ROCKET PUNCH!!! Alan Reviews Pacific Rim
I went to see Pacific Rim earlier today, and I’ve just gotten back. I’ve been waiting to see this movie since I first heard about it, because among all the other big-budget, effects-heavy, sci-fi apocalypse movies that have been coming out since, oh, I wanna say Independence Day back in the nineties, PacRim seemed to be the only one that really had a pair of balls swinging between its legs, and the more and more I read about it, the more it seemed to have a brain between its ears. I don’t remember the last time I went to a movie with my expectations quite this high.
Did it meet my expectations? Well… that’s a simple question with a tricky answer. I’ll go into more after the jump (gosh, but I loved typing that phrase - I feel like a writer for io9 or Wired), but for now, I’ll say that I give Pacific Rim a solid B.
Hit the jump to hear why I didn’t give it an A (or even a B+), and what I think it could have done, pretty easily I think, to get an A+. Needless to say, spoilers ahoy.
What I Liked
There is a LOT about Pacific Rim that I loved. It is a hell of a lot of fun, it’s got a solid emotional core (even if its emotional compass is a bit skewed), it looks absolutely fucking fantastic, and it’s got a great theme that del Toro thankfully wasn’t afraid to put front and center.
Elbow Rocket Punch! Kaiju Alert! Thundercloud Formation!: PacRim is very self-aware in the sense that the people who made it knew full well that they were making a movie that couldn’t be taken too seriously. That doesn’t mean PacRim is simple, or dumb, or silly. It means that the people who come to see this movie are coming to see giant robots and giant monsters kicking the shit out of each other, while wrecking major cities into rubble. There’s more to PacRim than that, of course, but the movie never lets you forget that it’s a big stompy action flick, too, and those are supposed to be fun. In that spirit, PacRim isn’t afraid to dip into the somewhat risky pool of So-Ridiculous-It’s-Awesome.
There are moments where I was grinning like a little kid because what I was seeing on the screen was just so dang cool. The jaegers’ special attacks (and make no mistake, those are straight-up fighting game combo moves) are all awesome and unique to the look and feel of the jaegers and their pilots. The kaiju move with so much power and ferocity that they’re equally terrifying and endearing, and I don’t think anyone will walk out of the theater without having chosen their favorite kaiju (I gotta go with Leatherback, personally, though Knifehead is a close second). Speaking of which ,the names that things are given in the movie are a kind of kickass poetry unto themselves; the Shatterdome might be my favorite of these, but I love all the names given to the kaiju and the jaegers both.
Solid Titanium, No Alloys: The world-building in PacRim is intelligent, detailed, and aside from a few inconsistencies (see below), nearly seamless. I loved the almost-throwaway mentions of how the jaegers work and the effects the kaiju have had on humanity’s culture. My favorite bit of worldbuilding is the way humans have repurposed the kaiju’s corpses, both as bullshit trinkets (bone powder, for masculine potency!) and as really smart innovations (kaiju ammonia-heavy poops for fertilizing fields!), and the character of Hannibal Chau is exactly the sort of person who’d rise to the top of that black market industry. The little dust mite-looking parasites on the kaiju’s bodies are a really nice touch, and the suggested nature of their ammonia-based biology is really interesting. Also, I friggin’ love that the kaiju are rated on a Category scale, just like hurricanes. The connection made early on in the film between the monsters and natural disasters is both smart and cool.
On the jaeger side of things, Pentecost’s mention of how roughly-built the Mark I jaegers were is a smart bit of suggested storytelling, giving the audience an insight into just how desperate humanity must have been. The frequent mention of how the jaegers are made out of solid metals, with no alloys, gives the impression that the old ways of thinking about how to build things, as efficiently and cheaply as possible, has gone out the window when humanity is faced with complete destruction.
Everybody Into the Shelters! It’s a little thing, but I really like that you’re never forced to watch civilians die in this movie, and that the governments actually do take the time to put people into shelters. Yes, there is mention that not all the shelters are created equal, and that they’re not great places to be, but PacRim easily avoid the cynical, nihilistic destruction which, for example, kept me from even touching Man of Steel with a ten-foot pole after I heard about it.
We Do This Together: PacRim’s core theme is one about human connections, human relationships, and how those relationships make us stronger. A friendship, a brotherhood, or a marriage makes its members greater than the sum of their parts, which is a hell of a refreshing take on things, considering how many times action movies are all about the power of the isolated individual who can only rely on his or herself. This theme runs through the whole movie, and there is practically no scene that isn’t about how people come together, or how they do not. The plot bunny of the Drift is a pretty transparent way of talking about how when you really are connected to somebody, you bare your soul to them. I’m just fine with it being transparent - it’s an easy thing to forget sometimes, and it’s a thing not a lot of stories are willing to talk about with any depth or frequency. It’s this theme, and the movie’s handling of it, that is easily my favorite part of Pacific Rim.
What I Didn’t Like
The Math is Wrong!: As much as I loved the worldbuilding in PacRim, there are a few places where it cracks. The movie puts so much emphasis on how important a connection between two people is, in order for the Drift to work, but when Pentecost and Chuck Hansen are paired, that deep connection is waved away. Pentecost doesn’t let anybody get close, to be sure (“Number one, don’t ever touch me again. Number two, don’t ever touch me again”), but Chuck was still probably the most distant major player in the Shatterdome to Pentecost. Gottlieb or Newt would have made a better Drift-compatibilite pilot. Yet, Chuck and Pentecost seem to have little problem piloting Striker Eureka together. This maybe wouldn’t bother me so much if the Drift weren’t such a central part of the movie, both it’s plot and it’s theme, but it is central, so this hand-waving feels like a betrayal. This kept Pacific Rim from getting a B+, but it’s my second problem that kept it from getting an A- or an A.
More Mako, Please: From pretty much the first scene we see her in, I’m totally a member of the Mako Mori fan club. Rinko Kikuchi is a great expressive actress, and she can go from demure and cute to competent and badass, and is equally good at both. Which is why I’m sad that about halfway through the movie, even though she is on the camera and constantly being spoken and referred to, Mako’s character practically disappears whenever she’s in a jaeger (aside from the test scene when she nearly fires the plasma cannon in the docking bay). This is really damn annoying, because by her own admission, all she’s ever wanted to be was a pilot. This is her time to shine… so why is Charlie Hunnam’s hotshot American pilot Rayleigh Becket getting all the lines and all the close-ups when they’re in Gipsy Danger’s cockpit?
In this writer’s opinion, Pacific Rim is far more Mako’s story than it is Rayleigh’s. Not only is Kikuchi a far better and more interesting actor than Hunnam (to say nothing about Mana Ashida, who played young Mako in the scene where she’s chased through the streets by the kaiju in Japan), but Mako’s backstory and loss is far more heartbreaking, and her relationship with Idris Elba’s Marshall Pentecost is easily the strongest and most complex in a movie that’s all about the strength and complexity of relationships. There’s a lot to explore with Mako, and the movie had both the running time and the narrative space to do it in, but instead during the third act it focuses even more on Rayleigh, without actually making us care any more about Rayleigh than we already did. I didn’t mind Rayleigh’s character, but I loved Mako, and I wanted to see her really get to kick some ass. As it was, I think Mako got fridged, and that kinda pisses me off.
What I Would Have Done Different
Easy: I’d make Mako and Pentecost the main characters.
Do the opening exposition voiceover with Pentecost (I think we can all agree that while Hunnam has a nice voice, Elba has a far better one), and instead of starting with Rayleigh and Yancy fighting off the coast of Alaska, start with Pentecost and his co-pilot dropping into Tokyo (I presume it was Tokyo under attack, but I’m not sure if that was explicitly stated or not in the film), and fighting Onibaba (did I mention that I love the kaiju’s names?). We cut back and forth between Pentecost and his co-pilot fighting Onibaba, before the kaiju knocks the jaeger down, seemingly defeating it and killing Pentecost’s copilot. It then goes on a rampage, and then Mako’s memory scene plays out more or less like it did in the movie (the jaeger, of course, got back up because Pentecost is just such a badass).
The movie goes on, and we find Pentecost is now a Marshall, directing other jaeger pilots because he can no longer pilot his own, not without a co-pilot. We’d also see more of Mako’s jaeger expertise at work, maybe as the Shatterdome’s chief engineer (in the movie we are told that Mako is a jaeger expert, but I’m not sure we ever actually see this).
Rayleigh and Yancy, I think, can be merged with the characters of Chuck and Herc (they can both be Australian, or American, I’m not super picky either way), and made into side characters. I even think Rayleigh/Chuck and Mako’s romance could still be a part of the story, and might actually be strengthened by it not trying to be the central relationship. Pentecost’s fatherly feelings for Mako might extend to wanting her to keep her distance from Rayleigh/Chuck, and there’s potential drama there - any relationship between a father and a daughter is gonna have to live through the moment when the daughter falls in love.
Of course, the film’s events conspire so that Pentecost and Mako have to at least try to see if their bond is Drift compatible - humanity just can’t afford to let a functioning jaeger sit around when there are only a handful of them left. So, Pentecost and Mako try the drift… and it’s not Mako who loses control. It’s Pentecost.
Because this is when we find out that Pentecost’s co-pilot, when he fought Onibaba in Japan, was his daughter.
Now, Pentecost has to let that loss go, and open up to his adopted daughter, Mako, if the two of them are going to help save the world. Of course, they manage this, just in time to save Hong Kong from Leatherback and Otachi, not to mention saving Rayleigh/Chuck and Yancy/Herc.
The plan to nuke the dimensional throat goes through, but this time both jaegers survive - Rayleigh/Chuck and Yancy/Herc do their part, protecting Pentecost and Mako just long enough for them to smuggle the nuke into the alien dimension. This time, though, when Mako gets ejected, Pentecost stays to make sure the bomb goes off. Mako gets rescued on the surface by Rayleigh/Chuck, and even though Pentecost is gone (likely he would have been dead anyway - I still like the idea that Pentecost was dying slowly from radiation poisoning), Mako and Rayleigh/Chuck still have each other. Because, after all, one can have more than just one strong, powerful relationship in one’s life.
Anyway, that’s how I might have done it differently.
What did you guys think?