(Yes, spoilers for Pacific Rim inbound)
So, a few weeks ago, I saw Pacific Rim with my dad and my sister, after hearing all this hype about how awesome it was, how epic it was, how mind-blowingly awesome it was, how it might not be doing much in terms of high art, but it was just such a blast, you just have to see it!
I went in, saw it, and was left there in an eternal limbo, waiting for something interesting to happen with the damn movie. I was waiting for a compelling character to show up that I hadn’t seen in 500 other movies before. I was waiting for a surprising plot element to come about. And worst of all, I was left waiting for an interesting action scene, particularly an action scene where I could see what was happening.
…and it sometimes feels like I’m the only one that saw this bland, generic action film with a large special effects budget and about two brain cells shared between the writers of the film.
“But it’s just a dumb action movie! Just turn your brain off and enjoy it!”
That line above is one of the biggest bits of defense I’ve heard for Pacific Rim, and… no, I’m sorry, but that didn’t work for me. Now, part of that’s just me. I generally have trouble with “Turn your brain off and enjoy” films, my brain keeps wanting to latch onto plot elements that make no sense and pull me out of the film.
Part of it was that I went into the movie not knowing much about it beyond “Mechs vs Kaiju”, so I wasn’t immediately prepared for “Dumb action flick” like I was for the Expendables II, which I saw for the first time (and loved) on Netflix a few days later. I generally try to go into movies knowing as little about them as possible, because I like to be surprised by plot twists, and we all know how often movies get spoiled by their own promotional material.
But, part of it was Pacific Rim itself, because not only is the script dumb (…which I hope isn’t a controversial opinion), but it doesn’t hide the dumbness well. It doesn’t do enough to distract from the dumbness with quality, well placed action scenes.
Major Spoilers Inc.
The structure of the movie is basically thus (the numbers based on how they felt to me, might be more, might be less):
- 3 minutes of expository narration, describing the first part of the war, with brief snippits of action.
- HUGE ACTION SCENE (at night and in the rain, a pet peeve of mine, but you can see things okay)
- 2 minutes of expository narration about the latter part of the war, leading to modern day.
- 5-10 minutes of White-American-Hero in a stereotypical “Retired badass getting pulled back into the action” bit.
- 30 minutes of varying scenes about how Japanese-Love-Interest-And-Sidekick is clearly the best match for WAH and how Intimidating-And-Badass-Black-Leader won’t let her go into combat even though it’s obvious that she’s going to, interspersed with introducing the Chinese and Russian mech teams that get, oh, 5 lines of dialog all movie and are totally not Red Shirts who will die to show the situation’s serious, as well as the Australian-Jerk-Ass that definitely won’t die heroicly, as well as wacky-nerd-antics that make you wonder what happened to all the other scientists in the world that would be going gaga over the xenobiology and wormhole physics on display here
- After IABBL finally realizes the blindingly obvious about how he can’t very well have any of those unnamed characters assist WAH in the mech, 5-10 minutes of the first dry run that nearly kills everyone in the base because JLIAS has deep seated trauma that only WAH can help her with.
- 5-10 minutes of angst over the aftermath of the suicidally idiotic dry run, as well as a nerdy scientist doing science things to move the plot forward.
…and, after alllllll of that? We hit our second full action scene, where the two Red-Shirt mechs (hah, Russia and China are the RED shirts…) get their asses handed to them to prove the situation’s serious, then we get two more action scenes after that so the White-American-Hero and his sidekick (…who does nothing else the rest of the movie, I will note) can kill the monsters and prove they are badass…
But, yeah. That’s the problem I have with Pacific Rim. It takes an hour to get from Mech Fight 1 to Mech Fight 2… and Mech Fight 2 is all about killing off the two interesting looking teams, bringing us back to the bland characters I’ve seen countless other times.
This is what “Good Dumb Action Movies” do well: They distract you throughout the movie by throwing in more action scenes at fairly regular intervals.
Look at “The Avengers”, for example. It probably doesn’t count as dumb, but the intro has an exciting car chase, by the time Loki gets onto SHIELD’s base you’ve got three other actions beats tossed in to keep the tempo up. There’s a stretch of actionless scenes in there, which builds up to the first big action set-piece on the SHIELD base, and that quickly leads to the finale in New York, which is a huge action set-piece.
Giant Spiders, Dude
There’s a talk by Kevin Smith out there, where he goes on about his experience creating a script for a Superman movie, and having to do it under Jon Peters. One of the big things from this is, well, the Giant Spider bit that’s become something of a laughing stock, and for good reason… but the point Peters was making rings true to me.
What Peters was saying to Smith was that you need an action beat every ten pages. And while the way he was trying to fill that hole was idiotic, the principal, taken as a soft guideline, is a good one: Regular action beats can make an action movie better by not giving the audience time to think about any problems in the script.
Pacific Rim doesn’t have that. It tries to have two action beats in the slog that is the second act, but one of those is a spar between the two love interests, and the other is a flashback, and neither have any stakes, or involve what we were going to see: Mechs vs Kaiju.
So, sorry for the rambly thoughts. If you loved Pacific Rim, then more power to you. But don’t try telling me that I’m wrong for hating it a bit, because I just couldn’t stand sitting through it.