Guest Movie Review: Pacific Rim

I mentioned earlier this week that I’d seen Pacific Rim and would be reviewing it soon. Well the day has arrived! But I actually saw the film with my agent, Joshua Bilmes. He also reviews movies on his blog, and so we agreed to do a review swap. My review is over there, where you can also find rock solid analysis of publishing trends, tennis games, and comic books. His review is right here, presented without further ado.

Pacific Rim Shots

I have grown very crotchety in recent years about same-old same-old Hollywood blockbusters, with the use and abuse of CGI, with overlong ending fight scenes void of emotional impact, about the destruction porn of having cities devastated and tens or hundreds of thousands of people killed where it isn’t earned and then doesn’t have appropriate consequence to the film or the characters.

And I liked Pacific Rim.  I liked it a lot.

And this is a movie I was surprised even to have seen.

Man of Steel?  That’s a movie I should have gone to, and yet the more I heard about it either from critics or friends or clients who have seen the less I wanted to see it, the more content I am with my decision not to.

Pacific Rim?  Reviewers said it was fun, that the effects weren’t overdone, that it was kind of enjoyable.  People in the office wanted to see it, clients wanted to see it, I found myself warming more and more.  So Bryce Moore and I had some free time, showtimes worked out, there we were, and I enjoyed myself.

There is no origin story, no pathos or bathos, no encrusted traditions or lore.  We get all we need to know in two lines of caption at the beginning and two minutes of exposition.  Big monsters came from the sea, destroyed cities, and we quickly built giant robots so big they needed two people to work them to fight the monsters.  If you are willing to enjoy that for what it is, it is there to be enjoyed.

You can’t have giant robots battling giant monsters without a giant effects budget, but this isn’t “real” fighting so CGI’ed that it seems fake.  This is clearly fake fighting that looks plausibly real enough.  Too modern to be an homage to Harryhausen, but maybe what Harryhausen would do if everyone else were using some gazillion dollar Pixar mainframe and he was working a Moore’s Law cycle or two behind.  A giant countdown clock is delightfully retro, with flipping numbers like an old clock radio or train station departure board.

Other aspects of the fight scenes worth commenting upon:  A lot of the fights were depicted as in very muddy lighting, where it wasn’t always easy to see what was happening.  Is that a fault, a charming throwback, cheaper pixels without bright light?  For all the fights, the total screen time devoted to them might have been less than any recent superhero movie with a never ending scene at the end, or at least it seemed that way because the film has an understanding of pacing.

The movie is never pornographic in its depiction of violence. In fact, considering that it is giant monsters vs giant robots it is downright modest.  Sydney Harbor is invaded and the monster passes behind the Opera House instead of stomping on it. Even though the robots and monsters would in “real life” be too big to do this, the movie often has them running along wide boulevard streets without destroying buildings as they go.  Oh, trust me, plenty of buildings are destroyed with gleeful abandon, but never gratuitously.  Compare this to the Star Trek movie which has a spaceship plowing through San Francisco destroying buildings and lives in its wake with no underlying story purpose or benefit.

It is easy to find fault win a movie like this.  The story is utter hokum. Maverick and Ice wouldn’t get lost in this one, they could come in just the way they are and feel at home. There aren’t a lot of star turns in the cast.  At around 2:10 the movie could clearly be a minute or two shorter. The male leads look so much alike that I couldn’t tell who was who if they weren’t talking. There are logic holes.

But a movie can be judged on its own terms, and Pacific Rim delivers a lot more relative to its intentions than a lot of other bloated Hollywood tentpoles I have stumbled across in recent years.

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