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Nivenus at the Desk: Pacific Rim

Illustration for article titled Nivenus at the Desk: Pacific Rim

So I saw Pacific Rim. Here's what I thought of it in several brief points, largely spoiler-free (though there are some spoilers at the very end).


Things I Liked

Let's start off with something that I definitely liked about the movie.

1) The characters. I was worried going into Pacific Rim that the movie's human element would be its weak point, considering that virtually none of the trailers had paid even the slightest attention to the pilots as human beings and instead focused solely on the action. Considering that the latter isn't really a big draw for me, this goes a long way to explain my relative lack of anticipation going in. Those fears were alleviated somewhat by the love for some of the movie's characters I'd seen from my friends who'd already watched the movie but that was itself counteracted by reviews I'd read which had explicitly described the characters as shallow and uninteresting. So it was definitely a concern of mine when the movie started.


My worries were, however, quickly dispensed with as soon as the film really started rolling. With the exception of a few duds, the entire cast is extremely likable, sympathetic, and pretty damn badass. Yes, they're largely recognizable archetypes with a few extra flairs to keep them distinctive, but film has never, ever been the best medium for writing deep characters - that honor belongs either to novels or television shows - and the characters are far more than is adequate for what the movie is (an earnest, big-hearted movie about people coming together to save the world). Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori may only have two or three layers of depth to them, but at least they're A) likeable and B) have clear hopes, fears, and motivations, which I'm sorry to say are all too rare in many of today's protagonists.

2) The soundtrack. Which is supremely badass. Seriously, a lot of people underestimate how important a soundtrack can be to setting the appropriate mood for a movie and increasing its enjoyment value. A good soundtrack can make a bad movie enjoyable and a bad one can make repeat viewings of even really good films dull. Pacific Rim is not a bad movie, but I probably wouldn't enjoy it quite as much if it weren't for Ramin Djawadi's rumbling metal soundtrack which somehow simultaneously manages to emulate rock and roll as well as the kind of symphonic orchestration you generally expect from a movie blockbuster. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised; Ramin Djawadi did compose the eminently listenable Iron Man soundtrack, but I know him best these days for his work on Game of Thrones, which is also excellent but decidedly different.


For this movie Djawadi leans somewhat upon his Iron Man style, but with some noticeable homages as well to the music of old kaiju film soundtracks, like those composed by Akira Ifukubue. The result is a rollicking, rumbling, and often triumphant soundscape that matches the film's action and drama at every point and turn. However you cut it, Djawadi elevates what was already a good film, so that you can't help but enjoy the ride.

3) The worldbuilding. It's really interesting to see the kind of detail and thought that Guillerm del Toro and Travis Beacham put into the world of Pacific Rim. I wouldn't go so far as to call it "realism" (there's quite a few points that defy credulity if you give them any serious consideration) but there's definitely something which is a lot more important than realism, which is verisimilitude (that is to say, the ability to suspend your disbelief by appearingbelievable). No, robots the size of skyscrapers aren't terribly practical, nor for that matter are the kaiju particularly realistic. Nor for that matter is the way in which the world reacts to the latter with the former necessarily realistic.


That all being said, however, there's real thought given to how all these things come together to form a milieu and to how, if you accept the concept of mechas vs. kaiju, that might actually look if transplanted onto our own society. From celebrity pilots to kaiju scavengers, from transitory and fragile world governments to embattered cities, there's a level of detail and thought put into the world that is utterly seductive.

4) The visuals. By "visuals" I mean a little bit more than mere SFX, though that's a large component of it. It also includes the costume design, the makeup, the lighting, as well as the cinematography. This, more than anything else, was something I knew would be good going in, because Guillermo del Toro is nothing if not a master of the visual arts put to screen. From Hellboy to Pan's Labyrinth each of his films have always been exceptionally beautiful, even when they were also very, very eerie (or downright scary). Pacific Rim is no exception and del Toro directs the labor of ILM to great effect in this movie, creating one of the most visually impressive movies in years.


Does it make sense that the Jaegers all look really different? No, not really. Does it matter? No, because they all look amazing. The same goes for the kaiju, of course, but the visual treats are not limited solely to the film's megafauna and war machines; the design of the pilot's armor (which I'm just going to call plugsuits for lack of a better term), the sets, and the characters themselves is similarly spellbinding.

5) The action. You might have expected me to put this first, but I'll tell you two reasons I didn't. First of all, the action isn't perfect; the last battle, for instance, is oddly absent of some of the tension that was so prevalent in the earlier fights. But more importantly, the action, while certainly important for an action movie still isn't as important as the first four points, because without even one of them, the movie would have been significantly less interesting. Indeed, my main worry going in was that the movie would just be a big kaiju vs. mecha fest, which is not enough to give me a satisfying movie theater experience.


That being said, the movie's action is really good. Like really, really, really good. For one thing, with the exception of that last battle I mentioned, there's an undercurrent of tension in the fight scenes which is so sadly lacking in most action scenes, which often seem to pile explosions, face punches, and roundkicks in with neither a sense of restraint nor any real idea of why people like action scenes.

I'm reminded of the battles in the most recent Star Trek film, where the villain's starship catches up to the Enterprise and bombards it with literally hundreds of torpedos and phaser beams. It was certainly explosive, but I felt nothing during the scene because A) I was never convinced that the Enterprise was ever in any real danger and B) there were so many projectiles flying through the screen that most of them lost any kind of real impact. Comparatively, the fights in Pacific Rim are much more interesting, since del Toro establishes very quickly that even the Jaegers are vulnerable and that any blow, if properly planted, could be the one that ends the fight. The Jaegers are slow and not particularly graceful, but you feel every punch they deal out as well as every one they take with shuddering gravity. Seriously, Hollywood, this is how you do action scenes. With the exception of that last one.


One Thing I Didn't Like

Now that we've covered what I liked about the movie, let's get into something that did bother me actually quite a bit.


The scientists. Strictly speaking, it was only Newton Geiszler that really rubbed me the wrong way, but even Hermann Gottlieb was really only likeable because of Burn Gorman. In particular, Geiszler annoyed me because he's a kind of scientist stereotype I find particularly (and often unintentionally) damaging, which is the "true believer scientist." This particular type of character embodies a scientist who, depite what everyone tells him and what all evidence points towards, steadfastly refuses to believe that he's incorrect and that the truth is out there and will one day vindicate him. It's a very romantic idea of science and one that appeals to our idea of the triumphant underdog, but it's also one that completely contradicts the underlying principles of science, which include critical thinking, empirical testability, and methodological skepticism, all of which are absent in Geiszler and some of which he outright mocks.

In contrast to the principles of scientific inquiry, Geiszler believes that he's right because - more or less - he really, really wants to be. Yes, there's some evidence that leans towards his particular hypothesis early on, but there's a much larger body of evidence that suggest that he isn't, which he outright dismisses. Instead, he says that "fortune favors the bold" and while the movie may agree with him, general scientific practice does not and a believe that it does is ultimately damaging to our culture's understanding of science.


Beyond that, he's just a really annoying character, who always thinks he knows better than everyone else, foolishly endangers the lives of other people, and generally acts like kind of self-involved twat. No, he isn't actually malevolent nor is he intentionally abrasive, but that's how he comes off regardless.

There's actually a few other things as well, but they're mostly nitpicks and besides which are pretty spoilery, so I'll leave them out. That being said, there was one thing that's neither really a straight positive or negative, but which I found somewhat interesting nonetheless...






For all the talk of Pacific Rim being a film that embodied "the world saving the world" and not just America, it was kind of funny how in the end the world was saved by one American (Anglophone), one Briton (Anglophone), one Australian (Anglophone), and one Japanese pilot (America's closest non-Anglophone ally), while the Russian and Chinese Jaegers were wiped out within minutes. Just saying is all.

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