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"Pacific Rim 3D" Review

The excitement of film nerds for Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim has been mounting for a year. Giant mech robots vs. Godzilla-esque monsters from the director of Hellboy? What could be better than that? This is your chance to revisit your childhood Monster Week on the Channel 7 4 o'clock Movie, right?

If only.

While reviews are time-stamped with the day and time I watched the movie (note: if I start watching something at 1 am, it gets listed as 11:55 pm the prior calendar day), I sometimes don't get around to writing the review for a while and in the 16 days ensuing my viewing of this film, which is opening the day I write this (July 18, over two full weeks later), I've witnessed some depths of crazy-talk and self-delusion that is rather depressing to witness. Everything from declarations that this is "the next Star Wars" to "Who cares if the story is cheesy? It's got robots fighting monsters! Pew pew pew!!" Everyone wants to love this movie so much that they're either blind to or apathetic of the simple, sad reality that it's a huge missed opportunity.

The trailer sets up the basics, so I'm going to skip to the first warning sign which comes after a lengthy Basil Exposition dissertation (a bunch of which is in the trailer) which sets up the world of Pacific Rim. When we're introduced to Charlie Hunnam and his brother suiting up to go to battle, his brother actual parrots Han Solo, saying, "That's great, kid. Don't get cocky." The dialog was clunking already, but this smacked of fan-fiction.

After his brother is killed in battle - you need your inciting incident according to Screenwriting 101 books - Hunnam spends five years hiding out as a construction worker in Alaska rather than carrying on the fight. That is until Idris Elba (with the ridiculous name of Stacker Pentecost - his folks must've been Folder and former Miss Shamwow Yomkippur - and an indeterminate accent) comes to guilt him into coming back to participate in humanity's last stand against the kaiju.

Here's where the dumbness really starts to manifest. As the kaijus have grown stronger, they've been beating the jaegers (the giant robots whose names mean "hunter" in German or that's what del Toro likes to drink; thank God he wasn't a Bud Lite fan) and so the governments of the world have decided building a 300-foot-tall wall along their coastlines and cowering behind it is better than trying to fight them. (No, really.)

With the world's four remaining jaegers - Hunnam's Gipsy Danger (that's not offensive to pickpockets at all), Australia's Maul Hogan, China's Foxconn Thunder, and Russia's Smirnov Punchikov (note: I've renamed the last three because) - bunkered in Hong Kong, the plan is to close the inter-dimensional rift on the Pacific Ocean floor with a big ol' nuke because when there's a problem with asteroids or comets, the Earth's core slowing or the sun dying out, or monsters from someplace else are attacking, the go to solution is always to blow it up real good with a big ol' nuke. As long as the monsters don't decide to attack someplace else, for example, THE ENTIRE PACIFIC RIM OTHER THAN HONG FREAKING KONG, the plan should work. Right?

But first comes the need for a co-pilot for Hunnam. You see, in another stupid idea, we're supposed to believe that these giant robots require so much brain power to control that one pilot couldn't manage without brain damage - except for the two guys who have done it, like Hunnam and one other whom you won't be surprised by - so two pilots have to be neurally-linked in a mind meld called the "drift" (catch it?) which allows them to see and feel each others memories and emotions and move in total synchronization except when they are independently flipping switches and giving verbal commands to the robots. That's right: The pilots are mentally linked to the machine, but can't just think, "PUNCH THE MONSTER! FIRE THE MISSILES!" They have to move around like they're in some sort of elliptical trainer-slash-Dance Dance Revolution machine. Huh? (I guess running these from a remote location was too intelligent, too?)

Let me interrupt myself for a moment to set my thesis for the rest of my criticism of Pacific Rim, namely that what kills this movie dead in the logic department is that screenwriters Travis Beacham (who typed the none-too-swift Clash of the Titans remake) and del Toro made of list of "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" moments and threw them on the screen without regard to whether they made any sense at all. You've been warned. The review continues in 3...2...

In order to find a new mental wingman who is "drift-compatible" Elba and his assistant Rinko Kikuchi (Oscar-nominee for Babel; she was the Japanese girl without panties) they have Hunnam stick-fighting a bunch of red shirts. None of them fit the bill, so over Elba's objections, because they have a Personal Connection Which We're Supposed To Be Too Stupid To Figure Out, Hunnam stick fights Rinko in the scene ripped-off from The Final Flight of the Osiris segment which opened The Animatrix. Of course, they are a perfect match and it's like a foreplay scene, because nudge-nudge. She also sees him with his shirt off, so you think there's a chance for romance in the End Times for these two?

Of course she has a Traumatic Past which leads to problems when first plugged into Hunnam's brain as she gets lost in a memory and almost kills everyone in the hanger and leads us to the spectacle of controllers unplugging computers to shut down the robot which would be like air traffic controllers switching off their monitors to prevent a collision between airliners. So dumb.

This leads to the greatest problem with this Drift nonsense: It is only used to dramatize a scene which normally would've been handled in a conversation, perhaps with a flashback. But that wouldn't have been cool! Remember the scene in Disclosure - the Michael Douglas-Demi Moore movie about sexual harassment - where Douglas uses a virtual reality rig to go into cyberspace to locate a file? Strip away all the CGI and what is the scene showing? A: Breaking into an office and going through a file cabinet. Not very exciting, but glitzing things up unnecessarily doesn't make it cool, just means you spent money on bling.

Then there's the issue of the other Jaeger teams. There is plenty of the macho dick-waving BS trope which undercuts the whole "We're the last line of defense to save the world" message. So shackled to the trope-by-numbers plotting which demands that the pilots disrespect each other before learning to grudgingly respect each other, then VICTORY!, that it's a tiresome grind. Not one plot point or line of dialog has spark or wit other than the explanation how Ron Perlman's character got his name. Wow. One whole line in two hours. Anyone who is surprised by anything in this movie has never seen a movie before.

The apologists for this sorry mess have trotted out the word "archetype" to excuse the flat formula. While Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces explicated the typical "hero's journey" as seen in everything from Star Wars on, what Pacific Rim does is take the familiar milestones and make them as dull, boring, stupid, incomprehensible, lazy and insulting to sentient life as possible.

I get that movies have formulas, but look at Real Steel, the smaller-scale robot fighting movie. Every single beat of that movie was also predictable, BUT it told its familiar story with flair, charm, warmth and winning performances. When the kid starts dancing around and Atom (the robot) mimics his moves and they decide to make it part of the act, it makes you smile because this is exactly what a kid with a robot would do! A skilled interpreter can make a familiar song or story seem fresh - anyone want to dispute that Johnny Cash stole "Hurt" from Nine Inch Nails? - and while Real Steel used the audience's familiarity with the form as a foundation to riff and razzle dazzle in the execution, Pacific Rim clanks like a rusty Dumpster at every turn. There's a difference between simple, simplistic, simple-minded and f*cking retarded and Pacific Rim manages to blow right through that last adjective.

Wait, I almost forgot the stupidest part! Charlie Day - whom I consider the poor man's Bobcat Goldthwait Jr. - appears as a kaiju scientist who is trying to discover what their plan is and what he does should obligate anyone who howled with outrage at the idea of a MacBook being able to interface with an alien spaceship in Independence Day to plant a virus to get up and walk out of the theater. Again, it's something put in because they mistakenly thought it'd be cool. It's not. It's ridiculous.

I know there's many who are taking the view of, "So what? It's kaijus fighting robots! Pew pew pew!" but that's the most annoying aspect about the post-release responses; the battles aren't that impressive. They're slow, ponderous, hidden by darkness and rain and ocean. Sure, there are a few cool moves, but that's like saying not everything in the meal caused food poisoning. When the awesome trailer money shot of the freighter being used as a club arrived, I didn't care because I was bored to death by the tedium.

If this review sounds more like a primal scream than a dispassionate analysis it's because I walked into the theater expecting to have my hair blown back and my inner child entertained and two hours later I was so disappointed - my girlfriend HATED it and she was as stoked as I was - and as I've watched people deluding themselves and misleading others that this is a fun time, my disappointment has turned into anger I haven't felt since The Dark Knight Reloaded took a kaiju-sized dump on Christopher Nolan's CV.

I realize that opinions are subjective, but in this case as with TDKR, that doesn't cut it: Those who like these movies are WRONG. Factually incorrect. Nerds are whoring themselves out so cheaply. They want to love it or love del Toro or something, but to give a pass to such a poorly scripted movie is to abandon standards for nothing. If you like this, you can never complain about Michael Bay or Paul W.S. Anderson again for their dumb flicks.

What's so depressing is that it didn't need to be this stupid. People are coming to see monster fights, so why not aspire to better storytelling? This is why the archetype defense is so feeble. Star Wars had the young man leaving up to battle evil, but it did so in a universe of evil Empire, scrappy Rebels, Jedi Knights, droids, monster bars, walking carpet co-pilots, a spunky princess, a charming rogue, and the muthaf*ckin' Force, yo! It was rich and detailed and has expanded into a broader universe for over 35 years. Pacific Rim has a three-armed robot piloted by triplets that you never get a good look at so the casting of real triplets is mooted.

In a featurette trying to explain the Drift, GDT spoke about how he thought it fascinating how figure skaters could dislike each other off the ice yet work in perfect sync while skating. Why didn't he explore that concept into the movie? Wouldn't it have been more interesting if Hunnam was a total chauvinist pig and Rinko was a lesbian and they hated each other, but were the best matches for drifting and thus had to work to save the world? That's just one little idea, which apparently there was no budget for ideas beyond kaiju feet that are never seen.

I could ramble on and on about other dumb things like the shot of the head of Gipsy Danger sliding hundreds of feet down a chute to mate with the body when it's never seen shown separated and makes no sense that it'd be detachable when it does hand-to-hand combat with kaijus. It's just something that they thought would look cool, logic be damned. Then there's the character who's been dying of radiation sickness for 15 years. Unreal.

If there's been a thread that's connected the disappointing movies of this summer, it's been timid, lazy writing undercutting the hundred million dollars in pixels pushed to make big noisy meaningless mayhem that is forgotten the moment it passes before the eyes. I've seen reviewers say there are images they'll be replaying in their minds forever from Pacific Rim and I wonder if it's the lapdance the studio provided or the flashbacks from inhaling aerosolized LSD for two hours in the theater?

The final insult from defenders is that sane people who can see the kaijus and jaegers have no clothes aren't "getting it" or "not the intended audience" or "are joyless dunces." No, I'm just not a cheap date who accepts any old crap and says thank you for it. It's almost certain that the all-Asian porno spoof - do I need to say the inevitable title? - will have more inspiration than the source material did.

Score: 5/10. Catch a matinee; 2D is fine.


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