child destroying his Lego sets. I’m sure it will be a smash hit. What? Are we all twelve?!

The movie involves a future Earth in which we are invaded by giant monster aliens trying to take over our planet. They don’t come from space, however, but an inter-dimensional rift located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The devastating attacks by these destructive monsters, who conveniently only enter our world one at a time, quickly band the world’s countries together to defend against them. While our conventional weapons prove to be inadequate against the beasts, we quickly develop a program where giant robots are used to fight them, piloted by two people because the interface is too much for one pilot to handle.

Instead of showing us these developments, like a typical alien invasion movie, we are told all this through voiceover and some fairly incomprehensible montage of monsters destroying buildings. We are told this by one of the pilots, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, “Sons of Anarchy”), who has the gift of being able to “drift” with other people’s minds. This is the process that allows two people to operate one robot body. The filmmakers chose to skip the more interesting elements of this story, like showing us the early failures and discovery of this drifting technique, so we can get right to the action of seeing a giant robot smash a giant monster, and vice versa.

This material almost seems beneath director Guillermo del Toro, who brought us the visionary and profound wartime fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the quirky dark comic book charm of the “Hellboy” movies. Certainly his ability to imagine wonderfully designed and interesting monsters helps the material, but his gifts of adding personality to them and multiple levels of storytelling are disposed of here. His knack for pacing action and framing incredible CGI fantasy footage are not, however.

The screenplay by del Toro and Travis Beachum (“Clash of the Titans”) is a near perfect prefabricated summer blockbuster model. It delivers the maximum impact of action with characters who boast about honor in crisis, a hero who resists authority despite the fact that he’s the best at what he does and is making up for a past mistake, a leader who is tough as nails but also has a secret, and a rival who can’t see why the hero is so special, leading to internal clashes on the side of the good.

There’s a woman who also isn’t given the chance she deserves but is really the only person who can bring out the best in the hero. This is Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel”) whose first name is uttered so frequently it’s as if the filmmakers offered a bonus to whichever actor said it the most. It’s a break from tradition that Mako is Japanese, rather than the preferred shapely all-American girl that Hollywood generally places in such a role. Perhaps that’s because the recent acceptance of geek culture in Hollywood has also allowed this movie’s producers to admit that American males have a bit of an Asian fetish when it comes to women. How culturally significant it is that she’s the subservient of the two leads.

We’re also given the geek side to the heroes in the form of two scientists who clash in their opinions of how to ultimately deal with the alien threat. The German, Gottleib, isn’t given enough screen time. That’s so we can concentrate more on the comedic approach by Dr. Newton Geiszler, played by Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, who in proper blockbuster tradition goes by the more childish name of Newt. Day is pretty good at adding the comic relief into this end-of-mankind heavy material. He’s helped by del Toro regular, Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”), as an opportunist who holds a vital piece of material Newt needs to crack his own technology to stop the alien invasion.

Despite all that plot, this film plays like some grand version of a Robotech cartoon, where the giants do battle against one another in a world that is furnished to look inhabited because of all the cars and skyscrapers populating the landscape. However, it only ever seems to be peopled in close up to show us crowds screaming for their lives, while in long shot the giants can devastate the city without seeming to affect any actual people. It is these types of CGI battle sequences that I find bore me more as I get older. There are no real stakes at risk here. Buildings topple with no real consequences as these giant beings pound on each other with no real lasting effect. I’m sure it will please audiences en masse.

Truthfully, I hope “Pacific Rim” is a huge hit, and I’m sure it will be. It isn’t bad mindless blockbuster fare, and I suppose it’s actually pretty good for shutting your brain off on a hot midsummer evening. It’s well made. It just isn’t for me. The reason I hope for its success, however, is that I can only imagine del Toro was attracted to such typical Hollywood fare to prove to the studios that he can turn a big budget CGI blockbuster into a success. This must be his goal, so he can get someone to give him the money for his dream project of adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece “At the Mountains of Madness” into a feature film. So go. Shut your brains off and enjoy this silly film, so I can one day go and see that epic one.

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