Thursday, July 18, 2013

Film Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Godzilla & Co.: the earliest form of Muppet?
I'm not going to waste a lot time rubbishing Pacific Rim, so here goes: the robot vs. monster action is dull and repetitive; the creatures all look the same; based on their skill, the actors, with the exception of Idris Elba, appear to have been recruited from infomercials; the dialogue is so flat and humorless it was probably generated by a Scriptbot3000; and director Guillermo del Toro's visual flair has gone AWOL. Pacific Rim reaches a new low in soulless, generic, and flavorless CGI summer blockbusters.

It is interesting, however, that a film so thunderingly bad and tedious has managed to avoid being booed out of the multiplexes. A variety of otherwise intelligent people I follow on Twitter have praised it, or at least enjoyed it, and the film has a 71% "fresh" rating on I think the reason for the film's generally warm reception is that it finds itself at the intersection where nostalgia, fan boy enthusiasm and critical fatigue meet.

There probably isn't a person alive who doesn't enjoy old Japanese monster movies. Whether you're nine or ninety, the sight of foam and rubber monsters kicking over artfully constructed Japanese cities, or engaging in two-fisted smackdowns with each other is always entertaining. These were movies intended for kids, but their energy, comic seriousness, and low-tech visual creativity earned them an adult audience as well. Pacific Rim is meant to be a modern, updated take on this genre, and a lot of reviewers, casual and professional, mention this without bothering to point out that Pacific Rim simply drains the goofy charm out of the genre and replaces it with assembly line acting, directing and effects. Their glowing reviews say more about their warm and fuzzy memories of films like Godzilla vs King Gidorah than they do the merits of del Toro's Mechaturkey.

The fan boy/girl dynamic at the SF/fantasy end of the filmmaking spectrum now has a cult-like quality. For these people any film that appears in their chosen genre is ipso facto a good film. Attach one of their favourite actors, directors or screenwriters to the film and they respond with the enthusiasm of a crowd in St. Peter's Square greeting a new pope. Read and you get a clear picture of the undiscriminating love fans have for whatever is new and shiny in their field. Some reviewers, one senses, mute their criticisms of films like these because they're afraid of coming off as curmudgeonly or of not being "aware" of what's being referenced or paid homage to. And I suspect critical fans within the genre don't want to be called heretics.

Critical fatigue is something I'm very familiar with. Many years ago I earned my crust doing script analyses for various film and TV companies. Over the course of five or six years I must have read over 400 scripts and treatments. The vast majority were vapid, derivative or incompetent, some even as bad as Pacific Rim. The problem with having to read so many crap scripts is that when an OK one comes along the tendency is to overreact and praise it to the skies. A slightly good script reads like Citizen Kane after you've read several dozen clunkers. The same applies to film critics. When you're being served up a steady Hollywood diet of films like Hansel and Gretel, Jack the Giant Killer and Pacific Rim, you begin to praise qualities in these films that aren't actually there. When critics say nice things about Pacific Rim they're actually talking about elements in the film that remind them of their affection for the SF genre in general and giant monster movies in particular.

I'll close with a radical idea: why not make an old school Japanese-style monster movie that has a guy in a rubber monster suit? No CGI. This isn't an idle question since there's evidently yet another reboot of Godzilla in the works. The argument that audiences wouldn't sit still for something so...artisanal, doesn't really hold water. Tim Burton and Aardman Animations both produce new old-fashioned stop motion animation films that audiences have no problem embracing. Admit it: wouldn't you rather watch Godzilla tripping over styrofoam skyscrapers and grappling with a King Gidorah swinging erratically overhead on barely concealed wires? I'd even watch something like that in 3D.


Dan O. said...

Not perfect in any way, but still a bunch of fun if you're willing to accept monsters and robots brawling for over 2 hours. Good review Cary.

vwstieber said...

I am not ashamed to admit it: I enjoyed it for the very reason that it sits squarely at the "intersection where nostalgia, fan boy enthusiasm and critical fatigue meet" (my brain was tired going in). In fact, I was so prepared for something supremely gawdawful, that I felt rewarded when my very low expectations were far exceeded, (proving every word you wrote). I turned off my brain and stuck my fingers in my ears for the last 30 minutes because it was way too loud at the IMAX. Basically this was a very expensive SyFy channel movie with 3 minutes of GdT's talent applied. And you know what? It's perfectly OK.

As for modern man-in-suit movies: give me GODZILLA FINAL WARS any day! The Ebirah vs Mutants battle alone is worth the price of admission. Yes, I'd watch that kind of film at the theater.

Cary Watson said...

Glad you enjoyed the review. I'm very willing to accept robots and monsters brawling, only these robots and monsters didn't do it for me.

Cary Watson said...

You hit the nail on the head when you said 3 minutes of GdT's talent. I just don't exactly know where those 3 minutes are.