Ruminations on Pacific Rim

I wasn’t planning to see Pacific Rim in the theaters. It looked all monsters and flying limbs. Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots on growth hormones. No thanks; I love special effects, but I also love some semblance of a plot.

But I wanted to see a movie last night. In the theater, with real popcorn (and artificial butter). Pacific Rim was the only movie I could work up interest for. Because, you know, monsters.

I bought my ticket in IMAX 3D. (Hey, if you’re going to do this thing, do it right.)

The movie was indeed largely monsters and flying limbs. I’ll sum the plot up quickly for those of you who missed the commercials: Alien invasion in the form of giant monsters (“kaiju”). To combat this invasion, humankind builds giant man-shaped machines (Jaegers) with UFC fighters highly trained human pilots for brains.

Think Transformers meets Starship Troopers, only with a higher budget and more frantic pace. Here, take a look.

Happily, there was a bit more to the plot than that, though the holes were sometimes big enough to be seen from space. And there were actual actors. Pretty good ones. Somehow the writers (and actors and director) managed to create eight identifiable characters, wedging their backstories between lengthy battles among behemoths. Each had his or her own credible Avengers-like moment to be the hero, without the benefit of a single origin-story movie to set the whole thing up. I’m still dissecting how they managed to pull that off.

To tell the truth, the secondary characters saved this movie for me, outshining the Hemsworthy-esque Jaeger pilots in all departments but one. (I leave you to guess which department that “one” would be.) My favorite characters were the two misfit scientists played by Charlie Day (who’s like Rick Moranis incarnate) and Burn Gorman, best known (by me) for his role in Torchwood. These two provided comic relief and a humanizing factor while the buff boys and girls were off bashing monsters. Then Ron Perlman showed up as a steam-punky, over-the-top badass, and I wanted the movie to take a left turn into his life, which was far more inventive than what was happening elsewhere in this movie universe.

Of course, the adorable tinytot Mana Ashida stole the show from everyone, even though her only dialogue was “AAAAAaaaaaaaa!”

Time to sum up this rather disjointed review. (Hey, the title says “Ruminations,” after all.) If you like big special effects, monsters, cartoon violence, and larger than life characters (and cute boys), then you will like this movie. If you would love The Avengers even if Iron Man weren’t in it, then you will like this movie. Stop reading this post immediately and go see it.

If you like a little more brains behind the brawn, or if you like to ponder what makes a movie good or bad, then read on. Feel free to yea or nay me in the comments–just be polite.

The Bad

  • The action sequences were hard to track. The Kaiju versus Mech fight scenes mostly took place in the dark, with close-up action sequences. I had trouble telling where one entity began and another ended. I found myself waiting for the fight scenes to end so we could get back to the goofy scientists.   [Note: I wish I had seen this movie in a normal theater. The 3D didn’t seem to add anything, the volume was excruciating, and the giant screen made the close-up fight scenes even harder to follow.]
  • The dialogue was riddled with as-you-know moments, though there wasn’t much choice, given the amount of screen time devoted to plot development. The traditionally heroic roles were burdened with forced dialogue, flirting at the edges of cliché. However, there were some clever and entertaining moments among the secondary roles.
  • There was a plot. Yes, there was. But it was a bit too familiar. I’m aware of the claim that there are no new plots, but there shouldn’t be neon signs flashing “recycled material” at every corner.

The Good

  • The monsters were pretty cool, I thought. They looked amazingly real as they marched down city streets like Godzilla’s worst nightmare. I don’t understand why their insides glowed–what possible biological purpose could that serve? But the glowiness did make them visually spectacular. Like massive geodes: ugly on the outside, but pretty and shiny inside once you cut them open.
  • The acting was as good as you can possibly expect, given that something like 120 of the 131 film minutes were taken up by fight scenes between Transformers Jaegers and 300 foot high Kaiju.
  • Some of the world building was outstanding. I’m thinking of Ron Perleman’s bone powder empire, for example. I would have enjoyed this movie as a trilogy or an extended mini-series, giving time to develop this universe and let these characters evolve beyond archetype and stereotype.

Overall

I don’t hate myself for dropping $25 on this movie (counting popcorn). In fact, I kind of want to see it again, if only to pick up the dialogue that I missed amid the explosions. (Did he really say that the tunnel between universes was atomic in nature??)

I’ll give the movie a 7 out of 10 for excitement and entertainment value.

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About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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9 Responses to Ruminations on Pacific Rim

  1. juliabarrett says:

    I’m definitely going to see this. Been hearing it ain’t half bad. Thanks for the review!

  2. I’ll probably wait until it’s available on video, because I’m cheap, but you’ve intrigued me enough that I want to see it. And definitely with popcorn! That’s essential. Thanks for the review.

  3. Sarah I says:

    Isn’t Rick Moranis Rick Moranis incarnate?

  4. I can’t tell whether it is SciFi or something else.
    We saw Oblivion last weekend and was disappointed. I haven’t seen a good SciFi in so long.
    Thanks for the synopsis…I’ll surely see this on vid.

    • Pacific Rim has it’s roots in Japanese film, in the same genre as Godzilla. That is, the “Really big monsters who want to destroy Tokyo” genre. So I’d say it’s sf/horror with splashy special effects, and rather comic bookish. Like others of its ilk, Pacific Rim is not scary unless you’re under 8 years old, but it is exciting and visually spectacular.

      I haven’t seen Oblivion, mostly because I’ve lost interest in Tom Cruise. I’ll probably catch it on TV sometime. The best new SF movie I’ve seen in a while is Looper. It’s good in a Bruce Willis kind of way. I’m looking forward to seeing Gravity. I don’t know much about the plot, but the acting ought to be decent, and at least it will be different from all the apocalypse, post-apocalypse, zombie offerings.

  5. Paul D. Dail says:

    I was reading this at my teacher in-service (your post was definitely more exciting than what we were doing :) ). The teacher next to me is a big fan of these kinds of movies. Her review was very similar. Definitely looks like a big screen type of movie. But looks fun. I’m sure it will go on our list, even though we don’t have a big screen (because we very rarely make it to the actual theatres any more)

    Paul

  6. Yes, definitely a big-screen movie, if you can arrange it. With popcorn. And turn off your writer’s brain.

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