We Watched “Pacific Rim”

“With the Jaegers, you’re seeing a literary device of all the will of humanity fighting against the apocalypse. And it’s a big-ass robot.”

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Kevin: So, I think we all liked Pacific Rim enough that we don’t need to just go on about how great it is, so I thought we’d try something different today. I’m going to read some quotes from the lowest review scores on Metacritic, and we can talk about those.

Darryl: Sure.

Kevin: Okay, New York Daily News: “Laudable as its world building is, the film drags not just in its interminable middle hour, but also during the redundant monster on mecha warrior smack downs.”

Nick: Honestly, what movie did that guy think he was going to see?

Kevin: It’s literally a movie about huge robots fighting giant monsters, right? You watch the trailer, and it’s like, this is the movie you’re going to see. And it totally delivers on exactly that concept.

Jane: I actually thought that all the interesting parts of the movie couldn’t be captured in the trailer, so you were getting that movie and more.

Kevin: What parts specifically?

Jane: Well, the world building was pretty complete, and even the concept of neurodrifting. Those were some of my favorite things, which you can’t explain in a trailer.

Kevin: And it really committed to those things, right? It doesn’t really make any sense that there have to be two people in a Jaeger. But they don’t even try to drill down on that, they’re just like, “this is the way it is.” I think that’s what works so well about the movie. And this is an inherent problem with disaster movies and monster movies: you have to make the end of the world very human. Roland Emmerich movies do this the worst. There’s always a scene when they’re introducing the disaster where there’s some guy in his car and he’s looking at a photo of his family and then he gets killed by an asteroid or gets stepped on by Godzilla. That’s all you see of that guy. It’s such a cheap, stupid way to show the scale of something. Pacific Rim did not do that. It made the disaster human by having well-written characters and contriving these silly ways of building their relationships while they’re in giant robots.

Nick: Yeah, and when you make robots with mirrored human motions, that’s the way to scale humans up to the size of the disaster, rather than zeroing in human elements within something bigger. So with the Jaegers, you’re seeing a literary device of all the will of humanity fighting against the apocalypse. And it’s a big-ass robot.

Kevin: It’s symbolic, and awesome.

Nick: And you’re right, Jane, the whole neurodrifting thing filled the whole middle of the movie really well, kind of bridging the gap between the major action scenes at the beginning of the movie and then in Hong Kong. You can wonder why someone like Guillermo del Toro would make a movie like this, but when you see how much work that clever bit of writing can do, you get it.

Kevin: What’s great is that there’s only three action scenes in this movie, and not only are they each distinct and interesting, they all mean something different. The first action scene introduces what this world is and what the stakes are. The middle one is the good action scene.

Nick: That’s the payoff.

Kevin: Right, and the last one is the emotional payoff, and it works really well as that. It’s very short for a final action scene, but we care more about it than any of the others.

Jane: The middle action scene is also the longest, but it feels longer than it actually is because of the way it’s paced. Del Toro did a really interesting thing by making an over two-hour movie that doesn’t feel long at all. The “slow parts” and the action scenes are kind of inverted, in terms of your attention span, so it moves really well.

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Kevin: That actually leads into our next review. This one’s by Rex Reed of the New York Observer.

Nick: The football coach?

Kevin: That would be great, but no. Basically, he’s the biggest troll of movie criticism.

Jane: I don’t like his stuff.

Kevin: Nobody likes him. So, let me read this. “An hour and 20 minutes into this 2 hour 11 minute endurance test, a hungry Kaiju attacks the city of Hong Kong and eats the neon sign of every Cantonese restaurant in Victoria Harbor. It’s sort of worth waiting around for.”

Jane: Okaaaaay…

Kevin: What does that even mean?

Jane: I guess he hates this world so much…

Kevin: It also seems a little racist, what he’s saying. Nothing overt, but it feels racist.

Jane: Yeah, it is. I guess that’s one of the critiques of the movie; they had a lot of international characters but the ones who really got to talk were still mostly white.

Nick: I agree with that critique. Also, can I just say, we do not need fucking bland-as-shit white male main characters anymore.

Jane: Seriously.

Nick: I mean, for fuck’s sake. After the movie, I was like, “is that the same guy from Tron Legacy?” because they’re both movies with absolute personality black holes in the lead, and I don’t know why. He wasn’t even in the marketing. This movie is about monsters and robots, so you can do a cool, interesting main character. It doesn’t have to be this fucking idiot.

Kevin: The funny thing is that I think all of the acting in the movie is really good except the lead, Charlie Hunnam.

Jane: So bad.

Kevin: So, so terrible. I think he was the one major failure of this movie.

Nick: Yeah, and also they didn’t need to have the other white team be the only team with lines, y’know. That was a little egregious.

Kevin: I did kind of like the father/son dynamic. I wasn’t totally against it.

Nick: Couldn’t be a Chinese father and son?

Kevin: I love the Chinese Jaeger with three pilots. It literally makes no sense. “They’re triplets, they have three arms.” They should have six arms!

Nick: What was the name of the three arm technique? I can’t remember… the Get Fucking Killed Immediately technique?

Darryl: And the Russian’s robot is like the largest, clunkiest robot, but also the most powerful, and the Chinese one is the most elegant robot. The gymnast of robots.

Jane: I love the introduction to the robots. I love scenes in sci-fi films where they have to somehow work in the explanation of the world, so I loved Charlie Day’s character as a vehicle to explain everything while he’s also marveling at it.

Nick: Yeah, it does that good infodump thing where he’s discovering stuff along with the audience, rather than just telling you things.

Kevin: Okay onto the next quote. This is from Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “If this is the best we can do in terms of movies, if something like this can speak to the soul of audiences, maybe we should just turn over the camera and equipment to the alien dinosaurs and see what they come up with.”

Jane: Who are they hiring? These writers are so bad. It just makes no sense.

Kevin: He must be complaining about the character development. Which is limited, but it does very well for the limited time it has. This is a movie that had to be made for an international audience. Blatantly. Internationally, movies have to do everything. They have to have action, drama, comedy, and romance. Pacific Rim balances all of those things very well.

Darryl: It makes me think of a classically structured play. Like, each major robot sequence is the end of its act. You could make a comparison to a Shakespeare play, in that there’s only one character who has a lot of development, which would be Stacker Pentecost, and all the others are there for flavor and color. At any given time, the audience isn’t saturated by any particular thread. It’s not going to be like The Tree of Life where you have eight really deep characters, or however many. In that sense, you’ll find better parallels to movies made in the ’40s or ’50s.

Kevin: It’s interesting because Idris Elba isn’t the main character, but he’s the central character.

Darryl: He’s the protagonist in that he’s the one pushing the action forward.

Jane: He even says, at one point, like, “I need to be the still point.” His delivery was so good. It speaks to him as a character, but he had the best dialogue.

Kevin: He knows how to ham things up. Can we agree that “we are canceling the apocalypse” is the stupidest thing ever written? But he totally sells it.

Nick: Right, and this movie is very popular online, but I think the only two lines I’ve seen people having fun with on Twitter were that one and the “rule number one, don’t touch me” one. Those might be the only two really memorable lines in the movie, and it’s no coincidence they’re his.

Darryl: “Not Gipsy Danger, she’s analog.”

Kevin: That’s the one line that Charlie Hunnam delivers well because he looks like he’s about to crack up as he says it.

Nick: It helps that he’s such a clueless actor saying such a clueless line.

Darryl: Then the computer voice guides them through the whole fight.

Nick: Did the filmmakers know how silly that was, that line? They had to.

Jane: Everyone in my theater laughed.

Darryl: Mine too.

Kevin: It’s a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jane: At all.

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Kevin: That’s the problem with Transformers, right? It takes itself way too seriously. Pacific Rim does everything well that those movies do badly. Michael Bay’s definition of an escalating action scene is: the explosions get bigger. But that’s not how it works; you just have to keep caring more and more about the outcome of the scene, and that’s what Pacific Rim does well.

Nick: A lot of big-scale action scenes these days involve an overly detailed giant alien smooshing into a building. That’s supposed to impress us. There are no stakes, and you don’t understand why anything’s happening. But the way that Pacific Rim‘s fights are just well choreographed martial arts means that there’s a really good cause and effect that makes you care about all the destruction. You have a visceral reaction to seeing a human figure being thrown into a bridge, and it’s also amazing spectacle.

Jane: And with the neurodrifting, I kept thinking a lot about telepathy, sympathy, and empathy while watching the characters. There were fight scenes where I had to take a moment because I was cringing at the destruction that was happening. I really cared about the Jaegers. There was a lot of emotional investment in the fights, and that’s pretty amazing.

Kevin: And every time they throw a punch, they show the people in the Jaegers doing the same thing.

Jane: Wait, did you guys see the movie in 3D?

Kevin: No.

Darryl: Nick and I did.

Jane: How was that?

Darryl: Good. They didn’t have things flying out of the screen for no reason.

Jane: I ask because there’s this dance film called Pina that’s also shot in 3D, which I thought of while watching Pacific Rim. Dance films are really emotional, and there’s a visceral spike when you watch a really good one. It’s like the fight scenes; both are choreographed body-based movement, and that can be very immediate when shown in 3D. And I don’t think either movie would work as well on your computer.

Kevin: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to watch it on my laptop.

Nick: I mean, the screen in a movie theater literally towers over you, much in the way a Kaiju would. You can see why it’s such an interesting genre for someone who’s interested in cinema to explore. The physical form of what’s happening mirrors the subject matter.

Darryl: One of the most interesting shots for me was the opening one where you see your first Kaiju smashing through the Golden Gate Bridge. I was thinking of all the other scenes of that bridge getting destroyed that I’ve seen, and it’s always a big aerial spectacle. But in Pacific Rim, you’re right behind a car looking up at it. It’s a good way of getting you thinking about the scale of it. I was thinking about it because I had just driven over the Skagit bridge a few weeks before, the one that collapsed later. I could have been on a bridge that collapsed, and that shot captured the sheer terror better than some helicopter shot could have.

Jane: When you see a film about a city being destroyed, do you always think about like, “there are actually people in there”?

Nick: Yes. Like, I loved the new Star Trek, but something that completely pissed me off about it was how they just crashed a huge spaceship into a city and killed like 100,000 people. It was one shot, and no one really cares or mentions it.

Jane: I wonder if that’s exceptional to this movie because they made it so clear that they wanted to kill as few people as possible from the start.

Kevin: Yeah, when they saved the boat.

Jane: Exactly.

Darryl: Yeah, there’s no one in the cars on the bridge, and there’s no one in the office when the fist goes through it.

Nick: It even makes sense in the world because when we get there, the Kaiju have been attacking for a while, so everyone would know the evacuation plans and stuff.

Kevin: Alright, we should start wrapping up. Any closing thoughts?

Jane: Can I talk about emotions? Not mine though.

Kevin: Sure.

Jane: I mean, there were a lot of regressive things about this film. I love del Toro, and he’s so creative, I loved the monsters. But there was a lot of macho-ness going on, like that fight over apologizing to the girl. I don’t know if that was necessary. It was just a dick-waving exchange. Also, the film itself was really emotional but most of the characters were pretty flat. So, it was emotional more on a technological level than a human level. But it makes sense because the whole thing about neurodrifting is that you achieve a really strong connection with someone else via an actual machine. And a robot is the most inanimate person-like thing I can think of. But it still bothers me that the woman was too emotional to win a battle. That was the takeaway.

Kevin: And the dude’s like, “Mako, stay with me.”

Jane: Right!

Kevin: Charlie Hunnam, you are the fucking worst.