Thursday, August 3, 2017

Theory Thursday: "Pacific Rim" is Overrated

Scene from Pacific Rim
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: The Dark Tower is released in theaters this Friday.
Theory: Pacific Rim is overrated.

There's not a lot of terrible things that can be said about Idris Elba. He is one of those actors who tends to class up whatever movie he pops up in. Even on The Wire, he managed to stand out in such a huge cast as Stringer Bell: the businessman with his eye on the streets. It's why, even amid bad reviews, The Dark Tower is likely to hold some promise for movie goers this weekend. For starters, there has been plenty praise thrown on him for being a good depiction of Roland Deschaines despite looking radically different from the book. It's something that will definitely hurt purists, but I can only hope it works because of Elba's charismatic capabilities. He doesn't need much to be cool, and if The Dark Tower fails, he's going to be back on the big screen sooner than you think in either Thor: Ragnarok or The Mountain Between Us (to name just two).

In trying to think of a topic for this week's Theory Thursday, I tried to find something worth mentioning from anything: Halle Berry (Kidnap), Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit), or even Elba's co-star Matthew McConaughey. One of the downsides of doing a column for long enough is that you'll cover bases that make future columns a little more challenging. In this case, it took me awhile to realize that I haven't really talked about Elba's career. After all, I do think he's bound to get at very least an Oscar nomination by the end of his career. I haven't seen everything that he's done, but he is bound to have that one role that captures his capabilities both as a dramatic actor and a zeitgeist-capturing hero. While I don't think it is going to be The Dark Tower, I do believe that it's not going to be for anything related to Pacific Rim, either. In fact, I think that movie is one of the worst films of the decade, possibly 21st century.

Maybe it's because of the circles that I tend to follow on social media, but the general consensus at the time was that Pacific Rim was terrible. Yet with every year that passes, I have noticed an increasing admiration for the film, down to an upcoming sequel in 2018 (not to mention a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes). It's the type of logic that made the moment I finally saw the film a bit frustrating. It isn't just that it's a bad movie. It's that it came from a filmmaker who seems like he would be above making such a pedestrian movie: Guillermo Del Toro. Like all rational people, I think that he is in some ways one of the best visionaries that we have going right now. If you look at Pan's Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies, or even more recently with Crimson Peak, you have a filmmaker who is testing the limits of visual aesthetic in such breathtaking ways. I cannot wait for The Shape of Water this Fall. 

Then there's Pacific Rim: his soulless nadir of a film, of which doesn't test his capabilities as a director at all. It's largely a special effects driven vehicle in which robots fight monsters in unspectacular fashion. Gone are physics and innovation. In its place is a numb-skull action movie that is lacking any significant characters and the great "We are cancelling the apocalypse!" speech from Elba in the trailers is one of the film's few shining moments. The film eventually dwindles into a pointless fight between robots and monsters, which doesn't test the limits of Del Toro as a director, in part because of how cheap it looks when placed into such poorly lit settings. It's a bad enough trend that most big special effects spectacles take place in darkness to save intricate details. Del Toro should've had a way to be above that. 

Another, and probably positive, thing that is coming out of the movie is the Mako Mori Test. Based on the character played by Rinko Kikuchi, it's supposed to be a Bechdel Test update with more focus on character development than who someone talks to. It's an interesting theory, and one that frustrates me a bit because of the film it is referencing. It's a positive that Del Toro's universe is populated with a diverse cast that includes butt-kicking women like Kikuchi. However, they become constrained to hackneyed stories that inevitably see them amount to nothing more than a way-too-expensive yet still mentally cheap rip-off of something akin to Power Rangers with the mech suits. How do they work? It's not too important. Still, it's something banal from the mind of a director who has made fantasy a lot more interesting than this before and after.

I don't know if I dislike the film more because I want to hold Del Toro to a higher standard. In some ways, I am fine with him making whatever he wants however he wants. I can't complain in that regard. Still, I don't come away from Pacific Rim feeling like I discovered a sense of awe that I'd get in his other work. Gone is the subtle romance for dark fantasy of his other films. In its place is cynical and visually dark stories of people fighting monsters in mech suits, physics be damned. It doesn't even have a great personality and comes across as a more manic depressive version of the Transformers franchise, albeit with more politically correct characters. What am I supposed to get out of this movie that is particularly great and worthy of sequels? Nothing visually or narratively is exciting about the story, and poor Charlie Hunnam hasn't proven himself a lead man after good work on Undeclared all those years ago.

I will accept that people can like it as a big dumb action movie with subpar visual effects. That is fine. However, I think that my issues lie in how uninspired I find it as a Del Toro film. Even the set designs, which is usually his back pocket brilliance, is missing something here. I'm sure this is more of a studio gig film that would hopefully give him money for his own personal projects. In that sense, I am fine with it. I am more annoyed that people would rank this among his best work, not realizing how much greater literally everything else he's done is. It's the type of film that makes me reconsider how great his other films are, even if they're going to be discussed for decades to come. Oh, and Elba's done a lot better, too. That speech may class up the joint, but good luck calling this one of his best, either. 

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