Dear Pacific Rim,

Expectation can be a terrible drug to come down from.

With only the tiniest bits of information and foreknowledge, one can allow oneself to be intoxicated by the rush of expectation that comes from approaching a new film, especially one with a dynamite premise from a beloved filmmaker (in this case, Guillermo del Toro). The mingling of the anticipation leading up to those first frames and the seemingly fulfilling opening moments can bring forth a kind of immeasurable joy, creating a wave of euphoria that, as the film goes on, crests, breaks, and then rolls back, taking with it the sediment of pleasure and leaving behind only the flinty bedrock of a single thought:

This is all there is.

This may seem an odd complaint to level against a film such as yourself, Pacific Rim. After all, your trailer and marketing promised two things – monsters and robots, and the epic battle between the two – and in that sense you delivered. During the course of your two hours there are indeed giant monsters, and giant robots, and we do get to see them engaged in city-flattening brawls.

So what is the problem? Why, if you gave me the only two things you told me I would get, did I feel so deflated and underwhelmed and disappointed upon leaving you?

Because, Pacific Rim, you could have done more, or at least done what little you did do better. It may not seem fair of me to allow my hopes for what you could have been to so greatly affect my estimation of what you are, but for God’s sakes, man, look at you! A mid-summer action film bursting with entertaining and capable character actors, ramped up with big-budget special effects, and helmed by one of the most inventive and heartfelt genre directors currently working. You should have been rare, you should have been bold, you should have been special. You should have been more than the dull, faint, repeating echo of your premise alone.

Blame the bulk of my unhappiness on Guillermo del Toro. From his intimate work in Pan’s Labyrinth to his bombastic romp through Hellboy and his mastery of tone in Mimic, del Toro has proven that he not only has an eye for stunning visuals in terms of creature design and aesthetic composition, but that he is also able to keep a firm handle on the human core of even his nonhuman characters. Yet your characters are stock and static, seemingly born with substandard action film clichés coded into their DNA. There is the hero with a tortured past, the plucky love interest with lots of book smarts but no practical experience, the brash rival, the stern commander, and the goofy lab techs.

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi ready for battle.

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi ready for battle.

These characters begin on a note, and continue to pound that note in the slight hope their monotone could be mistaken for character consistency. Their place in the narrative is delineated in bold exposition delivered in staggeringly firm declarative sentences that echo in the metal-hulled halls of various factories and hangars. The rival openly states his disdain for the hero; the hero openly states his interest in the girl; et cetera; et cetera. They feel things for no reason, but helpfully say their feelings aloud. The do things on a whim, and then helpfully explain not only their purpose in doing these things, but the outcome of the thing they did. Explanation takes the place of reason.

Maybe none of this would truly matter if you didn’t spend so much time trying to convince me that these were people worth caring about. Some characters get backstory filled in, some do not, but all of them have to have at least one meaningful conversation with another, thus stalling you from fulfilling even that meager promise with which you enticed us into the theater to begin with.

And what of that, the brutal brawling between bot and behemoth that we were all promised? These fights do occur, but somehow the intense showdowns lack any kind of excitement or reason. During the course of the film we are told that killing the monstrous Kaiju was so easy at first that it became a kind of propaganda, though to what ends we are never told. Yet each fight seems to begin with a sense of staggering ineptitude before the Jaeger pilots are finally able to pull out some kind of last minute gambit.

Weapons are conveniently forgotten about; blows are exchanged without having any noticeable effect. This could be forgiven if the fights had any kind of dynamism or intelligence to them, but they don’t. There is never any sense of the flow of the battle, of the tide turning, of the opponents engaging in a dance of death that will leave one of the felled. They are just two dumb foes brutally pummeling one another until the plot dictates that one of them die, at which point one of them dies.

And I can’t even begin to describe the way the visual choices of camera angle and shot composition rob the battles of any sense of meaningful scale for the most part.

So what is there to you, Pacific Rim? Flat, formless, and ultimately underdeveloped characters interacting through dialogue and pacing befitting the story a young child would make up for his parents on a long car ride. Joyless, banal actions scenes that don’t do enough to create a sense of awe, excitement, or even tension beyond the reptilian joy of watching to big things smash into one another as smaller and weaker things fall to pieces.

I suppose in some way this is what you promised, and this is what I got, so I ought not to be too hard on you. Yet I can’t help the fact that I expected more. I expected a refreshing and innovative and riveting experience. I expected the one-of-a-kind wonder that del Toro so often delivers on the screen. I expected the melding of horror and humor so singular to him, not the soulless and ultimately monotonous spectacle you actually delivered.

As I said, expectation can be a terrible drug to come down from, and so to anyone who might still be thinking of courting you, Pacific Rim, all I can say is this – keep those expectations low, or the crash is going to hurt more than the meager rush can justify.

Thinking of what might have been,

Brian J. Roan

10 comments on “Dear Pacific Rim,”

  1. Universalmike17 says:

    I expected more from Del Torro…a lot more.

    1. As did I. I’m afraid that’s going to be the reaction of a lot of people going into this.

      1. Universalmike17 says:

        I mean I’ll still watch it to have my own opinion…but the theater I go to sells tickets cheaper before a certain time. At least this way I won’t be too depressed about spending ten bucks on this.

  2. Ric says:

    Dammit man. say it isnt so! You take it back … right … god dammit! (Sigh) I just knew this would happen. It’s just Robot Jox all over again!

    1. Trust me, I’m not happy about this. Real Steel is a better alternative with better characters and action.

      1. Ric says:

        Okay maybe I will watch that instead! (sigh)

  3. adriano says:

    You know what this movie has that so many of them don’t have anymore? A sense of fun. Everything nowadays has to be brooding, dramatic or overly serious. This is the big budget power rangers movie I wanted as a kid. And to be excited, happy and walking out of the theater with a huge smile on my face gave me a sense of joy that I haven’t gotten from a movie in years. That is a sign of a great film to me, and gives me a more memorable experience than something like Terrence Malicks To The Wonder, which I saw beforehand and found to be hollow and made me feel nothing. And this is coming from the guy who holds Tree of Life on par with 2001: A Space Odyssey

    1. Ric says:

      I have to agree whole-heartedly Adriano! Its part of why I loved Star trek Into Darkness so much earlier this year as that film was so funny and poked so much fun at itself along with the serious stuff that it was impossible NOT to like!

      Seven Psychopaths was #1 for 2012 with me for just this very reason!

  4. Ilker Yücel says:

    I enjoyed this movie greatly.
    Yes, the characterization was simple and cookie-cutter, full of cliches and underdeveloped (and rather underplayed… or overplayed in the case of the two dopey scientists) archetypes of the quintessential “blood of heroes” gladiator style protagonists. Yes, the story was somewhat banal and just a little underdeveloped in some of the ideas that are thrown into the mix and then left to linger by the wayside…
    But let’s face it… this movie delivered on what it promised and I think the only reason people expected more was because it came from Guillermo del Toro. You have to remember that he is at heart a teenage geek who grew up loving Kaiju movies, Weird Tales, and probably saw every episode of The Twilight Zone five or six times before he was 20. He’s proven himself as a master of craft and storytelling… but in the end, he’s a big geek. This is the guy who gave us the Hellboy movies – hardly the pinnacle of intelligent storytelling or directorial genius.
    When you get right down to it, Pacific Rim is del Toro simply saying, “Hey, I love kaiju movies, and I love anime, and so I’m gonna make one.” And unlike the Wachowski bros. whose pseudo-intellectual quasi-philosophical bullshit-fest that is the Matrix trilogy (it’s no secret I don’t even like the first one) basically attempted to pass itself off as “real” films where the spectacle was pretending to serve the story but in the end overtook it… Pacific Rim makes no bones about it. The spectacle is what it’s all about, and so the story is just serviceable, just enough to justify and motivate the action and the effects.
    I get it – you want more from the story and the characters. We all do, and it would be nice if we could get a film that has both. But in the same way that Ric enjoys Avatar and Battleship, where the stories are so mundane and banal but reveling in the grandeur of its set pieces, so too does Pacific Rim offer up (as Ric and Adriano pointed out) that sense of pure fun.
    I also get that del Toro, having given us such gems as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, is capable of delivering that sort of film that can offer up the story as well as the spectacle without the quality of either being sacrificed. He could have given us a brilliant piece of cinema that would’ve changed the rules and upped the ante… but I think within the first minute of the film, it’s clear that it wasn’t the intention. From the moment you see the glossary explanations of the terms “kaiju” and “jaeger,” it’s a clear nod to the conventions of anime, a clear statement of what the film you’re about to see is going to offer you. Sit back, dial your brain back just a little, grab your popcorn, and enjoy.

    1. Ric says:

      I will as always keep this in mind when I finally do see the film.

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