Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beautiful Destruction

I have been excited about seeing Pacific Rim since it was first announced, and after what has seemed like an endless wait I saw it yesterday.

The short review is that I loved it and it lived up to almost all of my high and unreasonable expectations. It is probably going to bomb at the box office and that's an injustice so I recommend that you go and see it.

It's not a perfect film -- this is the longer review now, by the way -- but my quibbles were few. The lead actors are a bit flat; they often are in action films but in Pacific Rim it's exacerbated by a bunch of supporting actors who have far more charisma. It's no accident that they put Idris Elba in the trailers.

I was also a bit disappointed that the climax of the film is almost identical to that of one of the biggest titles of last year. Pacific Rim has been in production for so long that the similarity was perhaps unavoidable, and it's not a bad climax, but it is a bit of a shame as the comparisons probably won't be in the newer film's favour.

That's it for the things I didn't like, and one of them isn't really a problem with the film itself.

Pacific Rim's greatest strength -- and alas, I think the source of most of the complaints from other reviewers -- is that it is not pretentious. The trailers promised giant robots punching giant monsters and that's just what the film delivers. It would be easy to get this wrong -- the recent Transformers films are an excellent example -- but Guillermo Del Toro and his team work hard to make this the best robots-punching-monsters film they can.

The characters are simple, yes, but they are believable, as a result of good use of archetypes. The awkward English scientist, the brash Australian, and the dour Russians are all action movie clichés but that's all they need to be to make the story work. You could add a bunch of wrinkles to them but they'd be just as unnecessary as they would have been in Aliens and if you're going to argue that Aliens is a bad action film then you're some kind of dangerous lunatic.

That said, a good action movie gets away with thin characterisation because the action sequences carry the film and that's true of Pacific Rim. Del Toro has always had a good eye for a combat sequence -- Blade II may have had its problems but the fights were spectacular -- and he brings that approach to the all important monster-punching bits, with excellent choreography and pacing; every fight has a twist or revelation that gives it a bit of a kick and transforms -- pun intended -- the battle. There were a handful of moments where I wanted to cheer at the audacity of what was happening on screen.

Also important is a sense of scale, something that both Cloverfield and the American Godzilla fumbled and Pacific Rim gets spot on. I have heard that the 3D version mucks this up, in effect growing the viewer to the size of the monsters and robots and robbing the film of some of its more striking visuals. I saw it in the more sensible format -- as Del Toro intended -- and it was gorgeous; the Hong Kong sequence is a particular highlight, all neon and lashing rain and titans battling in the middle of it all. There's an odd sort of elegance to the film, a sense of beautiful destruction.

The design work is excellent. The artists have taken a simple approach, resulting in clear, almost iconic shapes; each monster and robot has a clean and distinctive silhouette and I could draw a reasonable likeness of the larger members of the Pacific Rim cast from memory right now but I'd struggle to do the same with the spiky jumbles of the Transformers films, and those are characters I've been following for decades. I suppose one positive aspect of the film's potential failure is that the action figures will soon be heading for the clearance shelves and I can pick them all up for half price.

There have been some indifferent and even negative reviews of the film but I think those reviewers are perhaps looking for too much. Right from the start Pacific Rim set out what it was going to be about and more than lives up to that initial promise. It's a very honest film and I don't think it's been given enough credit for that honesty. Of course it's okay to want more from one's entertainment -- I have often been a critic of products that play it safe and in its own way the film does push boundaries, at least in the sense that no one in the West has made a film like it before -- but there's also something to be said for unpretentious quality and Pacific Rim has heaps of that. You might pooh-pooh the broad idea of a giant monster movie but you can't say that Pacific Rim isn't an excellent example of the genre.

Also, Kanye West liked it and if that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.


  1. I thought it actually did some pretty clever things. A lesser writer would have focused on the rise of the Kaiju and the birth of the Jaeger program (and in fact one reviewer complained that they did not do this) whereas what we got was considerably more interesting and quite a bit fresher.

    I thought the 3D was excellent, myself, and didn't feel that it robbed me of a sense of scale at all.

  2. Excellent review sir! I wonder if at least some portion of the naysayers are seeing the film in 3D, which I assume would muddle the thing up quite a bit?

  3. Ooh I might go and see this now. Sounds good! Thanks for the review.

  4. Very spot-on review! I loved it too!