Tag Archive: CGI


REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, & Nick Robinson
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, & Colin Trevorrow
Produced by Frank Marshall & Patrick Crowley
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography by John Schwartzman
Score by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Kevin Stitt

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Not pictured: Axl Rose shredding a mean guitar solo in front of an explosion

(WARNING: There are a few SPOILERS laced throughout this review. Watch your step!)

   Everybody loves Jurassic Park. Seriously, in all my years on this planet I haven’t met anyone who’s been like, “fuck that movie.” It’s pretty much universally regarded as a milestone in cinematic history, a game-changer which revolutionized special effects in popular filmmaking, revitalized dinosaurs in the mass public awareness, and also managed to spin a pretty damn exciting yarn all at once. 22 years after its release, I think it’s safe to say it’s now a classic in every sense of the word. Hell, it was once the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic came out in 1997 and knocked it off its diamond-encrusted pedestal. Sure, it has its flaws, but they’re mostly small technical things, and don’t weigh the entire film down as a whole. It’s a genuinely iconic, groundbreaking adventure film, intelligently crafted by one of the all-time great filmmakers (Steven Spielberg) and told with a genuine love & appreciation for the dinosaurs it depicts. It’s just a neat movie!

   As far as the sequels that followed…well, not so much. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was Spielberg’s attempt to pack more energy and more dinos into the mix, but it wound up being lackluster in the story/character department and treated the dinosaurs like common monsters. Despite all this, it was still pretty cool if you’re a 9 year-old, which I was when it was first released in 1997. Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, was a pretty forced effort on all fronts, with an oversimplified rescue plot which definitely paled in comparison to its predecessors, despite having some fairly decent sequences. That one came out in 2001, and all has been slow on the dinos-in-cinema front since then. Well, hold on to your butts, fellow meatbags, because the meat-eating meatasauruses are back for a FOURTH time with the newly-released Jurassic World!

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He’d probably score a lot of sick props rolling up to a club like that if his wingmen didn’t always brutally murder everyone on sight.

   So how does it fare against the stiff competition of its own predecessors? Well…not so well, I’m unhappy to report. Jurassic World, while trying its damndest to be on par with the first film and weave its own web of dino-riffic action, corporate intrigue, and cautionary man vs. nature sentiment, unfortunately falls flat on its face in its contrived construction & mixed-bag execution. It’s pretty disappointing, to say the least. The film was in development hell for more than a decade, and now that it’s finally here it seems like very little attention was paid to the story and character development aspect which made the first film so enjoyable to watch. It’s really a damn shame, because considering the amount of hype this movie has received over the past year, it’s kind of mind-boggling to me that they just decided to take the straight up B-movie route with it. But, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit on that front. First let’s get into the “meat” of this beast. (Oh god I’m so sorry about that.)

   Jurassic World, the reboot/sequel (or “requel”) of the Jurassic Park franchise, takes place some 20-odd years after the events of the original. By now, billionaire entrepreneur/dino-cloning enthusiast/depraved vorarephile John Hammond has passed on, leaving behind his multi-billion dollar genetics corporation InGen and no doubt millions of dollars in lawsuit fees. (Seriously, how the fuck is InGen still in existence after 3 movies worth of death & destruction?) In his stead, somebody got the ingenious idea to try out that whole “Jurassic Park” idea again, this time calling it “Jurassic World” and making sure nobody hires a fat, greedy, disgruntled guy named Dennis to run literally everything. And what do you know, it worked! Jurassic World turns into a flourishing, exciting, and highly profitable tourist destination, with people traveling from all over the globe to bear witness to the awesome power of dinosaurs reborn unto the world.

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She ate Shamu’s heart out.

   Well, at least for a little while. Taking a very cynical stance on the average human attention span, the movie states that people are no longer wowed by the prospect of seeing live dinosaurs like they once were, relating their jaw-dropping attractions to nothing more than “big elephants” in the eyes of the consumer. In an attempt to bring in more attendees/moola, the corporate bigwigs make the brilliant decision to genetically manufacture a big, scary & hopelessly intelligent hybrid dinosaur-monster. The creature is given the oh-so appropriate name of Indominus Rex, and is poised to frighten & bewilder the cash right out of the visitors’ pockets. Unfortunately, these corporate bigwigs don’t know they’re in a sci-fi/action B-movie, so the obvious & inevitable backfiring of such a boneheaded move are not immediately clear to them.

   With the dinos in play, it’s time to (unfortunately) bring in the human characters! Jurassic World’s park operations manager, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is an uptight, organized, and overtly business-minded lady who’s always focused on work. So focused, in fact, she doesn’t bother to spend time with her visiting nephews Zach and Gray (played by Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins, respectively) who are attending the park for the weekend and serving the role of mandatory children in a Jurassic Park movie. Meanwhile, the cool, laid-back but focused & stern ex-Navy man Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) is engaged in a relationship of “mutual respect” with a group of Velociraptors, training them to obey commands and interact with human beings without ripping them to shreds and feasting on their vital organs. If that sounds silly to you, don’t worry – that just means you’re still a sane & rational human being. Throw all of this into the mix with a ready-to-escape Indominus Rex and you’ve got the makings of a perfect B-movie!

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Owen takes a moment to imagine just how freakin’ sweet his new tooth necklace is going to be.

   So of course, everything goes wrong. The Indominus escapes, begins wreaking havoc all over the island, and it’s up to Owen & Claire to bring down the horrible beast before it starts ripping innocent park-goers limb from limb. And that’s it, pretty much. Seriously, the story is so straight-forward and simple that it’s almost a perfect example of Screenwriting 101 – a clear, concise monster movie plot which hits all the basic plot elements you need to create a solid, 2-hour creature feature. Vincent D’Onofrio also turns up as the InGen Head of Security, who is primarily interested in utilizing the trained Velociraptors as weapons for the military to use against its enemies. Big surprise there! Seriously, it’s a plot so contrived on clichés and familiarity that predicting what’s going to happen is not only inevitable, it’s almost invited.

   When I first saw the trailer for Jurassic World, I got a bad feeling in my pits – a movie about a super-intelligent, genetic hybrid dino-monster which breaks loose and starts wreaking havoc? Well that’s just about as horribly low-grade B-movie as you can get, man, no joke! “Are they really going to turn Jurassic Park into low-grade action schlock?” I thought to myself. And the filmmakers’ answer was, “YES, you silly bastard, of course we are!” And then I saw a clip of a “romantic” dialogue sequence between Chris Pratt & Bryce Dallas Howard a couple months ago, and I was almost dumbfounded at how laughably bad the dialogue and characterization was. Seriously, she pulls up to his little bungalow, and he’s outside working on his motorcycle. She tries to recruit him to check out the Indominus’s containment area, and he starts schmaltzing on about how uptight and rigid she was when they went out on a date, and she fires back about how he “showed up in board shorts” or some shit. Seriously, it’s like a scene out of a below-average romantic comedy! It was with these expectations in mind that I sat down in the theater to watch Jurassic World with, and lo & behold, those expectations were perfectly met. So in that regard, Jurassic World lived up to what I thought it was going to be…the problem is, those expectations are NOT the kind you want to have when going to see a big, fancy reboot of a beloved franchise with massive hype and anticipation.

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A frame from the scariest scene in the film.

   Things continue along on a predictable path – they try to isolate the Indominus in the closed-off section of the park, it keeps killing its way to the main area where all the tourists are, the kids sneak into a restricted area for mandatory endangerment reasons, the trained raptors are set loose in an attempt to bring down the Indominus, which fails, and so it goes. If I seem a little flippant about the story of this film, it’s because it seems like the last thing on the filmmakers’ minds was telling an original, creative story that tries to equal the gravity of the original. I get that this is basically a dinosaur movie for little kids, but the Jurassic Park franchise is 20+ years old – if you’re going to reboot something with this much cinematic creditability, you should definitely try to bridge the gap between the old and the new by offering something with a little more substance than the typical monster B-movie.

   The thing about the original Jurassic Park is that it was certainly NOT a B-movie. Sure, it had elements of your average monster movie, what with the giant creatures chasing and eating human characters and all, but Jurassic Park had so much more going on with it intellectually. Steven Spielberg went out of his way to portray the dinosaurs with respect, with specific attention to detail about how these creatures are animals, not big, dumb, lumbering beasts. They weren’t stalking and chasing you because they were evil, they were doing so because that’s just how they are. And what’s more, Jurassic Park actually had meaningful things to say about mankind playing God, and the drastic repercussions of meddling in places you shouldn’t be meddling in. The dialogue-heavy lunch sequence, in which all the main characters discuss the philosophical ramifications of what John Hammond is doing, is so well-written and thought-provoking that I can’t even believe it comes from the same franchise as Jurassic World. With the JP movies, we’ve seen a gradual dumbing-down of the material from movie to movie, going from a mature-yet-accessible discussion about scientific progress and its dangers in the first film, to generic running & screaming action schlock in the fourth one. Jurassic World tries to address these man vs. nature themes, but it’s handled so clumsily and on a pedestrian level that it pales poorly in comparison to the first film, which did it so much better.

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Raptor dance instruction: not as easy as it looks.

   Not only that, but the writing in the film is so stilted and on-the-nose that it’s staggering. Every time a character opened up their mouth to spout some obvious, overwritten dialogue I just wished I could watch the movie on mute and look at the amazing visuals being displayed. When D’Onofrio’s character was trying to convince Chris Pratt’s to weaponize the Velociraptors (a phrase I can’t believe I just typed), he goes on about how he once saved a 2 month-old wolf from dying and formed a bond with it. He talks about how his wife once tried to stab him with a steak knife, and how the wolf took a chunk out of her arm because of their bond. When he said that I was just like…What?! Where did that tidbit come from? How is that relevant? He just drops it like it’s no big deal, and Owen doesn’t even give it a second thought. D’Onofrio goes on and on about how war is a natural part of life, and how it’s part of nature’s pecking order, and yada yada yada so on and so forth. It’s a speech we’ve all heard a thousand times in a thousand different movies. Owen at least has the sense to ask “Do you even hear yourself when you talk,” which is a pretty smart question to ask, but I would have much rather heard him ask, “wait, WHY DID YOUR WIFE TRY TO STAB YOU WITH A STEAK KNIFE?!?!”

   There are other questionable choices made with the writing as well. Once again, the kids in the movie serve no purpose in the story other than to be Kids in Jeopardy, and get saved by Owen time & time again. The older sibling, Zach, is your average angst-ridden and apathetic teen, who’s constantly ogling anything female in front of him (except the dinosaurs, naturally) and the younger sibling has this weird obsession with numbers, for…some…reason. I guess they were trying to give them “quirks”, but literally nothing is done with these traits at any point in the movie. It doesn’t help the plot that Zach is a pervy ogler, and Gray’s number-obsession doesn’t assist them in some abstract, specific way. They’re just…there, and you’d better get used to it. At least in the original Jurassic Park, the kids actually served a functional purpose in the script, and their quirky traits were utilized appropriately. Lex, being a computer nerd (or “hacker”, as she preferred), was able to get all of Jurassic Park’s systems back online at a crucial point towards the end of the film. And Tim, while he was less useful than his sister, supplied dinosaur knowledge here and there and provided some occasional comic relief. You can argue about how unrealistic it is that Lex was able to get an entire theme park’s complex electrical systems back online with a few simple mouse clicks, but my point is, the kids in that movie actually served a PURPOSE – unlike World’s boring, angst-ridden youths.

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Wow, those kids sure are BALLS-y! Haha, right?? Eh? Eh? Yeah….I’ll stop now.

   There’s a cringe-inducing scene that really should have been cut in which Zach and Gray, while riding a tram in the park, begin discussing their parents’ presumed “divorce”, with Gray tearily worrying that their parents are going to split and the two brothers are going to be separated. Zach then blows off his little brother’s concerns by basically saying it’s no big deal and that “all of [his] friends’ parents are divorced so it doesn’t really matter.” The thing is, this conversation happens FOR NO REASON and serves 0 purpose in the overall movie. When we saw Zach & Gray’s parents earlier at the start of the film, they seemed perfectly fine! They lovingly wished their kids farewell at the airport, and even shared a few wisecracks with each other. Definitely nothing to make the audience think their marriage was on the rocks. Then, at the end of the film, their parents inexplicably show up AT Jurassic World to retrieve them (even though I’m pretty sure nobody would be ferrying people to the island after such a horrific, death-and-injury-inducing disaster), further solidifying the strength of their marriage and love of their children. The conversation comes completely out of nowhere and serves no overall purpose in the film, other than to shoehorn in some feels for the audience in a really cheap and obvious way.

   In fact, there are several moments in this film’s script in which plot elements are introduced and then never addressed again at any point. The biggest and most glaring one comes after the Indominus has escaped and the security team is dispatched to go find it and bring it down. They’re bumbling around in the woods, cautiously looking around, when they find that the monster tore out its own tracking device. Right after this happens, the foliage begins moving strangely and it’s revealed that it’s actually the Indominus, perfectly cloaked and ready to fuck shit up. As the poor infantry man puts it right before he becomes lunch, “IT CAN CAMOUFLAGE!!!” Ok, great! That’s a really cool trait for a dangerous monster to have, I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the rest of the film! But oh, wait…….they never use the camouflage again. For anything. Ever. It just happens in this one scene and is never featured again. Tell me, what the fuck was the point of introducing something SO COOL and then NEVER using again in the rest of the film?! A killer, intelligent dinosaur that can cloak and set up traps for dumb humans to stumble into? That’s like the perfect scary movie monster right there! But no, they’re just gonna use it for this one scene and that’s it. What’s the point of turning your movie into a schlocky B-movie monster flick if you’re not even going to fully deliver on those promises? Talk about a failure of imagination.

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Spoiler alert: he doesn’t move.

   There were seriously parts of this movie where I felt like I was watching one of those cheesy SyFy Network original movies. The big, climactic dinosaur fight at the end between Indominus and Tyrannosaurus was visually impressive, but ended in such a ridiculous fashion that I couldn’t help but think about Deep Blue Sea, or Sharknado, or any other random B-movie. It was pure exploitation, and nothing more. And hell, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s so far removed from what the original Jurassic Park was that I couldn’t help but feel let down by it. The movie went out of its way to show that the Indominus was evil – the fact it was killing for sport, the way it gets other dinos to turn on the humans – it got to a point where it stopped being a film about real creatures and it became just another monster movie, which is not what the Jurassic Park movies were originally about. I couldn’t help but think what Michael Crichton, author of the original Jurassic Park novel would have thought of this shit. Would he have approved? It’s hard to say, but even if he was still alive, Hollywood would have churned out this flick regardless of what he thought, so it might not even matter at the end of the day.

   I will say this – Jurassic World was VERY much fun to look at. The special effects are dazzling, and the CGI and practical effects are blended so seamlessly you can’t really tell which is which. I gotta hand it to ‘em, they REALLY sold the awesomeness of the park at the beginning of the movie. The realistic attraction design, the displays and interactive activities they had – it was all very effective and enticing. I found myself wishing I could actually go to that theme park, and check out all the attractions there. You can definitely tell they put A LOT of effort into making Jurassic World a visual extravaganza – and shit, who can blame them? It’s a movie about dinosaurs breaking loose and attacking people, you better damn well make sure it looks good! There are some neat dinosaur setpieces, the most notable of which is the sequence in which the Indominus smashes open the Aviary and frees all the flying dinosaurs, who proceed to attack and maul the panicking herds of consumers who only minutes ago were having the time of their lives. I love it! It’s just shame these visuals weren’t featured in a more intelligently written, thought-provoking story, or else the film would have been above and beyond the call.

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Real cool genetically modified mutant dinosaur hybrids don’t look at explosions.

   Despite my problems with the writing and the dialogue in the film, the movie was pretty well cast and acted for the most part. It’s a testament to Vincent D’Onofrio’s acting ability that his character didn’t come off as a generic evil caricature when he was delivering his clichéd, militaristic “make everything into a weapon” lines. He actually added a bit of warmth to his character, and even though he was your basic war-mongering antagonist, he never came off as unrealistic or over-the-top – unlike a similar character played by Hugh Jackman in this year’s Chappie, a movie so terrible I’m kind of bummed I didn’t write a review of it back when I saw it. I might get around to it eventually. Anyway, Chris Pratt fared extremely well as our hero Owen. I’ll say right now that I really enjoy Chris Pratt – he’s charismatic and likeable, and a natural fit for a leading man in big summer popcorn flicks like this. He killed in Guardians of the Galaxy, and despite his underwritten character whom we learn very little about in this film, he knocks it out of the park. If he’s careful with his role choices and doesn’t typecast himself as an “action movie hero guy”, he could have a very promising and rewarding career ahead of him. Faring not so well was Bryce Dallas Howard, whose perfomance came off as kind of forced in the movie. She seems a bit too nice to play an uptight killjoy, and she didn’t really bring anything special to her oh-so engaging character. A much colder, rigid actress would have been better for the role.

   By the way, heads up screenwriters – it’s 2015. Rigid, uptight spoilsport women are kind of a passe stereotype in movies now. After seeing the powerhouse writing and characterization of the women in Mad Max: Fury Road (another film this year which I should have reviewed), the portrayal of Claire’s character in this movie is downright archaic. Hell, the original Jurassic Park came out 22 years ago and it had a stronger, more realistic female lead than this turd. Remember Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler? Remember “Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth?” Yeah, compare THAT shit to this stereotype-laden farce. Can we stop portraying women as stuck-up bitches in movies now? And also stop having them fall in love with the loose, laid-back-yet-stern male stereotype? “Oh, it’s soo romantic because they’re soo different from each other!” Blecch. You couldn’t get more basic, stereotypical or clichéd than the “romance” between the two leads in this movie. There’s a very awkward moment in the movie where Claire saves Owen from an attacking pterosaur, and he just promptly grabs her and kisses her – even though there’s been very little setup for their romance before this. Like, yeah, they went on a date once, and there’s some definite sexual tension between them, but are they really at that point where he can just randomly grab her and start making out with her? I mean shit, maybe, this is a B-movie after all.

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Indominus gets into a heated yawning competition with some flying dinos; most just end up flying into its mouth.

   And in the end, that was my main problem with Jurassic World – it’s a dumbed-down, oversimplified shade of what the original film set out to be. There wasn’t any subtlety, or nuance with this film, just a bunch of blunt action setpieces for what the producers consider to be the dimwitted masses. And look, I know I’ve been really hard on Jurassic World up to this point, but I should clearly state that I was genuinely entertained while watching this movie. Yeah, I knew it was stupid while I was watching it, but it does a pretty good job of pulling you into its world and popping your eyes with some sweet dinosaur action. And on that level, it’s a success – Jurassic World is a really good action movie, and if that’s all you’re looking for, then more power to you, enjoy the film with all your heart. For me, being a lifelong fan of Jurassic Park since I was a little kid, and having seen the original so many times and falling in love with its craft and charm, this movie was a very strong let down for me. It was dumbed down to the point where it was insulting, explaining everything for the audience and not letting us come to any conclusions of our own. I know JP’s sequels got progressively stupider, but the whole point of these reboots is to recapture the magic of what made the first one so great, right? Well…apparently not, I guess.

   Overall, Jurassic World is a harmless film, but it really could have been so much more. It failed to connect with me on a deeper emotional level, and for that I have to fault it, even though I was genuinely entertained by its effects and spectacle. It was predictable and clichéd with blunt, on-the-nose writing and one-dimensional characterization. I really have no desire to watch it again, at least not for a long while. It was well-made enough, but what I was really craving was a genuine story, which makes me feel sort of silly now that I know it was not trying to deliver that in the slightest. Really, this franchise is all about spectacle now, and I’ll just have to accept that from here on out. At least if more sequels come, I’ll have my expectations tempered to match their standards, and it won’t be such a disappointing experience for me. But man, the potential here was certainly wasted. Oh well. I’d like to say I can hold on to a little sliver of hope, and comfort myself with that familiar Ian Malcom adage: “Life will find a way”. Unfortunately, in Jurassic World’s case, it’s not life which finds a way…it’s dollar signs.

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM

PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky & Ron Perlman
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Guillermo del Toro & Mary Parent
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
Music by Ramin Djawadi
Edited by Peter Amundson & John Gilroy

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The Blood-Bot rapidly approaches the unsuspecting Crip-Bot, and the age-old struggle continues to perpetuate itself.

   The big-budget summer blockbuster, as you’re probably well aware, has been a staple of American cinema for decades now. Designed to enthrall the senses of the casual moviegoer during the slow, hot & sticky months of the middle of the year, summer blockbusters as a rule typically feature extravagant amounts of style over any sort of substance. Obviously, the best summer blockbusters are the ones which manage to feature plenty of both – movies like The Matrix, or Jurassic Park, or The Dark Knight for example, offer enough action to wow the escapist thrill-seeker residing in all of us while simultaneously providing enough clever dramatic embellishments to stimulate the muscle up in our head-parts. Nowadays, the average summer blockbuster tips a liiiiittle bit too much in the “more thrills, less brains” side of the scale. Okay let’s be real here, a LOT too much. I mostly blame the Transformers movies for this disturbing trend, although to be completely fair, there’ve always been those summer films which err more to the dumb side – that’s just the way it goes. (Although I could definitely argue that it’s just gotten EXTREMELY out of hand in recent years.) But you gotta admit, older blockbuster films at least tried to tell a cinematically pleasing story, with semi-developed characters and rationally legible plots that focused on wit and charm instead of explosions and…explosions. They were movies which understood that it was important to not only excite the audience with super-cool movie wizardry, but to emotionally connect with us as well; to actually engage the casual movie-goer in the film, and be a part of its world.

   Pacific Rim, the new film from the truly talented and visionary director Guillermo del Toro, is a film which tries to reconnect the audience to the magic and spectacle only the best summer blockbusters can provide. And for the most part, it succeeds – particularly in the spectacle aspect of things. Del Toro specifically aims to recapture the kind of wonder a 10 year-old boy would experience when seeing a movie like Godzilla for the first time, essentially trying to turn everyone in the audience into a kid again. And dammit, I give him mad props for even attempting to create something which could be considered quaint in this modern age of cynical cash-grab cinema. With the love of old school creature features and classic action blockbusters in his heart, del Toro has crafted a film which truly demonstrates how epic summer blockbusters ought to be handled. HOWEVER – despite the truly wonderful and patented visual marvels del Toro cooks up in this flick, Pacific Rim unfortunately weighs a tad too heavy on the “style” side of the scale – leaving little substance to be had for anyone looking for something a bit deeper than the average action battle flick.

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Mako looks nervous to ask, but Raleigh, an experienced Jaeger pilot, already knows the answer: yes, you can in fact go in your suit.

   On one hand, Pacific Rim is a cinema lover’s dream come true. For one thing, it’s actually an original idea, not something adapted from a comic book or TV show or some other kind of pre-established intellectual property – HALLELUJAH!!!! It boasts some of the most incredible visuals you’ve EVER seen, truly stunning battle sequences which excite and dazzle, and much needed moments of levity and heart which modern movies like Man of Steel are sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, it begins to slip into standard boneheaded action movie territory. It features such wonderful tropes as underdeveloped characters, clichéd and stilted dialogue, average performances which border on being too grating to sit through – basically it falters with anything actually involving actual human beings delivering dialogue and trying to emote. This of course is a HUGE detriment to a film which is trying to conjure up some semblance of human community and connection while simultaneously trying to astound our senses. For this reason, I found Pacific Rim to be a little disappointing – especially coming from a director with a track record as estimable as del Toro’s.

   BUT, it’s not all bad! Truthfully, I had a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim. As a summer blockbuster, it is leaps and bounds more accomplished and repeat viewing-worthy than most of the dreck thrown up on theater screens these days. I was looking forward to this film quite a bit, and I’m just a little sad about the fact my expectations were slightly let down – but not so much that I wouldn’t recommend the film to anyone, or give it a terrible review. I guess I just expected more out of the man who gave us a film as nuanced and layered as Pan’s Labyrinth – a truly engaging cinematic dream. Pacific Rim features precisely 0 nuance and subtlety – it’s like being beaten over the head with a schmaltzy brick and being hazily entranced by the pretty stars you see. It’s pretty, but your brain doesn’t get much out of it. But of course, this brings up the argument (one I’m still having with myself, actually) about del Toro’s intentions with this flick – has he purposely created something short on brains and high on action to remind us how pointlessly fun action movies can be? Is this all part of his grand design? I’ll elaborate more on this intriguing notion in a little bit – but first, let’s talk about the story.

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Things got a lot more peaceful when they finally realized the kaiju just wanted someone to help with its really bad toothache.

   Pacific Rim is basically your standard otaku (basically the Japanese synonym for “geek”) film, a movie about giant monsters which utterly decimate large cityscapes, seemingly just for the fun of it. It’s also a mecha film, sporting the biggest and baddest robots this side of Voltron. Del Toro is himself an otaku for these genres of film, and decided to combine the two into the most ass-kickingest sci-fi smash ‘em up in cinema history. SWEET! In the not-so-distant future, an inter-dimensional portal has opened up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, out of which gigantic horrible creatures are ejected that level cities whole and kill tens of thousands of people easily. After being thoroughly ravaged enough times by these beasts, mankind decides to cut the bullshit and put aside their differences to construct a new weapon to wage war with these creatures, very appropriately referred to as kaijus (Japanese for “big ass motherfucking monsters”). These new weapons are equally gigantic robots known as Jaegers (German for “hunter”) which require two human pilots to operate. Apparently, the strain of being mentally linked to a gigantic robot suit is too much for one human to handle, so a duo of mentally-connected humans must share the load to effectively beat monster ass together. This mental connection process is known as “Drifting”. One you’ve Drifted with someone, you essentially know everything there is to know about them – their hopes, dreams, fears, secrets, memories, etc. The Jaeger project begins to turn the tide against the kaiju, and for a while humanity can once again rest easy knowing that we can finally assert ourselves against these inter-dimensional assholes. Over time, however, the kaiju begin to adapt and grow stronger against our defenses, and Jaegers start getting defeated left and right. Cue the entrance of our main character, Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy), a Jaeger operator alongside his brother Yancy. Together they pilot the Gipsy Danger, a pretty badass looking Jaeger that thwomps with the best of them. However, at the start of the film the Gipsy Danger is overpowered by a wily kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed in action. Raleigh manages to survive the encounter but is heavily traumatized by the ordeal (he was still mind-linked to his bro at the moment of his death…not pleasant), so he spends the next 5 years helping construct a “Wall of Hope” being built to keep the kaiju out. Since the Jaegers are no longer as effective at defending humanity as they once were, the powers that be decide to discontinue the program and send the last remaining Jaegers to defend the wall until its completion.

   In charge of the operation is Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), your standard tough-as-nails, no-nonsense type of commander dude. Pentecost coaxes Raleigh back into service, as one of the last remaining Jaegers is Raleigh’s old mecha Gipsy Danger, completely rebuilt and refurbished since his last time in the cockpit. Joining this ragtag defense group is Mako Mori (played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s second in command, and a quirky and eccentric kaiju-studying scientist named Dr. Newton Geizler (hilariously portrayed by Charlie Day, of TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, oddly enough). Mako wants to co-pilot one of the Jaegers but Pentecost won’t let her, and Geizler wants to try and Drift with a still-active kaiju brain but Pentecost won’t let him. (Pentecost is kind of a dick.) Mako and Raleigh quickly form a bond, and Raleigh pressures Pentecost to let her be his co-pilot. Meanwhile, Raleigh gets bullied by some asshole from another Jaeger crew and Geizler Drifts with a kaiju brain against Pentecost’s wishes. Then, some badass fights happen and the plot continues on in a fairly straightforward manner.

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The kaiju, seeing the Sydney Opera House, finally locates a suitable looking mate while the horrified crowd looks on.

   The #1 problem with Pacific Rim is that the plot basically exists as an excuse to showcase kickass kaiju/Jaeger fights, and nothing else. It chugs along at a nice pace, but there’s this hollow feeling to all the intermediate scenes between battle sequences. You sort of get the feeling that way too much emphasis was put on the battles, and not enough on the rest of the movie. Plus, there are a few glaring logical problems in the flick. Throughout the entire thing, I kept watching robots punching the kaijus to no avail, and I kept thinking to myself Man, why don’t they just give these robots a giant sword or something? A big weapon would deeefinitely help, and then at one critical point in a battle towards the end, they actually activated a sword in the Gipsy Danger and killed the kaiju they were fighting in one blow! I was just like “for real? You couldn’t have just slashed him to pieces with that giant sword 10 minutes ago?” And then after they do that, they continue to use the sword until the end of the movie. What is up with that? Oh and hey, let’s not forget about completely convenient plot developments, either. The relationship between Mako and Raleigh seems almost forced out of necessity to the plot – they meet each other and just happen to be instantaneous Drift mates. Curiously, Raleigh happens to be completely fluent in Japanese seemingly out of nowhere and can understand Mako when she first speaks it to Pentecost. This is a little out of place when you consider earlier in the film, Raleigh stated that he and his brother weren’t really great in school, or anything else for that matter – they’re just really good at fighting, so they were a perfect match for Jaeger piloting. Then suddenly Raleigh just seems to know Japanese for some reason. I dunno about you, but that just seems extraordinarily convenient and out of character to me. And characters suddenly being able to do things they logically shouldn’t is something that really shouldn’t be present in a film of this supposed caliber.

   The #2 problem with Pacific Rim is that all the characters are extremely one-dimensional. Raleigh is a strong-willed hero-type with a troubled past. Pentecost is a stern, hard-nosed leader who is stubborn and authoritative. Mako is a determined and qualified yet underestimated fighter who just wants a shot. Geizler is a weird, eccentric comedy relief character who knows exactly what must be done to defeat the kaiju. I wish I could go into more detail regarding these characters but that’s literally it – there’s nowhere else to develop these characters, no deeper connection to be had. They’re all just cardboard cutouts being wielded around to further along the plot until the action scenes arrive. By far the worst character in the entire film is Raleigh’s half-assed rival – he basically exists because the script needs an asshole dude to create a sense of conflict. In the first scene they meet, this bully (his name is Chuck and he’s played by Robert Kazinsky) basically says to Raleigh “I don’t like you. I think you’re dead weight. Stay out of my way, buddy!” for…no real reason whatsoever. This kind of half-hearted antagonism is supposed to create a sense of tension for our main character, but it’s so obliviously one-dimensional and forced that it almost feels banal. Later in the film, these two characters inevitably gain respect for each other and proceed to work together in the final mission…much to no one’s surprise. I read that del Toro did this to illustrate how even though humans can be fighting, arguing assholes, at the end of the day you might just have to go into battle with the very same asshole you were fighting with, and at that point your petty beef doesn’t have a point anymore. This is a very admirable theme to have and I appreciate him trying to pull it off, but quite frankly it’s so blunt, simple and predictable that it ends up feeling contrived.

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Every now and then they like to let the Jaegers go out for a nice, relaxing dip…fully supervised, of course, those things are pretty damn expensive.

   I’m disappointed with Pacific Rim because even though its special effects are wonderful and genuinely engaging, the human aspect of the story is severely lacking – and what’s worse, it’s trying to pass itself off as a human story. The reason this is so troubling is because I just know del Toro is a stronger storyteller than this, and this sort of problem just feels like it shouldn’t be there. I mean, I get the feeling this movie is actively trying to be a stronger, more engaging film than most of its contemporaries, yet it experiences much of the very same problems that plague them. This is sort of why I’m almost willing to give del Toro the benefit of the doubt and say that this one-dimensionality and hokey storytelling is actually what he was going for – like he is trying to sort of capture that cheesy, gung-ho feeling of adventure that a lot of older B-movies tend to have. I mean, let’s face it – this is a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a movie for 13-year-old boys, and little kids in general. Del Toro has explicitly stated that he wanted to introduce the kaiju/mecha genres to a new generation of children, and based on THAT level alone, Pacific Rim succeeds with flying colors. Despite the lack of enriching, developed characters, the movie is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. You won’t be able to believe your eyes when you watch the battles in this movie – they look incredible and pump the Action Receptors of your brain up to the maximum! Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, this movie isn’t really about deeper human connections – it’s about punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a silly and overblown premise, and the production values and performances are silly and overblown in return. So I guess under those stipulations, Pacific Rim is absolutely perfect – it hits the mindless action notes perfectly and with extreme style.

   Although, on the other hand, the movie goes out of its way to show these people making intimate connections and working together to overcome a horrifying obstacle. It’s trying to tell a human story. And when you start looking at the movie from the perspective of an adult moviegoer, not a little kid, it starts to fall apart at the seams a little bit. Sure, it’s a movie for little kids, but I mean…I was excited to see it, as I’m sure a lot of self-respecting adult moviegoers were. This movie is blunt, loud, and oversimplified – just like the vast majority of summer blockbusters coming out in 2013. In a way, Pacific Rim is falling right into the same pitfalls as the very blockbusters it’s trying to outdo – and that is a very real and contradictory problem for it. On a spectacle level, it’s unparalleled – but on a basic film level, it’s just not up to par with some of the more nuanced, detail-oriented action movies I’ve seen and loved in the past. This movie didn’t have to be underwritten or simplified – it could have been deep and resonant with rich characters and deeper themes that appeal to a mature audience. Instead, it’s got blunt, stiff dialogue that seems like it was written for people who aren’t able to understand what’s happening easily. It was just really hard for me to identify with the characters in this one – during the climax of the movie, I was honestly a little bit bored because I didn’t really care about any of the people, even though I knew what the stakes were. By that time I was so bogged down by the clichés and hokey writing that I didn’t even care if the humans would win (which I knew would happen, because duh). There’s a scene in this movie where Pentecost delivers a pre-battle speech, and it feels like it was ripped out of Independence Day so bad that after he delivers the highly quotable line “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” I turned to my friend Frances in the theater and whispered, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” It was just one of those moments that you’ve seen in countless movies before, and the movie is full of them. Clichés with a side of more clichés, if you will.

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Alright, did somebody set off a Jaeger bomb in here? (I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry I just had to. Oh God please forgive me.)

   Before I close up I just want to state that I didn’t dislike Pacific Rim in any major or debilitating way. In fact, you could say I enjoyed this movie a hell of a lot more than I disliked it – I was just disappointed by several aspects of its overall execution and I wanted to adequately express them with this review. I also loved several aspects of this movie, which I’ll go into now. For one, it somehow manages to be HUGELY entertaining despite its many script flaws. There were a few boring parts, but even during things that didn’t make sense I was still going along for the ride and anticipating where it was going next. Also, despite what I said about the characters, the writing and some of the performances, a few people in this flick shine and are worth mentioning favorably. Idris Elba handles his one-dimensional role quite eloquently, and imbues it with a proper authoritative sheen that is highly believable. He was definitely the right man for the job. Also, I particularly enjoyed Charlie Day’s performance as the eccentric Dr. Geizler – he was actually my favorite character in the whole film. Charlie Day’s just a really funny guy, and seeing him be funny and wild in this serious action flick was a nice break from all the melodrama happening everywhere. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but there was another scientist character played by Burn Gorman who was sort of the serious-toned foil to Day’s character, and the two of them had excellent comedic chemistry together. Out of all the humans in the movie, they were definitely the highlights. Del Toro regular Ron Perlman also makes an appearance as Hannibal Chau, a black marketer who sells kaiju body parts for various practical purposes…like curing erectile dysfunction, for instance. No, really. Perlman stood out as one of the more memorable characters of the film, even though he was handled a little shakily. He was still a lot of fun, though!

  There are a lot of things to appreciate in Pacific Rim. The action sequences are astounding, the tone of the movie is solid and enjoyable, and it’s a lot of fun at times. But at other times it can be a hokey, overly simplified cliché factory that makes it a little difficult to adequately connect with the characters on a true emotional level. It’s not a perfect movie in the slightest, but I will say that it is incredibly imaginative and filmed with 100% honest devotion by its director, Guillermo del Toro. If they work out the kinks in the armor and add a little bit of depth to the story and characters, I’d be very interested in checking out a sequel to this flick in the future. I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s looking to have a fun time at the movies, and also don’t mind a little dumb mixed in with their action. With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro at least attempts to valiantly remind us of the glory days of the Hollywood blockbuster, and just for that effort alone, I’m willing to give him and his entertaining yet flawed film some much deserved kudos. And shiiiit, at least it plays a hell of a lot better than Man of Steel. Yeeeesh!