Saturday, July 13, 2013

Battleship 2013: Pacific Rim Takes Summer Blockbuster Season To Predictable New Lows!

The Good: Special effects, Idris Elba is fine
The Bad: No real character development, Predictable plot, Lackluster acting.
The Basics: Perhaps summer’s least intellectually ambitious film, Pacific Rim is visually spectacular, but utterly mundane.

Every year, Summer Blockbuster Season produces a movie that might be conceptually weak, but preys upon the “money to burn” crowd. These films are usually big on special effects, low on character and the storylines might have an initially interesting premise, but they venture into predictable conflicts that are seldom compelling or possess a deeper meaning or theme. Last year, for example, there was a particularly low point when Battleship (reviewed here!) was released. This year, Guillermo Del Toro, who seems to be unfortunately committed to crap since Pan’s Labyrinth (reviewed here!) directs the would-be popcorn special effects movie of little substance with Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim is basically a Godzilla-style monster movie where the creatures are fought by giant robots (a la Voltron). While the movie is a live action film, not an animated work, it feels much like an anime. It is big on scope filled with monolithic characters and a concept that becomes less compelling and original as the film goes on. Instead, as one might predict, Pacific Rim simply degenerates into a special effects film focusing on giant creatures fighting. Given how humanoid some of the creatures – like the knife-headed creature in the opening sequence – are, Pacific Rim looks less like a cutting-edge summer movie in many points and more like a high-tech hokey recreation of something written by a high school student.

Yeears after a rift opens in the Pacific Ocean, unleashing giant alien Kaiju (depending on the creature, they look more reptilian or insectoid). The Kaiju lay waste to the coastal cities. The human response is to develop giant robots called Jaegers. The Jaegers are piloted by pairs of people and because they are essentially psychically tethered to one another to move the Jaegers, the developers have discovered that they are ideally operated by brothers. Raleigh and Yancy Becket are piloting a Jaeger together when the Kaiju manages to wreck their vessel resulting in Yancy’s death.

Stunned and adrift, Raleigh goes to work on the U.S.’s back-up plan to resisting the Kaiju, the Wall. Building a wall to keep out the Kaiju is not viewed as a realistic long-term strategy by Stacker Pentecost, who is coordinating the international effort to build a superior Jaeger. Pentecost taps Raleigh to be part of a team to occupy a new Jaeger that is designed to seal the interspatial fissure under the sea and stop the Kaiju once and for all. Backed by a scientific team that is developing more lethal ways combat Kaiju and a sense of purpose he has not had since his brother die, Raleigh steps up.

While the initial concept of aliens rising out from under the sea and humanity developing giant mechs to stop them is neither original nor inherently bad, Pacific Rim is pretty unremarkable. While it does not dangle obvious Romantic Subplot Bait (or characters around just for basic sex appeal, as in Battleship), the otherwise professional and intelligent Mako Mori is flustered by Raleigh when he is not wearing a shirt. This is a pretty ridiculous element added to the very “guy” Pacific Rim for no particular reason. I suppose for similar reasons, there is a dog included in the film to accompany the working class guys.

Pacific Rim might be the biggest (in scope) film directed by Guillermo Del Toro, but the battle sequences actually seem reminiscent of the types of combat (and reveals) already seen by Del Toro in his works like Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (reviewed here!). In fact, there is something unfortunately formulaic about Pacific Rim in the way it is structured. Mako Mori provides an excuse for a woman to the kick ass of the leading man, much like Selma Blair whacked around Ron Perlman (who is in Pacific Rim). John Hurt is replaced in the mentor role of stature with Idris Elba. Elba, more than the special effects, is the reason to watch Pacific Rim.

Idris Elba has a commanding screen presence that makes it seem entirely plausible that his character (Pentescost) would be coordinating the Jaeger attacks and the effort to seal the breach. Elba has serious eyes and when he delivers his inspirational speech, despite some of the wording there is a powerful use of tone and body language to convey the magnitude of the moment. Elba is exceptionally well-cast, though his resume is not so long yet that one feels they have seen this performance from him. Much more than Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh, Elba’s Pentecost dominates the film Pacific Rim.

As a film buff and one who generally enjoys It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Charlie Day is unfortunately cast and utilized as Dr. Geiszler, one of the scientists studying the Kaiju and refining the technology that mentally links the pilots in the Jaegers. While Day is initially fine as Dr. Geiszler, there are so many beats where it seems like he is just channeling Leland Orser and while I might be the only one who found that distracting, Orser could have just as easily been used. Ironically, the frequently manic Day is restrained in Pacific Rim enough to be a plausible scientist, while one of the physicists screams and runs around like a maniac.

Even Charlie Day’s Leland Orser impression makes more of an impact than either Hunnam or Rinko Kikuchi’s (Mori) performance. The two have very little onscreen chemistry and they are trumped for whatever acting talent they bring to the table by the scope and scale of the Jaeger special effects. When Del Toro cuts between the special effects sequences and the human actors, it only seems to accent how bland and small most of the performers are.

In the end, Pacific Rim is only what it appears to be: a big-budget summer special effects film that belabors the science in its science fiction story before mortgaging any cleverness or originality in favor of giant fight sequences that are much less than inspired.

For other works with Idris Elba, please check out my reviews of:
Thor: The Dark World
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
28 Weeks Later


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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