Posts Tagged Pacific Rim

Godzilla (2014): Good, but Needs Less Hollywood

Yes, spoilers inc for the latest Godzilla.

So, I saw Godzilla Open Paren 2014 Close Paren, in my usual effort to be caught up with modern geeky cinema, especially having heard mostly good things about it.

And, yes, it is very good. The action’s great, the cinematography impressive, the ideas and designs are creative, and even though we’ve got the usual “Scientist telling the Military not to act, and the Military acts anyway and they turn out to be wrong” stuff, it’s never malicious, and the military officers are always presented like people who are trying to save lives, aware of the risks but they’re using the best plan they’ve got that doesn’t involve watching people die.

And holy god those effects. Sure, it’s a lot of “Fight scenes at night and in the smoke to make the CGI cheaper”, but god DAMN are they not amazing to watch. So god damn many amazing looking shots, and it’s not just eye-candy. The moment when the two MUTO’s meet… it’s honestly a little romantic, and hard not to go “Awww…” a little. And, most of all, it made things seem real. As in, if these three giant monsters existed in our world, with these motivations, this is what it would really look like. Suspend your disbelief for the existence of those giant monsters, and you’ll make it through the film without a twitch of incredulity, and it’s so nice to see a movie take its ludicrous premise that seriously (see the Square-Cube Law¬†for why all three monsters make physics teachers cry ūüėÄ ).

It’s not perfect, of course. Nothing is. I’ve never liked the “Nature’s Wrath personified” concept. It always feels like a¬†bit of a cheat, trying to invoke God without, well, bringing up Religion. The acting in some places is stiff and clumsy, and the blatant teases of “Ooooooh, giant monster showdown comi- PSYCH! But check out all the aftermath!” comes across as someone who knows why Jaws didn’t show the monster until the final act, but doesn’t understand how to pull that off. We should be anticipating the oncoming storm, not lamenting missing the fight that the filmmakers refused to let us see.

And that’s not counting the fact that the hero’s family is basically… it’s a young, attractive white male soldier (and not just a soldier: A soldier specialized in disarming bombs, so an even more heroic soldier!), with a very young, white son and a blonde haired, white wife who’s either a nurse or a doctor, but probably a Nurse, given what we see. The only way it could be more stereotypical of Hollywood action films would be for the wife to be pregnant with a baby girl too…

Compared to last year’s Pacific Rim? Without question, Godzilla¬†is the superior film. Even though the humans in both films were about on par with each other in terms of dullness, Godzilla is better shot, better performed, and rarely ever¬†made me question what the hell characters in the film were thinking, as opposed to once every few minutes in Pacific Rim.

But there’s one thing¬†that I didn’t fully grasp until the drive home… and I think it’s one of the biggest problems with Godzilla (2014).

Where’s the Tragedy?

If you add up all the people killed throughout Godzilla? It’d probably hit six digits, not counting the amount that would be lost due to rioting, disease, disruption of basic services, hazardous debris from all the destroyed buildings, etc. And yet… we really don’t see much of a sign of how horrific this truly is.

There’s two parts of the¬†attack on Hawaii that really serve to underline this. In one, a random little girl and her family are focused on, with Godzilla’s arrival, and they have to run away from the Tsunami that’s being caused by, well, giant monster coming out of the ocean. In the other, Ford Brody (aka our hero) is keeping an eye on a Japanese kid while on a monorail, which gets attacked by the male MUTO.

In both instances, people die. A lot of people. The Tsunami sweeps away streets full of people… but the little girl and her family make it out alive! On the monorail, the track gets damaged, and people start falling off… but Ford rescues the kid before he can plummet to his death!

I know, expecting them to show a dead kid in a summer blockbuster is… doubtful, to say the least. But this extends to the adults too. I racked my brain trying to think of anyone that received even the barest amount of characterization that we saw die, and the list…

  • Bryan Cranston (well, Joe Brody), who dies from wounds suffered in the first monster attack. However, we do not exactly see him expire: We see EMT’s working on him, and later¬†we’re shown his bodybag being zipped up, after being told that he died.
  • Serizawa’s crew… probably. His assistant we know survives, but their deaths are not shown, and the only reason their deaths are implied is because Serizawa has no one else besides her and Cranston (and son) be brought along to the aircraft carrier.
  • Several soldiers, who either die off-camera assuming they do, as, again, their deaths are only ever implied, not confirmed, or die on-camera… but as a speck of gunfire being snuffed out by one of the monsters, at least 10-15 minutes since you last saw their face.

The affect of all this is pretty simple: Godzilla (2014) doesn’t want the audience to feel sad. This is still Hollywood fare, and it feels like it. We get no real impression of any of the victims, there’s no connection to them. What we get is countless images of the brutal destruction, and it is seriously impressive… but that instills awe, not fear, not sorrow.

Because of that, we’re never in any real fear for the protagonists. They weren’t willing to kill off unnamed children, why would they kill off the generic love interest, let alone the hero?

…Godzilla, not the, you know, bomb-disposal American soldier.

Imagine if Ford hadn’t been able to save that Japanese kid on the monorail. That, after seeing the little girl escape to safety, he plummets to his family-friendly demise. A little boy, about the same age as Ford’s own son, a child that Ford had promised to return to his parents, befriended in a small way… and he’s just not fast enough to save him.

It’d give everything he does after to get to his family more weight. It’d give a face to the countless deaths in Hawaii a face. It’d give a bit more doubt to the fates of the major characters.

But, no, because this is a Hollywood film, and it wants the good guys to win, the audience to leave happy. And who would go to a film about San Francisco being destroyed (…again) willing to get kicked in the gut?

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Why I (Kinda) Hate Pacific Rim

(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.

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