Review: Pacific Rim Broke My Heart

Do me a favor: don’t read this review until Monday, okay? I would feel derelict in my duties if I didn’t review this movie on opening day, but honestly, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I still remember that feeling of anticipation I had. This was going to be so good, you guys! The non-remake, non-sequel, non-cartoon, non-comic book sci-fi movie event of the summer! The big, silly blockbuster that proved that blockbusters could be more than just reimaginings of existing crap, more than just slapping flames on toys we loved as kids! I loved that feeling! That feeling is worth more than any review, any worldly knowledge, more than your potentially wasted twelve bucks! DON’T BITE THE APPLE FROM THE TREE OF PACIFIC RIM KNOWLEDGE! STAY PURE AND INNOCENT AND HOPEFUL FOREVER IN A PRE-PACIFIC RIM VIEWERSHIP EDEN OF BLISSFUL IGNORANCE!

It was a beautiful pitch, wasn’t it? Alien Godzillas have risen from the ocean to invade Earth and the humans have built giant robots to punch them in the face. Stop right there, perfect. If I was a movie exec and Guillermo Del Toro had walked into my office with that pitch, I would’ve greenlit three sequels and given him all of the cocaines. I wanted desperately for this movie to be good. I wanted to be the good guy fighting for another good guy by writing a good review. But after having seen the movie, it never gets further than that: a pitch. It’s some brilliant concept art in search of a movie. It was like they’d only invented the thinnest of pretexts for why anything might be happening, and the characters caricatures standing around had to force the action along by screaming convoluted exposition at you. There was hardly a story, there was barely even cause and effect. Stuff just happened, seemingly at random, according to the split-second whims of the creator, and he’d have to hurriedly explain why, using his dopey prop characters like ventriloquist’s dummies. It was like watching a nerd play with his dolls for two hours.

In Max Landis’s Man of Steel rant, he said “I’m interested in movies where character drives story. Movies where story drives story don’t really interest me.”

I mostly agree with that statement, but I’m not an idiot, I didn’t go into this Robot Jox vs. Godzilla movie expecting a Merchant-Ivory film or some Reservoir Dogsian character drama. I promise, I wasn’t expecting Pacific Rim to be character driven. But I did need one actual character. One. One solitary human being about whom I could give even the wateriest of shits, or even a robot with some personality. Instead, I got a collection of shrill stereotypes straight out of a Michal Bay movie toplined by Maverick‘s profile.

It didn’t bug me that the characters were clichés, it bugged me that they were only the most crudely sketched clichés, where we were supposed to fill in the gaps ourselves, like trying to recreate George Clooney’s charm using only a paparazzi photo of him watering his plants. Since Guillermo Del Toro seems to want so desperately for his lead to be Maverick, let’s take Maverick for example. In Top Gun, Maverick was a brash young pilot who played by his own rules, which was a cliché even then, but even so, we at least got to know him – he had hopes, dreams, fears, a girlfriend, a cool motorcycle, some dudes he played gay volleyball with, and a favorite cereal. With Charlie Hunnam, who charmlessly plays Raleigh Becket, leader of Pacific Rim‘s silly name brigade, we get, like I said, a dating profile. A couple snapshots – here is with his shirt off, here he is being brash, a quote about “work hard, play hard” – his “personality” just a couple of hackneyed sentences offering only the vaguest sense that he’s the type of guy who might be in an action movie.

Not only that, but Pacific Rim is so sloppily made that Raleigh’s constantly reinforced brash cocksure-itude doesn’t even really seem to be a factor in whether he wins or loses his robot fights. Maverick was a cocky prick who made moves so bold that he was unpredictable and it gave him advantage over the enemy. Thus, there was a narrative reason for his characterization. In Pacific Rim, you’re never sure why the Jaegers win or lose. They just disobey whatever Idris Elba says, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad. Seriously, he’s like the worst military commander portrayed on film since Hitler in Downfall. Thus, Raleigh’s brashness serves no real purpose, it just feels like “Well, we did this because that’s what action movies are supposed to do.”