I'm kind of a wannabe film critic anyway, I'm so despondent with my life right now, it seems as good a thing as any for me to be doing.
Anyhow, he's are some I've put up recently on various forums.
CABIN IN THE WOODS
"I can see by your eyes you must be lying, when you think I don't have a clue. Baby you're crazy if you think that you can fool me, because I've seen that movie too."
"Maybe it's time we stop deconstructing things and start putting them back together."
"Wise men talk because they have something to say. Fools talk because they have to say something."
And the geek shall inherit the earth. A combination of a pair the massive nerd-TV lords who've rapidly been overtaking Hollywood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and Cloverfield scribe Drew Godard from J.J. Abrams's Bad Robot school, Cabin the Woods arrives after much publicity. A film that's been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years following the fallout of MGM, Hollywood's once mighty megabucks studio, Cabin the Woods was finally picked up by Lionsgate, and is at least in a multiplex near you for horror fans ready for a blast-of-fun bloodbath. Cabin in the Woods isn't a bad film, and for a certain fanboy, there's undeniable fun to be had. But I for one can't help but feel I'm outgrowing Joss Whedon. This might've seemed brilliant when I was 16, but these days, I just don't think "clever" is enough.
"You think you know the story?" So the poster proclaims, but of course, you at least partially do. A group of teens fitting into archetypes all head out for a secluded night where there's no cell phone reception, because apparently, even at this point in the 21st century, no one seems to grasp that getting off the grid to a place where you can't call for help is never a good idea. And the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the stoner (Fran Kranz), the dumb blonde (ex-Power Ranger Anna Hutchison), the nice guy (Jesse Williams), and the bookish virgin (well, as virginal as anyone nowadays-more in a minute) (sexy former soap star Kristen Connolly). They go to the cabin, ignoring the warnings of the weird old guy at the gas station who hasn't changed since The Hills Have Eyes, but beneath it, there's a massive organization reminiscent of the one in Buffy's fourth season, led by geek goddess Amy Acker, obviously designed to represent filmmakers, who manipulate the characters to make things play out as they want. In the basement, they find a variety of things from numerous horror subgenres, read out a mystic incantation in Latin, and bo and lehold, evil comes to kill.
Presumably, the idea of seeing cliches slightly subverted while still giving the audience what they want is supposed to be clever, as things play out like Whedon's usual genre mishmashing with everyone dying until the survivors break into the compound and unleash hell in the most literal sense. The last half-hour is a gorehound's paradise, as Whedon and Godard unleash every horror fan's dream of bringing together all of the genre and monsters into an action-packed battle. It's fun, certainly. But is that enough? Film buffs and horror fans have see this all before under numerous titles: Evil Dead II, the woefully unappreciated Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Freddy vs. Jason, Shaun of the Dead, Kill Bill, Fright Night, Funny Games, Army of Darkness, Targets, Peeping Tom, Behind the Mask, Shadow of the Vampire, Grindhouse, Videodrome, Body Double, Piranha, and countless others.
Post-modernism has become films about films about films about films about films and culture is now eating itself. At its best, these films off some sort of commentary on the nature of storytelling or the importance of the tales (I'll plug Wes Craven's New Nightmare again; seriously, see it, it's brilliant.), or find some sort of social commentary like Shaun of the Dead (When Dana sneered "Me? A virgin?" and the Director quipped "We work with what we have." I was hoping for some commentary on changing social mores, but alas, it's just another smart-ass remark.), or at least attempt to do something interesting. But the genre has now been played so thoroughly from every possible angle that Whedon is just adding a new coat of paint, and his brand of smart-ass glibness is less subversive than it is simply smug and annoying. Yes, Joss, I've heard that joke before. The wording is different, the coat of pain is different, but it's stil the same. Godard certainly has skill behind the camera, but he doesn't quite make it into anything more than a fanboy dream, and his hand isn't deft enough to balance his multiple tones and balls in the air and cohere completely. That's fine, certainly. Cabin in the Woods offers up plenty of fanboy fun to be had, but ultimately the film winds up a bit between the two stools, not quite smart enough to be subversive, and not straightforward enough to just be old-fashioned fun like Dog Soldiers. In the end, the movie's self-satisfied tone, affectionate and satirical, but never quite cutting, doesn't make the pieces into the whole I would have hoped for. Again, that's fine, fun is OK, but The Cabin in the Woods isn't as clever as it thinks. To Whedon and Godard, even the end of the world is just a big cosmic joke.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2010
So, other than to cash in on a presold name, does this remake have any other reason for existing? Let me answer that for you: no. Thank you Michael Bay. Wes Craven's original is, to be sure, not a perfect film. It's edges are jagged, with some rather hammy acting and Craven's flat, obvious dialogue. But it had something this movie patently does not: a point. The film's themes (you know, what a movie is about other than special effects and making money) were intriguing, dealing with themes of memory and sexual repression, the evils behind small town facades, the lies parents tell, and the dangers of buries secrets, all in the guise of a standard slasher movie. An overachieving B-film, the kind that Hollywood simply doesn't make anymore. former English teacher Craven was witty and literate, lacing his film with intriguing concepts and literary and cinematic references to the likes of William Shakespeare and Luis Bunuel (Two people I'd bet Michael Bay has at best a negligible knowledge and understanding of).
Jackie-Earl Haley, who walked away with Watchmen under the nose of his castmates, does what he can with the thankless revision. I finally understand why Halloween fans were upset at the humanization of Michael Meyers: Freddy Krueger's essence with his ability to function as a sort of Jungian archetype, and the broad strokes the first film painted with all played into this. That's what happens when you're raised on literature and books rather than music videos, I suppose. Here, given a prehistory, Kreuger mercifully isn't transformed into the "sympathetic" character, but the attempts to give him a backstory make him less scary. Michael Meyers was the boogeyman. Why? After almost a decade of arguing with Carpenter fans who were clearly smarter than I was, I finally understand exactly why: it doesn't matter. Likewise, Freddy was a force of pure evil, and he killed the children of the parents who killed him. That was all that was really necessary. But Haley (back in full one-liner mode, make no mistake, and buried in makeup that looks like someone stuck Little Ceaser's on his face) ultimate conveys none of Robert Englund's elegant, almost charismatic menace, or his status as a sort of malevolent extension of the sins of the parents and the evil that festers in lies, repression, and deceit. Hayley's just mean and evil, which ultimately works up to a point, but diminishes the character by giving him character.
Music video vet Sam Bayer (I'd make some joke about Bay and his suffixed brethren, but quite frankly, I'm too tired) has none of Craven's ambient, spooky skill. Whereas Craven, drawing cinematically from the likes of Bunuel and perhaps Lynch captured the warped, fractured elasticity of dreams, Bayer takes an intriguing albiet illogical idea-dreaming while you're awake-and does manage to make some interesting choices (highlights: Freddy scratching the boiler cutting back the falling supermarket items, and Argento-esque "snowy bedroom" sequence), but these are generally few and far between, largely mildly inspired moments in an otherwise boring film. But his wild lighting style and wham-bam energy betray what could have been far more interesting and multilayered fusion of dreams and reality, especially in a medium as visual as cinema. Awash in the same sickly green the most of the Bay-produced Platinum Dunes remakes are, there are scant traces of any actual imagination on display, mostly cheap copies of the far better original shots and uninspired shock scenes shot with no sense of suspense, style, or energy. It ultimately gives the film the effect of simply trotting out Freddy when it thinks the audience is getting bored, rather than the "don't fall asleep" suspense that seems oh so obvious. If you start "micro-nappig," then ultimately, it's not so much suspense as shock. Too often, the movie opts for obvious jump scares and joy buzzer noises, making you jump out of your seat, but never worming its way under your skin or into your head. The sense of what made Freddy scary in the first place was that he ruled the dream realm, and was something evil and otherworldly. Here, he's just a slasher who jumps into the film every few minutes. Ultimately, by giving him as much freedom as they do, Freddy becomes less threatening, rather than someone you desperately attempt to wake up to escape from. Freddy shows up not because any sort of logic within the story allows it, but simply because, well, the screenwriters want him to sometimes because everyone else is so desperately boring.
Most disappointing is the action-packed and gore-soaked climax, a bloody action set piece that is ultimate just that: an action scene where eventually the bad guy is defeated. Even at 95 minutes, the movie feels too long, dragging its feet to take the characters to a preschool where an obvious plot point awaits in the basement. It's a more technically accomplished picture than it's predecessor, but a more soulless one. Simply effects repeated from the original (Freddy coming out of the wall, originally done simply using Spandex, and a bloody Tina throw around in a once scary, but now almost comical sequence, and Tina's appearance in a body bag) worked better in their two-and-a-half decade old incarnations because of the simple inventions on display. The new film isn't perhaps meritless. The film's two leads do their best with their paper-thin characterizations, making them possible to root for and not completely stupid, and as such attempt to give the film an emotional core it sorely lacks. Likewise, it's a competently made film in terms of its construction, editing, production design, and photography, and even if it's central storyline is blatantly obvious, it's effective enough to keep me mildly interested until the film runs out of steam around two-thirds of the way in. It works as a decent, throwaway slasher film, and is a mindless enough way to kill a few hours with a certain cheesy sense of fun. It's a well-crafted film, but a soulless one. Whereas Craven's original (and its woefully underappreciated true sequel New Nightmare) had universal truths and genuine terror at its dark heart, the only thing at the truly rotten heart of the new film is a loud, ringing cash till. Ka-ching.
BULLET TO THE HEAD
"Yeah, I know, it's only rock and roll, but I like it, yes I do."
The Rolling Stones
Though ostensibly a byproduct of the late 70s new Hollywood and the 80s buddy cop action pictures, Walter Hill has always been resolutely old-fashioned, an unpretentious heir to the John Ford and Howard Hawks school of no-nonsense filmmaking, lean and mean. In spite of a scattershot career in recent years, at his best, Hill is a director with a poetic eye for the kinetic, and in the age of overblown CG and incomprehensible editing, it's nice to see his economical storytelling rear its head again. At his best, Hill manages to transforms pulp into kinetic art, and turn archetypes into myth. Sadly, there's little of the latter here. A Bullet to the Head is loaded with more cliches and stock characters than bullet holes and some of the worst dialogue in recent memory. But for action fans pining for the glory days, it'll probably be just what the doctor ordered.
Adapted from a graphic novel called Du Plomb Dans La Tete by Alexis Nolent, who writes under the pen name Matz, with which I'm unfamiliar as apparently not a single library in my state has it, Bullet to the Head's storyline could charitably be called "minimalist" and less kindly be called stale, cliched, predictable, but Hill does his best to bring along some auteur chops to liven things up. The storyline, such as it is, involves Bobo (Sylvester Stallone, and no, I'm not making that name up.) a hitman who's partner gets clipped by a double-crossing employer. He eventually crosses paths with a cop named Kwon (Sung Kang), who's trailing the same killers he is. One is old, one is young, one relies on technology, one is resolutely analog, one has a strict vigilante code, the other adheres to the law books, you've heard all of this before. Naturally, a common enemy calls for an uncommon alliance, so they uneasily work together to bring down the bad guys. Like Kim Ji-Woon's equally entertaining The Last Stand, and indeed most of Hill's films, the movie is basically a Western in drag, full of aging gunfighters and strict masculine moral codes.
But it's the bad guys wherethe film excels, Hill dragging out a terrific rogue's gallery. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's crippled godfather and Christan Slater's slimy businessman are appropriately evil, but the real showstopper is Jason Momoa as a hulking villain who drips malevolent charisma. He's a terrific physical match for Stallone. Though the fight choreographers are much-experienced with various martial artists, Hill keeps things stripped down and lean and mean, with good old-fashioned fisticuffs. Hill hasn't lost his eye for strangely beautiful kinetic mayhem, and you never, ever lose track of who's doing what to whom from where. Best of all though, Hill stages his action sequences with a viscera few directors can match, making you feel the blows and the pain rather than just marvel at the blocking and staging.
The film went through many troubled aspects during production, from a clash between Stallone and the original choice of director, to the insistence of megabucks producer Joel Silver to recast a role for mass box office appeal (You can see how well that works, but I digress....). The latter was decidedly a mistake, as Kang has zero chemistry with Stallone. Stallone, like Schwarzenegger, is on the verge of self-parody, and like Kim Ji-Woon, Hill tries to swing the pendulum the opposite way, taking advantage of his monolithic presence and make him an almost mythic figure equal to his granite figure and chiseled features. Sadly, Stallone looks largely bored, his tough-guy dialogue long-since rendered hackney and banal, but Hill tries to strip away as much of this as he can get the story to function on an archetypal level. Still, given the interference from Stallone and Silver, it raises major questions about just who was really in charge on the set, and the movie does generally feel like nearly all of its edges have been sanded off into a safe commercial product. Still, Hill does what he can. At his best, you can taste the air, feel the heat, smell the sweat, and feel the blows. While a far cry from that, the New Orleans atmosphere is a nice change of milieu, making for some nice ambiance and tasty swamp rock soundtrack.
On the whole, while massively flawed, action fans might still dig Bullet to the Head. It has all of the requisite violence, blood (Mercifully, none of it looks digital), nudity, and made-to-order character dynamics as Kang and Stallone trade insults while Kang falls for Stallone's unfeasibly glamorous daughter. It avoids CG and shaky cam whenever possible, Lloyd Ahern II's cinematography evokes the jazzy New Orleans atmosphere in nice colors and for those viewers hoping for a trip back to the olden days, Bullet to the Head is gloriously old-fashioned, and largely free of the post-modern smirk and pandering that most modern action films are afflicted with. It's the usual stuff-corrupt politicians, hit men with a moral code, cops who let them go, flying bullets, and shifting allegiances. In the hands of any other director, the whole enterprise would feel like a bit of direct-to-video junk, but Hill's chops elevate things when the can. The film doesn't exactly have emotional resonance or depth, but it sure is fun.
EVIL DEAD 4
Well, it's gory. Arriving as the latest in the seemingly endless spate of remakes, Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, and Bruce Campbell themselves are on board as producer for the newest, hereafter called Evil Dead 4. For those familiar with the original, the storyline remains largely the same: a group of friends gather at a secluded cabin in the woods, though this time, instead of trying to party it down, they're attempting to a help a friend through detox. But one of them discovers a mysterious book in the basement, inked in blood and bound in flesh, and unleashes some very angry and vengeful demonic spirits, leading to a hell of a bloodbath.
Raimi's original film isn't the most substantiate film. It's storyline is paper thin, its characters are underwritten (Raimi himself is amusingly game in the DVD commentary, poking fun at many of the film's flaws), and it's obviously made on the cheap. But what it did have in spades, fleshed out even further in its mega-cult sequels, was a personality. Raimi's endless manic camera work and Bruce Campbell's endearing square-jawed hero Ash Williams have made the films choice cult-favorite for decades. Raimi managed to pitch the near-impossible high-wire act of blending dark humor with visceral horror, creating a film with a sense of identity to with its notoriety. Once you looked past the initial shock value, Evil Dead was a weird piece of art, its many striking visuals delivered by a director who, however young, however green, however unruly, was distinctive. First time-director Fede Alvaraez is clearly a horror fan as well, and there's no denying the new Evil Dead's a fanboy film, full of loads of splatter and gore, and it's an intense ride.
But even at its most violent, Raimi's films felt like some sort of weird modern pop-art. Like Dario Argento at his best, even the most gory shots were executed with a sort of artistic flair. Even today, the film, however dated and crude, tingles with a raw energy, manic imagination, and black humor. Alvarez takes a different route, going for a post-millennium endurance test-style horror film. That's not a bad thing, and Evil Dead 4 is reasonably entertaining as a balls-to-the-walls thrill ride. But it lacks the panache of Raimi's original, and more importantly, it's iconic lead (though those who stay through the credits will be treated to a delightful five-second cameo from Campbell himself). Indeed, part of the problem with the film is that it seems to switch protagonists around it's three-quarter mark. But that's just symptomatic of a larger issue: every character in the film is a dumb as rocks, and unfortunately, that joke seems to be lost on the filmmakers. As the charcters wander around cellars in spite of seeing dead bodies and refuses to turn on the lights as they approach their friends in the dark, you kind of want to hit them.
Alvarez piles on the gore in mountains, but but while there are many cringe-worthy, including a number of salacious closeups on the damage that can be done to the human body, but while it'll elicit many groans from the audience, it never encourages the audience to care enough to be involved beyond wondering about the makeup effects rather than caring about any of the film's characters. The film maintains an intense tone throughout, for many horror fans, there's bound to be a certain glee in the film's relentlessness. But the world looks different now, and there's just no recapturing the uniquely raw tone of the original that Raimi deftly mixed with jet black humor. The shocks now feel like they're trying too hard shock rather than just playing their hand-the infamous tree-rape restaged as a weird tentacle hentai-esque, for instance. Ultimately, the attempts at viscera lead to exhaustion, as the film descends into buckets of gore and raining literal blood. For genre fans, this might be some sort of perverse fun. But apart from a handful of striking images-Mia standing in front of a flaming cabin, the film's money shot of a head being spit in two with a chainsaw, but without Raimi's panache, the audience might eventually start to feel numb.
In the end, the flaws in the original film are simultaneously what make it work. By sanding off its edge, by being conscious of itself, Evil Dead 4 is to some extent undone by its eagerness to please. The original wasn't a classic at the time, just a gleefully creative work by a direction anxious to scare. Raimi's electrifying camera work and crazed sense of style weren't out to do anything other than play things straight, it had no shoes to fill. Raimi seemed to throw everything at the wall and make most of it stick, connecting his many images together into a bizarre but somehow distinctive whole. The new film seems too controlled, too conscious of the past, too interested in living up to expectation. Everything feels so calculated that the inensity feels manufactured rather than visceral. This gives the film its own charms, and many horror fans will likely take to its no-holds barred mayhem. It's a certain kind of fun, but quite the distinctive kind that makes the original film such a unique thrill ride. Raimi, Campbell, Tapert, and Alvarez have all done their best, but you get the sense that we've all sort of grown up a bit, and maybe this should've tried to stand by itself rather than throw its hat in the right with the much-loved series. It isn't as good as it could be, but it isn't terrible either. In the end, where Raimi managed to balance between two extremes, Alvarez sort of falls into the middle and negates them, tilting instead on the side of splattery thrill ride. It's fine, but will it inspire the cult fervor the original did and be remember 25 years down the road? Probably not. But for cheer and scream multiplex horror, it does its job well enough.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible, and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.”
Ah, I love it anyway. I still remember the sheer exhilaration of seeing Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen, God help me, over a decade ago. Not since I'd first seen Star Wars on video as a child had I had such an exhilarating rush. Retrospectively, hindsight is 20-20, and having matured in many ways, I recognize many of the problems the films have, what aspects have already dated, but I don't care. To me, it's a reminder of the grandest possible kind of escapism, the best that money can buy, and more importantly, it remind me why I love going to the movies.
So more than ten years later, the prequel finally arrives, not as one film, as it should've, but as a new trilogy. Padded out or expanded upon, depending on who you ask, with bits from Tolkien's own appendices from The Lord of the Rings, (Evidently, the Tolkien estate is displeased with any film adaptations and retains the rights to The Silmarillion and all of Tolkien's other work.), the new film arrives at last. Initially planned, as a fascinating what-if, for director Guillermo del Toro, who left after the dragged out and much-publicized financial fallout of MGM and the film's troubled production, though he's still collaborated on the screenplay and done some creative consulting. Jackson himself eventually stepped back into the director's chair, splitting the film not into two, as it was originally rumored to be, but into a whole new trilogy. Was it worth the wait? Does it live up the astronomical expectations? That depends on how much you like Jackson's particular bombastic brand of blockbuster. Me personally? I love it.
As everyone no doubt knows from the previous trilogy, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire was a Hobbit, visited upon by the great wizard Gandalf, and whisked along with a band of gruff dwarves to reclaim their gold and their homeland from the evil Dragon Smaug. Well, this time, it's not just the dragon, but a huge band of Orcs as well, led by the Pale Orc Azog, the Defiler. Along the way, they encounter trolls, bands of goblins, glowing magical swords, tunnels, stone giants, the Elves who abandoned them the first time around, fellow wizard Rhadagast, vicious wargs, soaring eagles, a large menagerie of other mystical creatures, and a mysterious creature named Gollum, who's in possession of a rather special golden ring....
In addition, Jackson and co have added a veritable guest-list of cameos from previous LOTR alums, starting with a prologue to recall Fellowship in which Bilbo tells of the dwarves, their many magical inventions and treasures, and their displacement from their homeland by the great dragon. Add to this a subplot, presumably to be paid off in future installments, about the White Council preparing to battle a mysterious Necromancer who'll turn out to be Sauron, and the film is jam-packed with the special effects and battle that gave the first films their large following.
Jackson's post LOTR career has met with a rather mixed reception, and while he could be called many things, "subtle" has never been one of them. The Hobbit is a very tonally different book from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with much less epic sweep. It's a children's novel, the greatest strength of which comes from its simple narrative and sense of swashbuckling fun. These two tones are at odds throughout the film, with sweeping battlefield shots recalling LOTR and comic interludes straight out of the novel. Jackson juggles these balls with much energy and skill, but they never quite cohere. Many sequences seems to go one for much longer than many an editor would perhaps deem necessary, and much of the adolescent humor does grow a bit tiresome in places. The real magic that infused LOTR isn't gone as many reviewers have said, but it is more scattershot. Still, once the film picks up after the trolls, the three hours fly by on my watch.
On a technical level, it's a hard film to fault. Jackson's usual collaborators are almost all here. DP Andrew Lesnie gives the film a glowing sheen, WETA Workshop and WETA Digital's armor and weapons are impeccable and their menagerie of creatures given great personality and monstrosity. Jackson doesn't quite have del Toro's skill for finding dark fairy-tale beauty among some of his monsters, but they don't lack for personality or wonder. The Wargs still don't entirely look right, the Great Goblin's phallic chin is really disconcerting, and Azog is suitably scarred, frightening, and feral, but he looks a bit like and albino reject from Avatar. Shame he couldn't have been done with makeup like Fellowship's Lurtz. But with a rumored budget of nearly $300 million, this is a huge endeavor, and Jackson does his damnedest to get get every cent up on the screen, and it looks beautiful. Jackson has even buried the hat her with composer Howard Shore after their much publicized artistic feud, and it's lucky he has, because Shore's scores were as integral to Jackson's visions of Middle earth as John Williams was to Star Wars. A pox upon Warner Brother Records, incidentally, for dropping the Complete Recordings CD boxed sets out of print.
The biggest behind the scenes change-up comes from the myriad of second unit directors from the Rings trilogy being replaced by Andy Serkis, who's minimal screen time as Gollum frees him up. The action is as impressive as ever, though success does occasionally breed excess (A ridiculous multilayered crash through caves followed by surfing on broken wood after killing the Great Goblin and the dwarves hanging from the tree already bent over the cliff being the most egregious.). Still, on the battlefield, Jackson's eye is as strong as ever, and a number of sequences, if not innovative, are so exhilarating, it hardly matters. Jackson, as ever, gives every sword slash and metallic clang the force of cannons, and the mass chaos is expertly choreographed by an ace stunt team. The late, great Bob Anderson's sword choreography is much missed, but his able replacement and the rest of the stunt team clash swords and sorcery with much breathtaking virtuosity.
Likewise, as before, the film is cast to the hilt with master thespians, there're no Schwarzeneggers around to transform everything into one-liners. Freeman is a terrific lead for the audience to see things through, and counterpointed with Holm, the character development that transforms the timid Hobbit into what we know he'll become is a delight. Richard Armitage gives Thorin a nice regal bearing, McKellen's Gandalf is brilliant as ever, and the new cast almost all fill in Tolkien's magical world and inhabit their characters superbly. Tolkien himself gave them backstory to spare, and it gives the motley crew a great sense of personality which Jackson and crew amply exploit. The journey may be long, but I like these guys and they're fun to ride with. Gollum is back too, and the riddles in the dark sequence, colored by Jackson's horror film roots, is brilliant and spine-tingling. Azog is obviously an attempt to give the film's villain a face before the arrival of Smaug (Who's CG model, judging by the film's teasing final shot, is likely unfinished), and he's suitably menacing. Whether the film is simply overstuffed, or if Jackson is hinting at future riches to be explored in the rest of the new trilogy remains to be seen, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that it's the latter.
Yeah, there're problems, but frankly, I don't care. This what entertaining filmmaking is all about. Jackson happily inhabits a world where Old Hollywood's straight-faced swashbuckling never died, and there's a refreshing lack of pretentious and post-modern crassness, irony, and pandering. The enterprise is straightforward and exhilarating, and dressed with the best and most elaborate SFX and set dressing that modern technology can buy. The film's flaws may stick out more strongly on repeat viewings, it may not have the staying power that the great storytelling of its source material and the films Jackson clearly loves and wants to emulate do. But it takes me back to being a kid again when I still believed in movie magic and was swept off into wondrous worlds when I turned on the TV rather than sitting and wondering about SFX, story structure, and all of the other technical things of which I'm aware now. It's just fun. It's Christmas, and I'm happy to unwrap my presents. I got just what I asked for. This is why I go to the movies.
Arriving halfway through a summer loaded with known franchises and sequels, Pacific Rim is an odd creature. Boasting no major stars, a director know primarily for dark art-house fantasies and off-kilter modestly budget comic-book properties, and a combination of genre known to few outside of geekdom, Pacific Rim stomps into theaters on a $190 million dollar budget. Guillermo del Toro's loving valentine to the mecha anime and kaiju eiga tokusatsu of his youth, Pacific Rim is a fanboy fever dream creature-feature. The film is knowingly silly, full of telegraphed plot points and obvious but chewy dialogue, and like many "genre filmmakers," words are not del Toro's strongest suit, giving the film a much stronger sense of ideas underpinning than ultimately displayed in the actual narrative in execution. The film isn't brainless, but many of its ideas are either articulated too directly through rather blunt dialogue or tossed somewhere in the post-modern blender mix that the film winds up being. But whereas many post-Nolan blockbusters aim for dark and dour, Pacific Rim's greatest strength is its gleeful, childlike exuberance. It's just so damn much fun.
The narrative revolves around Kaiju, a series of giant monsters that would make Eiji Tsubraurya gleefully proud, rising out a of a rift in the pacific ocean. Mankind pours all of its resources into destroying them through traditionally military means before realizing that another approach is required: the Jaegers, gigantic mecha-style robots somewhere between the anime mecha of the Gundam anime franchises and the towering tokusatsu that populate many Super Sentai series. Piloted by two humans who work in tandem via a psycic link known as "the Drift," they're not sleek and agile, but del Toro's visionary eye gives them great weight and personality. Mankind, like in many an Ishiro Honda tokusatsu classic, puts aside their differences to face a common foe, and del Toro's cast of characters, however archetypical, have a nicely international flavor. As the attacks worsen and funding for the Jaegers is pulled, a washed-up mecha pilot (Charlie Hunnam), a badass military commander (Idris Elba), a pair of nerdy scientists (Charlie Day, who bears an uncanny resemblance to J.J. Abrams, and Burn Gorman), a black-market monster organs dealer (a hilariously flamboyant Ron Peralman), a Japanese pilot (Rinko Kikuchi), and a handful of other motley characters make their last stand.
Pacific Rim boasts way more style than substance, and those looking for the rich political underpinning of del Toro's best films like Pan's Labyrinth or The Devil's Backbone may be disappointed. The film boasts many interesting ideas and themes-mankind uniting for a common cause, the Drift's obvious symbolic value of the necessity of cooperation for mankind, but they're shuffled within the mix of its narrative. The plot beats are all out of a screenwriting handbook, and most of the character moments, in spite of strong performances by the actors, feel wrote rather than felt. But if it is style over substance, what style it is! Whereas Michael Bay's Transformers films managed to mangle 30 years of mythology and merely confuse audiences with their poorly-designed robots and the director's hyperactive camera and amphetamine editing, del Toro's have a rich sense of scale. The designs, culled from a variety of sources, have a great sense of physical weight, richly detailed monsters, and model-kit ready bulky robots, full of del Toro's loving clockwork detail. The human pilots make the Jaegers feel very alive, del Toro's obsessive sense of detail giving them personalities all their own.
Pacific Rim feels, even at 132 minutes, like there's way more to explore. The film's world is so rich, many ideas are frustratingly unexplored, or glossed over-the possible social commentary in the jobs (and dangers thereof) created by the building of the Jaegers and the walls. The film's central theme of mankind internationally uniting in the face of crisis, harkening back to many Ishir? Honda classics like Gorath, the black market for kaiju organs, the day-to-day lives of the characters living in fear. The film winds up slightly pitched between del Toro's own personal and political fascinations and visual aesthic approaches and its commercial need. The film by no means feels impersonal, but as a work-for-hire project, del Toro is forced to concede the needs of blockbuster filmmaking. The film is a massive post-modern pastiche, firstly recalling past films, such kaiju classics as Godzilla, Rodan. del Toro's signature blend of highbrow visual art like his cited influence of Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa & Francisco Goya's The Colossus, pulp like the clean lines of Jack Kirby, the rough edges and fervent kineticism of man manga and anime, and of course the great robots that populate so many tokusatsu classics like Giant Robo and Super Sentai. Put them all in a blender, and hit "liquefy." Some of it works, some of it doesn't but the film feels like the work of an artist, sometimes silly and unconcerned with Hollywood realism,but always director's uniquely poetic eye and sense of explosive imaginatiion.
But if the dialogue is clunky, the sheer vision is positively breathtaking. The performances are all pitch-perfect, giving the film a nice sense of character to go with the spectacle. I for one would've liked to have seen more the Russian and Chinese Jeagers. But the film feels positively like opera in places, a rich 7.1 surround sound track giving every blow the feel of sonic booms. The film's many elements generally always work in tandem, when they do, the film evokes the perfect blend of childlike wonder, awe, glee, pathos, and emotion. Some plot beats are pretty familiar, and seem more wrote than felt, but the actors do their best with them, and they go a long way towards selling the film's fantastic world. The film's many smackdowns between the kaiju and the Jagers are exhilarating, del Toro's grasp of scale with canted low angles, interactions with the environment, and an almost mythic sense of awe. And that's Pacific Rim's greatest achievement, that it evokes the childlike sense of fun many youngsters found in these monster movies in the first place, a window into imaginative, fantastic worlds found on late-night movies and beat-up VHS tapes. Whatever its flaws, the film is so damn much fun, it's hard to resist. It isn't doing the business that WB and Legendary hoped in theaters, but like many of del Toro's films, hopefully it will do its best business on video. It has cult favorite written all over it. You're hearing the word "kaiju" in a $190 million summer blockbuster fanboys. Sit back, and have the time of your life. Clearly, del Toro sure is. And stick around after the credits for a brief text tribute to monster-maestros Ishir? Honda and Ray Harryhausen. You sense the masters would approve.
Hey I heard the word "kaiju" in a summer movie multiplex where there was an Adam Sandler flick in the next screen. I never thought I'd live to see the day.