barometry: ([h50] danny hands up)
[personal profile] barometry
This post is slightly delayed because I spent the last week -- through all those record highs you've been seeing on Tumblr -- in the unairconditioned woods at scottish country dance camp (actually for reals), but I've been seeing a lot of Pacific Rim on my Tumblr dash and so I feel like there are some people I can have this conversation with.

Here's the thing: I enjoyed Pacific Rim. I also think it was a pretty terrible movie.

My theory (I always have a theory) is that I enjoyed it because I was watching at least two different movies at the same time: the actual movie playing on screen, and a sort of idealized panoply of all the movies it could have been, in my head. The former pretty much continuously failed to follow through on its awesome conceptual potential, while offering wooden dialogue and unconvincing narrative structure; the second was an amazing investigation of the meaning of personal identity and altered perception embedded in a movie where soulbonded pilots use giant robots to fight giant aliens.

The second movie was awesome, but it is not the movie that they actually made.

The most serious problem I had with the movie-as-made (as opposed to the movie-as-missed-opportunities) was that it was built around a bunch of profound and important personal relationships that they told us about but that weren't really shown.

Now, I do feel like they successfully sold the father/daughter relationship between Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori. I understood their motivations with respect to one another, and I felt like relatively little time was spent telling me about their Feeling Regarding One Another. I was also sold, however briefly, on the relationship between whosits-main-dude ("Raleigh Becket" apparently?) and his brother ("Yancy Becket"? Seriously for real?).

...and that's about it. The relationships around which the entire movie revolved are the Instant Bond of Copiloting Sympathy between Mako and Raleigh, and Mako's apparently deep seated emotional need for revenge. I was told, in words, about both of these things, but I cannot say that I saw them on screen.

Let's take a step back and think about exactly why the Instant Bond of Copiloting Sympathy is crucial to the plot. For one thing, without that bond it would not be relevant whether Stacker did or did not want Mako piloting a Jaeger. But we are also told, in the opening scenes of the movie, that you need to be "drift compatible" with someone in order to copilot a Jaeger, and they claim that this requires a history of "shared memories" (though since nobody actually remembers things the same way as their childhood friends or siblings, lets sort of handwave that into something more plausible). At any rate, every single piloting team we see pre-Mako/Raleigh is a close family connection -- in the clip reel at the very beginning, we see what appear to be identical twins, subsequently we see siblings and/or parents with children. Shared memories can't be enough for drift compatibility, though, or there never would have been a shortage of Jaeger pilots -- there's clearly something more required for drift compatibility.

So then Raleigh's brother (Yancy? Really?) dies while they are still linked, and Raleigh manages not to fry his brain too badly piloting a Jaeger solo, but he can't pilot ever again because drift compatibility is so rare. But then five years later they're like: well now we need a pilot, so apparently that's not a problem any more, please stick fight with all these dudes and on that basis we'll decide if we should plug your brains into each other.

Even allowing for the fact that shared memory/history is going to play no role for the remainder of the movie, surely there is some kind of brain scan that would produce more reliable results.

But anyhow: Raleigh, who quit everything he knew and went into an extremely dangerous profession because (and here I'm filing in narrative the movie didn't bother with) he was dealing with the trauma of feeling his brother die while they shared a brain, is like: Mako, you and I totally clicked when we chatted for like 20 minutes and then hit each other with sticks a few times, we share a Special Connection and I am now 100% ready to move past my trauma, let's go convince your dad that this is a super awesome idea and we should be allowed to pilot billions of dollars worth of rare military technology.

I was sold on none of this, as you might be able to tell. Of course, at this point they just abandoned the entire pretense of "drift compatibility" in order to get Idris Elba into a giant robot -- which is a goal I sympathize with, don't get me wrong, but I'm not buying his "I bring nothing into the drift" zen bullshit, or his "I figured out your daddy issues long ago" swipe at Australian dude. And can I ask about these "daddy issues"? I mean yes, Australian dude is a jerk, we see that, but this is otherwise another relationship they tell us about without giving any actual supporting evidence. And what was the point about how Jaeger pilots got too overconfident and that was their downfall? I thought their downfall was that the giant aliens got bigger and stronger and more frequent, but maybe that's just me.

Let's not even talk about how hard this movie failed the Beschdel test. I was waiting, on the edge of my seat, for Mako and the Russian sister to say something, anything, to each other, however brief and/or perfunctory. They did not. It would have been so easy for this movie to get a technical pass:

MAKO: "Is your Jaeger operating at peak efficiency?"

RUSSIAN PILOT: "Da."

Done!

(Mako also did not exchange words with the only other speaking female character in the movie, who I believe is credited as "Chinese Girl in Anti-Kaiju Refuge", just fyi.)

Now that I've ranted about my problems with Pacific Rim, let me tell you about the awesome movie I was watching in my head.

When the movie first introduced technological soulbonding, and then within ten minutes someone died while still plugged into someone else's head, I thought this was going to be amazing: the whole movie could be about questions of personal identity, what it means to share consciousness, etc. -- and what it might mean within this weird subset of crazy pilots who tap into one anothers' minds to be only (in a weird way) half a person. I was expecting Raleigh to have persistent numbness and paralysis in his arm, after it was torn off the Jaeger, and to continue to hallucinate the presence of his older brother. These issues, combined with lingering trauma and shunning from other pilots who don't want to think about what would happen to them if their co-pilot died, would explain why he was no longer working within the Jaeger program, and would prefer to lose himself in the business of building that totally idiotic Wall of Life.

But then Idris Elba needs old pilots to come help him save the world at the last minute, so he convinces/shanghais Raleigh to come along. But Raleigh is in important ways missing half his head -- or has half a head too many -- and he is almost phobic about trying to drift with anyone. Also, we're going to take seriously the idea that you need some kind of shared background with someone to successfully drift, so the list of candidates is short, and the try-outs don't involve stickfighting.

Raleigh connects with the technical lead of the Jaeger program, Mako Mori (I was sold on them as Bros, just not as Instantly Connected Robot-Piloting Soulmates), who wants to fly and is qualified pilot, but as an orphan of an early Kaiju attack has no blood relative who she could conceivably be drift compatible with.

At this point there are TWO OPTIONS. Both of them are successful metaphors about found family!

In option one, which is slightly more Hollywood mainstream, Raleigh encounters in the Jaeger program a former fellow pilot -- possibly one whose copilot is also dead -- who has always been his Rival. Whether or not they have shared childhood memories, they have shared memories of the Jaeger program, have similar experiences as pilots and as pilots who lost their copilots, and it turns out that they're drift-compatible, much to both of their chagrin. We now have a ready-made Rivals-to-Comrades story arc! (I really thought this was where they were going with Australian dude in the actual movie. Anyone else? Also, the fic would practically write itself.)

To preserve Mako's role in the plot, we have a parallel arc about how she might not have blood relatives, but she does have Idris Elba as the best adoptive father ever. But if he gets into a Jaeger he will die! Oh no! The fulfillment of her life-long dream would mean his death! But in the end there is no other way to save the world, and they pilot a Jaeger together to close the Rift. He dies floating in a raft as she holds him in her arms, and it is super tragic and also more touching than his actual death in the film.

In option two, which I just made up right this instant, it is not so hard Hollywood script doctors, we have an actual narrative effort to build parallels between Raleigh and Mako's life experiences. Nobody thinks they would be drift compatible, because the explicitly stated prerequisites are missing, but it turns out that though they have vastly different experiences, there are underlying correspondences within them -- of loss, of joy, of trauma, of success -- that allow them to successfully link with one another. It is a profound story of stepping beyond our assumptions about family and shared experience, and finding people with whom we really connect.

So yeah, that's the movie I wish I saw. It's a great movie! It still has the hilarious scientist side plot stuff, and the giant robots, and we can even leave in the stupid sword that you activate by pressing the "sword" button in your giant robot cockpit, and the Dance-Dance-Revolution piloting scenes.

Can I ask people what they liked about this movie? Not conceptually, or in its potential -- because I thought those things were awesome too! -- but in the actual movie on the screen? I'm honestly curious, and open to rewatching the whole thing (though not in theatres), but I'm kind of at a loss at where all the love I'm seeing on Tumblr is coming from.

Date: 2013-07-22 10:50 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
I felt similar to you about this movie, though the fact that I kept seeing so many ways it could have been better probably ended up making me like it less. (The way I summed it up right after I saw it was, "Not enough substance to be a thinky sci-fi movie, and not enough melodrama to be an effective B-movie.")

I'm a bit fascinated to see how many people HAVE been completely captivated by it, because it seems to me a good example of fans being willing to do a lot of the storytelling work on their own, when enough elements they like are present. I know I've done this plenty myself, in the past (especially with comics but also, like, with an episode or season of a favorite show that my rational mind acknowledges does not hang together very well.) For me, PR didn't have enough -- or enough of the right things -- to motivate me to do the work, but I can see how it might work for others.

Date: 2013-07-23 01:33 am (UTC)
chaila: Diana SWORDFIGHTING in a BALLGOWN. (pacific rim - big damn hero)
From: [personal profile] chaila
I liked it but I didn't loooove it, though of course subsequent fannishness and Tumblr probably makes me feel (and look) like I loved it more than I actually did in the moment of watching. But I liked it enough, relative to most other similar movies, to want to be fannish and improve on the parts of it that I did like. I have a review here, so I'd pretty much just be repeating myself. The short parts version is: I loved loved loved both Mako and Stacker (needed more time but I liked what we did get), mostly competently done action movie given a little more thought than most summer blockbusters seem to get, relative lack of chauvinistic nationalism/egoism as compared to most action/superhero blockbusters. I think it's an expectations game largely; I expected little and got a moderately good movie with two important POC characters with a relationship (it didn't pass the Bechdel test but it did pass the version of the Bechdel test modified for two people of color talking about something other than a white person), non-sexualized Mako with a hero arc of her own, and Idris Elba being a big damn hero.

Which doesn't mean that I don't agree with pretty much all the criticism people have of it; I totally agree that there are five easy ways it could have been amazing. But also, eh, it's not a sequel or a Marvel franchise (nothing against those, but they don't do much for me and fandom/the media is *dominated* by them) and I *wanted* to like it.

Date: 2013-07-23 03:52 am (UTC)
starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
From: [personal profile] starlady
*nods* Yeah, I second all these points. I think the expectations thing is key, and I definitely knew about its Bechdel fail and such going in. Also, I don't know, it was fun in a way that many Hollywood movies aren't--I enjoy movies as a rule, but few of them are fun per se, and this one totally was.

And, for me personally, I really enjoyed seeing Hollywood put a mecha anime on the big screen. I don't actually think they did that badly at it, either.

Date: 2013-07-23 01:48 pm (UTC)
chaila: Diana SWORDFIGHTING in a BALLGOWN. (pacific rim - mako)
From: [personal profile] chaila
I'm actually not sure it IS doing well. It's been pretty universally described as a flop, box office wise, at least domestically. It's doing better internationally where I expect it will continue to do better for a little while at least, and there seems to be an assumption that its relatively more diverse elements were actually an attempt at capturing more of the international market. So I guess the jury may be partly out and the studio may or may not ultimately consider it a flop. But the line on it right now is that it's a pretty big disappointment. So...who knows what Hollywood has learned about anything, except that it might want to stick to established franchises. :(

Date: 2013-07-23 04:43 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Connor and Duncan hugging. Text: "Clan MacLeod" (HL: Clan Hugs)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I may have gone in with lower expectations. For me, it it's going to be about 25-story robots fighting alien sea monsters, I'm not even suspending my disbelief, I'm leaving it at home. So tech inconsistencies? Eh. Randomly changing "shared memories" to "good chemistry"? Eh. Not bothered. I want to see a giant robot stab a flying sea monster dragon with a sword.

I liked that Mako was in no way may into the foxy asian or the hard-ass asian, but was basically Inigo Montoya, only a Japanese Girl. And she never ended up as the love interest. For me that worked really well. The superheroic drive to learn to pilot a giant robot so you can avenge your family. Plus her relationship with Elba was a) darling, and b) actually a really nice example of How to Do Cross-cultural Adoption.

I liked that Raleigh was supportive of her and backed up her dream to be a pilot, and didn't do it because he wanted to get laid. I also more or less didn't care about Raleigh. Or any of the other characters that weren't Stacker or Mako. I might have been dimly interested in Hercules. So my main annoyance with the movie, other than the lack or women, was that it had other characters in it.

Though I think there was a woman with lines who worked for Ron Perlman.

Date: 2013-07-23 03:43 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (roque)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
I did really really like that there wasn't a romantic plot between Mako and Raleigh.

Okay, but, there was? Or at least I thought the movie was very clearly telegraphing attraction between them (things like her spying on him and getting nervous when he's coming into her room, plus I thought the subtext of the last speech before they go into battle was heavily about him being into her.)

People seem to be giving the movie credit for developing a non-romantic relationship when what I saw was a poorly developed relationship with clearly telegraphed moments of attraction that the movie just didn't bother to pay off.

I may be kind of biased because I don't agree that there's anything inherently good about a heroine not having a romantic life. I like relationships between male and female characters that are developed and complex without being romantic (Joan Watson & Sherlock, MCU Natasha and Clint). But what I like about them is the part that is actually well-developed. What I dislike is the implication that a romantic plot diminishes the woman (and only the woman).

Date: 2013-07-23 04:31 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Thor standing in Asgard throne room, hammer raised in triumph. Text: Art Crawl! (Thor: Art Crawl!)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
But it never went anywhere? They didn't even kiss, or show any affection. There was a couple scenes that showed she found him physically attractive, and then absolutely nothing happened with it. Didn't get that subtext from the last speech at all.

I really like romance plots, too, but in action movies where the woman has a tendency to get pushed out of the action as it is (and Mako certainly did), making her the narrator's love interest wouldn't have added anything for me, and I'm glad they either didn't go there, or didn't do much with it. It would have spent time that her character was using for other things on being about a boy, and she had enough of that as it was. It could have diminished Raleigh too, by implying that he was stenning for her because he wanted to get laid. But I didn't really care about Raleigh, and thus have no real opinion on that.

Date: 2013-07-23 04:36 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
But it never went anywhere? They didn't even kiss, or show any affection.

I don't see how that makes the movie any better, though? As you say, she gets pushed out of the action anyway. At best the lack of explicit romance is neutral; I find it confusing to see it treated as a positive.

Date: 2013-07-23 05:02 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (daenerys)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
I can see that argument in abstract, but I'm personally not inclined to give too much credit for it -- possibly because I'm still trying to figure out why Mako was treated as the only person who would have a personal motivation for going after the monsters, which seems counterintuitive.

ETA: People keep trying to rec me mecha anime but none of it seems to be available :(.
Edited Date: 2013-07-23 05:08 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-07-24 01:45 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Close up Apollo and the Midnighter leaning in to touch foreheads. They look sad. (DC: Forehead hugs)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
For me when there's one significant woman in a movie, and she is also in a sexual relationship with the hero, it tells me that the only reason that the writer/director had a woman AT ALL is to have someone for the hero to sleep with. Otherwise, why not just have Masaru Mori?

At least here, Mako is in the movie as a female character to do something other than be the prize at the end. The end result is pretty much the same, or can, be, but it often feels like the intent is way different. A woman who is in something other than a romantic role, especially a romantic role where she's objectified, indicates that while the writer/director may be giving us a token female character because he realised that women exist and he should probably include one, at least he didn't put her in just so Raleigh could get laid.

The movie's lack of clarity as to who the protagonist actually was muddied that, but in summer action movies with a male main character, I really do prefer that, if there HAS to be only one woman, that they're not romantically involved with him. I don't mind of the main character is a woman, so much, though there usually IS more than one woman in that case anyway.

Especially true for me as there NEVER EVER seems to be a queer romance in these things.

I thought the best romance set up in this wasn't Mako/Raleigh but between the two scientists.

Date: 2013-07-24 01:49 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
For me when there's one significant woman in a movie, and she is also in a sexual relationship with the hero, it tells me that the only reason that the writer/director had a woman AT ALL is to have someone for the hero to sleep with. Otherwise, why not just have Masaru Mori?

Well that's certainly something you're entitled to believe.

Date: 2013-07-24 01:57 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Text: Let me just go in the next room and crochet, while you have cigars and brandy and talk about beheadings. (HL: Men's Business)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
You asked.

Date: 2013-07-24 02:11 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
Yes, and you confirmed the thing I said above: What I dislike is the implication that a romantic plot diminishes the woman (and only the woman).

Which I find both offputting in general and a poor reading of this particular movie.

But I've run through that above, and I don't want to drag this out in [personal profile] barometry's comments. Sorry about that.

Date: 2013-07-24 02:14 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Arwen in a white dress in the candlelight. (LotR: Evenstar)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I probably do feel that romantic plot sin this kind of movie can diminish the female character (or perhaps can fail to use the female character to her full potential), then. Though in this case it didn't make much difference either way.

Anyway, I think it's a good idea to let it rest for now.

Date: 2013-07-24 02:17 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
I probably do feel that romantic plot sin this kind of movie can diminish the female character (or perhaps can fail to use the female character to her full potential)

Yeah I think this is a fundamental disagreement we're not going to get to the bottom of. Sorry.

Date: 2013-07-24 02:12 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
Sorry if what I said came off as dismissive. I'm having a really hard time engaging with this argument in a productive way, and I'm sorry.

Date: 2013-07-24 02:21 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
It's fine, I think I said what I wanted to say.

Date: 2013-07-24 02:35 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Natalie and Pepper look on sceptically. (IM: "Natalie"/Pepper)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
All this can honestly be solved by ADDING MORE FEMALE CHARACTERS. Which is something I feel we all agree this movie needed more of.

Date: 2013-07-23 04:34 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Amanda playing with bubble bath. Text: "Bubbles!" (HL: Bubbles!)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I don't remember. You're probably right. I'm planning to go again this week some time. I'll let you know.

I had very high expectations in very specific areas: robots killing sea monsters and Idris Elba being a badass. Mission accomplished. The fact that I came out of it loving Mako to bits was a bonus.

Date: 2013-07-25 06:57 am (UTC)
angstbunny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angstbunny
The second movie was awesome, but it is not the movie that they actually made.

THIS TIMES A BILLION

And it's just... idk, it got aggravating for me to see people so into this movie when I find it... not that great. Urgh, which makes me sound like such a dick. >.< The way I described it on my Tumblr review is that fandom made me think this movie is something that it most decidedly isn't, in terms of representation and in terms of awesomeness. You've outlined a lot of the issues I have with it, and I WANT THAT MOVIE YOU DESCRIBED. That movie would've been so so much more satisfying.

Date: 2013-07-25 10:23 pm (UTC)
angstbunny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angstbunny
The funny thing is, if I only watched the movie on the screen, I would've probably enjoyed it more (though I still would've thought it was bad), but I was watching the movie that fandom was watching, so I was watching a movie that didn't live up to that expectation. But I was also watching a movie that didn't live up to its own promises either, just as you put it, with all that delicious tendrils about soulbonding and personal identity. It did all this worldbuilding that had so many implications and yet it just merrily jumped right over them without developing any of it. Just like you, I could've thought of a million ways this movie could've been more interesting and more representative, and I didn't have to tax my brain very hard at all. Not to mention, Guillermo Del Toro. If it was, lol, Michael Bay, then I would've been like, "oh well." But Del Toro has given me, you know, Pan's Labyrinth. There is also an expectation there.

I have great capacity for plot holes. It just bugs me when there is a MUCH BETTER movie lurking behind a mediocre one that's really really really obvious, and yet it doesn't go there, it doesn't reach, and worse, people are like YAYAYAYA about it, and I'm like, BUT THERE IN THE DISTANCE DO YOU NOT SEEEEEEE????

Hahahahah oh Riddick.

Date: 2013-07-29 05:55 pm (UTC)
trinity_clare: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trinity_clare
I'm on my lunch break, so I'm going to comment and dash -- I've seen the movie twice, and I love it.

For sure, the script is the weakest thing about this movie. The dialogue is uniformly terrible. Idris Elba sold the shit out of that Independence Day speech and it still fell pretty flat. Raleigh (and I agree; Raleigh Becket, really?) spent half the movie yelling things across the cockpit to the person who is literally sharing his brain (gingerhaze is 100% correct about this). The best line-reader in this movie is Charlie Day by a long shot, and he's great but that's really not saying a lot.

For sure, the lack of female characters was distracting, annoying, and all around unforgivable. I fell asleep last night to a vision of a movie where the Australian jaeger pilots were mother and daughter instead of father and son, and nearly wept from the beauty of it.

HOWEVER.

1) I have seen a lot of action movies over the past few years, and I am sick and tired of all the grimdarkness. Dark =/= Serious. The Dark Knight Rises was terrible. Man of Steel was an atrocity. I'm not even going to get started on Star Trek Into Darkness. The bar is set low in this category. I do not expect a masterpiece. (I did also go through a mecha phase as a preteen, so this movie made my inner 12-year-old VERY HAPPY.)

2) This world had depth. Maybe it didn't all make it to the forefront, but as a fanperson I am thrilled to bits about the prospect of playing around in this sandbox.

3) The script was weak, sure, but some of the other stuff was delightful. Smarter people than I have talked about the movie's visual intelligence. It's a movie that feels like it was crafted, instead of just thrown together. Maybe I'm reading too much into that, especially since I have been listening to what Del Toro has said in interviews.

4) IT WAS SO PRETTY. SOOOOO PRETTY. I mean, that's my most compelling argument. YMMV.

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barometry: solid wall of paperbacks stacked up (Default)
Barometry Jones

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