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[personal profile] jencat
It felt a bit churlish, at one point, to criticise Pacific Rim - after all, I drove everyone I know demented over the last few months before it came out about how it was going to the Best. Film. Ever. And it was, kind of. For a little while.

I magically managed to get tickets for a preview (with about twelve hours' notice) and despite the best efforts of the entire London transport system to make it impossible to get there... hot damn, we made it. And then the 3D projection was messed up and we ended up having to restart after the first five minutes to watch it again, unblurry.

... which wasn't all that bad, because the first five minutes were pretty freaking incredible. And the 3D works, which is very rarely the case - the Golden Gate bridge destruction, particularly, with giant kaiju claws and all the cars tipping toward the screen, and with careful additions of ash/snow later on... I could just watch those bits on a loop. At that point, I was still psyched to see it again in Imax on the release day. it works brilliantly.

And it all works brilliantly, any time there's a giant robot and an even more giant monster on screen.  This is a film all about high concept, absolutely saturated with ideas and building a world in which they would all be possible;  the epitome of it could be cool to do this... That all said cool stuff is fantastically executed as well is just a huge, huge bonus. It's beautiful.  It's so utterly gorgeous, and cleverly done; visually it's kind of game-changing in the way that Avatar was, but with giant freaking robots.

Even more intriguing - this film makes you care about the giant robots. More so, weirdly, than the pilots inside them at points, and even odder, more so than the actual sentient robots in Transformers. I was much more moved by Gypsy Danger's final destruction than by the pilots that died with Striker Eureka (it was kind of The Little Robot That Could), and I even started feeling sorry for the bloody Kaiju at points.

The only trouble - and it wouldn't be such a thing if it wasn't being sold on characte - is that Pacific Rim has a people problem.  It has a whole bunch of actors who are great in other things, but half of them are putting on accents that don't quite work (really, the industry is saturated with Aussies pretending not to be Aussie, and you couldn't cast either of the Aussie characters with actual Aussies? I like both these actors; they're great in other things - and Rob Kazinski's American accent is fine.. he just doesn't sound Aussie to me.), and the dialogue is... well. Michael Bay-level. The characters are Michael Bay level. I was a teeny bit worried about this, given that Charlie Hunnam hadn't had a single decent line of dialogue in any of the trailers or footage they'd released, and Rinko Kikuchi hadn't had a single word of dialogue at all. This turns out to be kind of partly because some of her dialogue is in Japanese (everyone speaks Japanese!) and um, because Raleigh is so saturated in cliches that he's stuck doing what the plot needs rather than the plot hinging on how the characters might react. And apparently someone was such a big fan of Lee Evans in Something About Mary that they got Burn Gorman to recreate his performance exactly. It's a little bit freaky.

I'm just going to say it now, but needs more girls, dammit. In the prequel comic, nearly all the featured original characters are actually women - the journalist linking all the stories with a slightly spurious link to Raleigh; Stacker Pentecost's previous co-pilot (there's actually a totally relevant reason why she blacked out and he ended up piloting alone when he rescued Mako) and his really rather awesome sister - would have been quite fabulous to have a black female fighter pilot in the actual film, just saying, but apparently she's one of the pilots we see blown to bits in the first attack trying to take down the San Francisco kaiju - and, who knew, the whole Drift co-pilot thing was actually invented by a shapely blonde scientist who ends up being one of the first pilots by accident purely to save the guy she's fallen for. These girls all have stories.

What we get in the film is Mako, who can't decide whether she wants to fight be a kick-ass pilot or spend half of every scene making anime puppy-dog eyes at either Raleigh or Pentecost, both of whom seem to make all the decisions for her. I kind of get the type of character they were aiming for (Japanese Yes Girl, as it were) but spending so much time being meek and deferential is a) irritating in the only significant freaking female character in the entire film and b) odd character traits for someone who's itching to go out and pilot a giant robot to beat a giant monster to a pulp. Her only really good line is when she tells Raleigh it's "Respect, not obedience." Little bit of backbone. I'm just going to offer up Anderson in Dredd as a really good example of what works for a tiny female rookie character trying to prove herself - she's quietly confident, but similarly to Mako she's always polite, relatively deferential and never bolshy, but I never once in that film think Anderson is having decisions made for her or being passive agressive about it -  and what I really hoped we were going to get with Pacific Rim. More tension, more partnership and teamwork... more competence.

I absolutely buy the Russian pilot being the champion kaiju-smasher she's introduced as. She has a terrifying hairdo! She's also not deemed important enough to get much more than two scenes in the entire film, neither of which has much interaction with any of the other characters.. now what she would have had to say to Mako (and, hell, Raleigh), I would have been really interested in - much more so than Raleigh's really boring feud with the bloke that used to be in Eastenders... This film is crying out for decent fanfic, I'm just going to say it now. There's oodles of really, really interesting worldbuilding and background stuff going on and none of it is fleshed out even the slightest bit.

It also feels a tad retro in this day and age. I mean, it's nice that Raleigh & Mako get along practically instantly (or he's smitten instantly, either/or. God knows, they don't exactly delve deep into what kind of connection they end up having), but to quote Friends, mittens are nice. Nice doesn't make for dramatic tension or emotional resonance.  it also misses the point of having to learn to work together - I struggle to see the point of them sharing her childhood memory seeing as he doesn't seem to have any kind of impact on her dealing with the memory. Ditto Raleigh's resurrection at the end - it's a cliche but it would have more impact if Mako had actually done something to help rather than hugging and crying (ok, ok, just been through big emotional trauma/injury but be more proactive dammit). And Del Toro had an almost identical scenario at the end of Hellboy 2 - at least then it takes Liz telling him the big news to bring Red back. Even that's a cliche but it's a cliche that accomplishes something - showing the effect that one character has on another. The characters all seem stuck on reacting rather than acting, and there's much less emotional cause and effect this way...

Aaand I'm still over here cracking up about the existence of the so-called Mako Mori test. Because, whatever interpretation of that you want to go on, PacRim fails all of them, repeatedly.
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Jennifer Howell

July 2015

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