Friday, December 27, 2013

Pacific Rimshot

SPOILER ALERT. As in, if you liked it and don't want that spoiled for you, you shouldn't read this. Also, I have lots of plot spoilers. Finally, I didn't even try to be funny here; if anything, this movie left me angry.

I'm finally getting around to posting this because so many people seems to think Pacific Rim was a good movie, and it wasn't. Rotten Tomatoes reviews gave it a healthy 72%/78% rating. Howard Tayler said it cleared his "threshold of awesome".

I put it in the same category as the Transformers movies; it's better if it's on mute.

Conclusion: It was fun once, but I won't be paying for the Blu-Ray. I could watch the action sequences again, but not the rest of the movie.

The premise was interesting and fun. Large aliens build a wormhole to the bottom of the Pacific ocean, and send marauders (Kaiju) through periodically. Humans built Jaegers (giant robots) to defend themselves against the Kaiju.

The fight scenes were very cool. The first one was only okay, but starting in the middle of the movie they were really good. In the final fight, there were a few moments where I got really excited because I found myself hoping they would do something specific because of how cool it would be, and they actually did it!

Closing credits images were amazing. They showed the Jaegers from the movie, but in shiny, crisp CGI. So cool.

First, let's agree that the reason to like the movie is because of the monsters, the robots, and the fight scenes. To win over their fans, they didn't have to deliver a Tom Hanks dramatic performance or an Aaron Sorkin script; they just had to have a plot that wasn't Swiss cheese, actors that aren't so bad that they constantly remind you that you're watching a movie, have cool robots, and have cool fights. While I enjoyed the fights, I still think they failed in a big way at three of these four goals.

The first fight scenes were mediocre at best. They were clearly saving their best for later, so I won't hold it against them, but I also won't be re-watching those fight scenes ever, because they were boring.

Now, I'm going to criticize the robots, but I'm not even going to argue that if you have the technology capable of building these robots, you could deploy it as different weapons that would be more effective against the Kaiju; let's ignore that entirely. The Jaegers were very, very stupidly designed for the fighting techniques they used. Punching was the primary attack, so name one reason you would not design your machine with short, retractable Wolverine-style blades, or better yet with a bolt pistol (used to stun animals before they're slaughtered) that is triggered by contact. Anyone? No, they only added a (very time-consuming) rocket booster to the elbow so they could punch harder (and less frequently) once.

Seriously, this is a huge drawback for me, since it seemed like over 50% of the blows delivered were basic punches at various angles. This tells me one of two things. They either unintentionally designed the machines badly, which is unforgivable given the audience expectations mentioned above, OR they intentionally made them less effective so the fight sequences could be longer, which tells me they're crappy writers who do things because the plot requires it. Or both.

Next, the plot and script, while not expected to be good, were so bad that they frequently jolted me out of my movie-viewing experience.

Issue #1. They decided to shut down the giant robot program because they felt building a giant wall around THE ENTIRE PACIFIC OCEAN was a better idea. The first time it was tested, the kaiju breached the wall within *an hour*. So, you thought giant monsters capable of destroying giant killer robots would be incapable of climbing or knocking down a wall? That's what the best and the brightest came up with? This incredibly idiotic decision is what the writers used to ensure there were only 4 robots remaining for the final battle. Without all applicable world leaders agreeing on this there would have been more robots available, and the final battle would have been easy. They did it this way because the plot required it. And when characters make decisions because the plot requires it, you've failed as a writer.

Issue #2. Frequently, characters kept secrets from each other, not because the characters would have kept those secrets, but rather because the writers needed them to keep secrets in order to maintain suspense and have big reveals.

The first unnecessarily kept secret that was also a major plot point was when Pentecost refused to tell Raleigh why Mako couldn't be his co-pilot. He reiterates this restriction multiple times, and refuses to tell him why every time. Raleigh has already established himself as a bit of a loose cannon, so if he were behaving in character, he would have said "I've found my co-pilot. If you can't give me a good reason why Mako can't be my co-pilot then you're going to be looking for two pilots instead of one." Instead his reaction was basically "I'll happily be paired up with somebody incompetent because I suddenly respect you and believe you must have a good reason why I can't be paired with the only qualified person here."

Then Pentecost gives in the next day without an iota of explanation and makes Mako Raleigh's co-pilot. You can't make it such a big issue for Raleigh, and then never explain it to him. Or to me. I still don't understand it. Was Pentecost being overprotective and thinking of Mako like a daughter (flashbacks would be the only evidence supporting that), or did he think she was too volatile to drift with because of her terrible past (see below)? Major plot points with insufficient explanation are a sign of incompetent story-telling.

Second big plot point with an unnecessarily kept secret: Chuck Hansen (the son of the father-son duo) storms into the hangar minutes before the final fight, angry that he doesn't know who his co-pilot is going to be. Then the big reveal (with a hero-shot and everything) is that Pentecost is going to be his co-pilot. Keep it a secret from everybody else if you want, but don't keep it a secret from the pilot. The writers wanted this big reveal, and the way they chose to do it was to make something illogical happen.

Issue #3. I'm just going to start listing things that are stupid, or done badly.

The scene where Mako and Raleigh first drift together, they do so in the head of a fully active robot. Mako gets trapped inside terrifying memories, and nearly fires the plasma cannon at the entire scientific staff. Very tense. Except that they should never have been in the machine. If drift compatibility is so hard to come by, wouldn't they absolutely, certainly, with no question, have a separate chamber for pilots to work out the kinks of drift compatibility prior to putting them in a live robot?

If Pentecost's reason for keeping Mako from being Raleigh's co-pilot was that he feared whether her memories would take over during the drift, then couldn't they just drift a few times to work out the kinks?

In the wormhole, Raleigh needs to overload the nuclear reactor. Ask yourself, in action movies requiring the detonation of a bomb to save the day, what technical issue has been completely over-done? If you said "something goes wrong and the bomb has to be triggered manually, likely sacrificing the life of either the hero or the protagonist", you'd be right. You'd also be a Pacific Rim scriptwriter. I actually rolled my eyes and almost turned off the movie when he received the "Manual Activation Required" error.

Shortly thereafter, mission control concludes that either Mako or Raleigh (I can't remember any more) is dead, explicitly stating that the only way (s)he could be alive is if the life sensors were malfunctioning. Which they were. Of course. Conflict presented and resolved in 30 seconds, because it was totally unnecessary.

Idris Elba (Pentecost) is a real dramatic actor. So how do you justify his last words being "I'll always be here for you. You can always find me in the drift"? Is he invoking an inconsistent and heretofore unexplained principle about drifting that anybody who dies while drifting has their mind detached and floating around somewhere out there? Or is it just a really corny line?

The two doctors were both caricatures, not characters.

Both doctors had pet theories about the kaiju. Both ended up being right. Neither one makes sense. One determined a way to calculate how frequently kaiju would come through the Breach, but that was never explained, so I'm going to go ahead and assume the writers don't have an explanation for it. The other determined that it was possible to engage a mental drift with the aliens, and did so in order to obtain information that saved the planet. One question: How on earth were they drift-compatible?

Ron Perlman getting eaten was really stupid and meaningless. He died while mouthing off about how of course he knew the monster couldn't have had the necessary lung capacity to survive, whereas there was nothing to imply that he would have known that, so it was immediately apparent that this dialogue existed for no other reason than as a setup for him to get eaten. Stupid and contrived. However, even dumber was that he was still alive and completely unharmed. The first bite was a *bite*. He was pierced by teeth. He would have bled out long before the first easter egg in the closing credits.

In conclusion, they did the big things wrong, and they did the little things very wrong. This is a terrible movie.