Fri
Jul 26 2013 11:00am
Simple Does Not Equal Dumb, and Other Assorted Thoughts on Pacific Rim

There’s a kind of meme going around right now with regard to Pacific Rim that really gets up my nose: that Pacific Rim is a “dumb movie.” As in, a friend recently asked on Facebook if anyone had seen it, and amongst the responses was a comment along the lines of, “It was a dumb movie, but I really liked it.” Even Chris Lough here at Tor has described it as “an exceptionally loud, kind of dumb action movie that focuses on being really good as an exceptionally loud, kind of dumb action movie.”

Respectfully, I would like to disagree. Or at least, insist that we stop using the word dumb. Simple? Sure. Uncomplicated? Absolutely. Spectacular, in the truest sense of the word? Hell yes. But none of these things are dumb.

You want to know what’s a dumb movie? The Transformers movies are dumb movies. Each one is a repellent, overloaded spectacle trying to cluster-bomb every conceivable market quadrant with hyperviolent action scenes, decorative girls, scatological jokes, the occasional dollop of racism, and intense military fetishism, all the while exhibiting the most staggering contempt for its audience that I’ve ever seen. Cowboys and Aliens, bless it, is a dumb movie—it takes what should have been some good campy genre-blending fun and turns it into an impossible-to-follow, po-faced melodrama. These are dumb movies, and if you insist on filing Pacific Rim alongside the likes of that, I will fight you.

And I’m not saying Pacific Rim is an intellectual masterpiece on the order of Tarkovsky’s Stalker either. Let’s face it: some of the dialogue falls flat; the characters are often more like Characters In a Movie rather than well-rounded people; and Charlie Hunnam was not, for me, the most charismatic of leading men. But these things do not a “dumb movie” make.

When people say that Pacific Rim is a “dumb movie,” what exactly do they mean? Is it code for “I liked a movie about mechas fighting monsters, but I’m kind of embarrassed about it, so I’ll say it’s dumb to prove that I’m smart”? Is it a reaction to the fact that the plot wasn’t some convoluted mess that you had to “figure out” á la Inception or the later Matrix movies? Is it discomfort with the absence of an Important Life Lesson neatly spelled out over the closing credits? Is it just that it wasn’t dark enough? It’s probably one or more of all of the above.

To the embarrassed, I say this: come on. You propelled The Avengers to the top of the box office charts, and that’s a movie about superteam that includes the following: a guy who flies around in a mechanical suit, a super-soldier from the 1940s, a Norse god, a dude who turns big and green when he gets angry, a spy who can springboard-vault onto a moving space scooter, and an archer who fights aliens with trick arrows.

Let’s go back even further and peel off the gloss of nostalgia that covers those glorious touchstones of our youth. Star Wars? You have a boy named Luke Skywalker fighting an evil galactic empire, and the main bad guy—toweringly huge, clad entirely in black, and with a name that screams “villain”—is practically a caricature of movie evil. Raiders of the Lost Ark? The hero is trying to stop Nazis from stealing the Ark of the Covenant and the hero’s name is Indiana Jones. If you have a problem with a name like “Stacker Pentecost” and not with that, I can’t help you.

Point being, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. And yes, the plot of Pacific Rim is the simplest thing in the world—alien monsters from another dimension want to kill us all, and our heroes are going to stop it—but Star Wars and Raiders aren’t significantly more complex either. There’s been this tendency in genre film of late to layer plot upon plot, twist upon twist, in pursuit of a complexity that is unfortunately not synonymous with intelligent filmmaking. Take Cowboys and Aliens, maligned above—what ought to be a fairly straightforward Man With No Name sort of story turns into a messy affair with aliens in pursuit of gold for reasons that are never entirely clear, and I still have no idea what the ruined steamboat was doing there.

Over the years, audiences have been trained to believe that significance and maturity in genre filmmaking is equivalent to the darkness and grittiness therein. With Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and now Man of Steel, Zac Snyder is becoming the king of this trope; Star Trek: Into Darkness is similarly troublesome. And even though Iron Man 3 comes by its darkness honestly, it does contribute, however unwittingly, to the misperception that Dark = Serious. This has happened in comics, too—Warren Ellis memorably spoofed this tendency in issue #7 of Planetary, “To Be in England, In the Summertime.” This send-up of the Vertigo golden age and the Frank Miller-ization of superhero comics featured a washed-up superhero who wails, “I should have been noble! Clean! Single! I didn’t want to wake up in Soho with twelve valiumed-up Thai rentboys and terrible stains on my tights!”

There’s no cynical, gratuitous grimness or ugliness in Pacific Rim. True, the scale of the destruction, when you think about it, dwarfs the much-decried ruination of Metropolis in Man of Steel, but the movie makes a point of showing Stacker ordering the evacuation of Hong Kong and of showing people retreating to shelters, and when Raleigh and Mako take Gipsy Danger through the streets in pursuit of the kaiju, they step neatly over an elevated walkway rather than barging right through it. It’s a small gesture, but a telling one.

Pacific Rim, for all the visceral excitement of titans in fistfights, is at its heart a sweetly optimistic film about heroism in the face of near-certain defeat, and about overcoming one’s demons not through solitary angst and lonely self-sacrifice, but through loving and caring for one another. No one actually spells this out in small words, but it’s there in Mako’s defeat of her childhood trauma in slaying a kaiju with a giant sword that Raleigh didn’t know their Jaeger had. It’s there in the way that Raleigh saving Mako’s life is personal redemption for his inability to save his brother. It’s in Striker Eureka’s last stand at the Breach, when Chuck overcomes his egocentric hunger for glory and Stacker makes the ultimate sacrifice for his adopted daughter. It’s even there in Geiszler and Gottlieb overcoming their rivalry to enter the Drift with the kaiju brain.

All this and I haven’t even gotten to the exquisite visual storytelling at work, of which Guillermo del Toro is one of our contemporary masters. Visual storytelling of all kinds gets a bad rap; comics aren’t “real books,” and Pacific Rim is derided as “spectacle.” But is that really a terrible thing, especially in a movie, which is a visual medium before it’s anything else? There’s a moment in the Hong Kong battle where Gipsy Danger pauses in front of an enormous glass skyscraper, in which are reflected blue neon lights from another building across the way, and on my second viewing I realized that it tied directly to the glowing blue stripes on the kaiju that comes bursting out of the skyscraper seconds later. Details like that don’t happen in dumb movies. And for more on this, allow me to direct you to Sam Keeper’s “The Visual Intelligence of Pacific Rim,” because almost anything I could say on this subject, he’s done very well in his post. And as you can see, I’m absolutely in agreement with Sam when he writes:

We have reached a point, and really let this one sink in because it gets more flooring the more you think about it, where it’s more radical and unacceptable to say, ‘Humans can accomplish amazing things when we set aside our differences and disagreements and work together to make the world a better place,’ than to say something sour and bitter and cynical.

As thrilling as the kaiju fights are, the greatest pleasures of Pacific Rim are, dare I say, simple, old-fashioned, and humane. A lot of people don’t seem to know how to deal with this anymore, or accept it without irony. But spend a little time on the #pacific rim tag on Tumblr, and you’ll find a multitude of fans who have been touched by it, deeply and profoundly moved by it; not just by the main characters, but by the simplest gestures of the “background” characters as well—the Kaidanovskys have a big following all their own, and it’s completely adorable. Del Toro has created a world that fans have moved into wholesale, loving every bit of it and wanting more. And that’s something a genuinely “dumb” movie could never accomplish.


Karin Kross lives and writes in Austin, TX. She can be found elsewhere on Tumblr and Twitter.

49 comments
Shan
1. Shan
Great review. So what if it followed the action movie formula? Pacific Rim followed it excellently and it did it with passion. Do you know what else if formulaic? Sonnets.
Plus, while it didn't prentend to be anything but a summer block-buster, it also did a few really smart, decidedly unformulaic things too. The lead didn't end up with the girl, it wasn't the "America Saves the Day Show" like in Iron Man, Captain America and Man of Steel, and Del Toro gave a lot more depth to his non-white characters than you will see in probably any of the other movies you listed in the review above. And as you said, while simple is not dumb, gritty is not deep. Hollywood really needs to buck that trend and soon.
Carrie Vaughn
2. Carrie_Vaughn
Yes, all of this.

Idealism is the new gritty. Love it.
Shan
3. dhark
Well you have a good point wincingly painful lines of dialog like: "The armor is pure iron, no alloys!" as if that is a remotely good thing and "All modern Jeagers are digital . Not all of them! Gypsy is analog, nuclear!" are what elevated it a fun yet dumb movie. Stuff like that hurt my brain...a l
Andrew Gray
4. madogvelkor
Mostly unrelated, but I agree with you about Cowboys and Aliens. It could have been a much more interesting and enjoyable movie.

For a more enjoyable take on a similar idea, I reccomend the often overlooked movie "Outlander". It could have been called Vikings and Aliens. :)
Cody
5. Tarcanus
@3 Not only those instances, but Newt's comment about dinosaur's having two brains has been false for over a decade, now. That was just bad science.
Shan
6. Compactrobot
I suggest that pedants debating the accuracy of science in Pacific Rim, or any sci-fi/fantasy film, should simply stop consuming fiction.

The film clearly does not take place in our reality. It's a reality with giant robots and monsters. It' s a reality where people are actually named Stacker Pentecost and work at the Shatterdome. There is no imperative for the science in such a world to be accurate with reagrds to our current real-world science.

If that's something you can't roll with, stay away from fiction.
Emmet O'Brien
7. EmmetAOBrien
I can agree with a lot of this, and I enjoyed Pacific Rim immensely, but calling Inception a convoluted mess that needed figuring out (let alone the later Matrix movies, which are about as convoluted as noughts and crosses) loses me entirely; enjoying simple linear storytelling with predictable/archetypal beats (if done well) doesn't have to be at the expense of also enjoying interesting layered structures (if done well), and what Inception is doing seems entirely clear and intuitively obvious to me; very few genre movies need "figuring out" - Primer, maybe. (Not that that isn't fun in its own way also.)
Shan
8. Cybersnark
Also, this movie is a love-letter to old kaiju movies and super-robot anime, which were famous for their bad science and overly broad character types.

I'm willing to write those parts off as deliberate homage.
Shan
9. OgreMkV
One thing that bothers me is that a lot of science fiction people decry the lowbrow humor and lack of (for lack of a better word) "drama" in modern science fiction (or action movies for that matter)... a lot of the problem is that when something really extraordinary comes out... we call it dumb.

Moon was this gritty, drama science fiction movie and I couldn't stomach it. I don't go to the movies for psychological menderings... I go for visual appeal and because it's an awesome way to see a giant robot hitting a giant monster... with a ship.

Even a book can't handle the descriptions that well. Who would have noticed that Mako's blue hair matched her jacket in a book (without being told). Who would noticed that Rayliegh and Mako's actions with the ship matched their kendo patterns... without being told.

When a movie that really twists the mind comes out we are left with a feeling of uncertainty... was the end in a dream or not? Instead of victory for the good guys against the evil giant monsters.

I'm rambling and it's hard to say what I'm thinking about this. We don't want all science fiction to be Inception. We want fun. But when we get good fun (and PR is the best fun), we deride it.

I think I'm going to go see it a third time, just to make sure the studios know that I like this kind of film... though I really, really wish they had gotten in touch with a scientist. There's nothing inherently wrong with monsters from another dimension have a second brain... but dinosaurs didn't. And don't get me started on a nuclear reactor that explodes instead of just getting really hot and radioactive (and all the water would probably stop the neutrons anyway).
Shan
10. markerikson
I think you've misinterpreted why people are maligning this movie. It's not because it ain't dark or gritty enough, it's because it's dumb. It's really, really dumb. And the reason it's dumb is almost entirely because the dialogue is terrible.

The movie was at its best during the wordless scenes. Robots punching monsters. Monsters grappling with robots. The most compelling scene in the entire movie was Mako fleeing and hiding from the monster as a child. But any time a character opened their mouth, the awfulness that spewed out robbed the movie of any suspension of disbelief.

With a better script that followed the exact same simple, straightforward plot, this would have been a much, much better movie. As it stands, it's dumb.
Shan
11. Ben Delat
It can be fun and simple, and still be dumb -- even ignoring the uniformly bad dialogue, the dumbness can be traced to (a) forcing the 2-hour storyline along, or (b) setting up for the visuals.

(a) Why is a wall and moving people inland somehow a solution to the monsters, where fighting them isn't? Especially when they are shown to easily break through the wall, and then wander around on land (and/or fly). If you were going to build a wall, why would you decommision your robots before it was done?

Del Toro wanted a "small band of heroes saves the world" scenario, and did what he had to to force it along.

(b) If you have a robot made of some special metal ("pure iron(?), not an alloy(!)"), built to punch kaiju into submission, why would you pick up a container ship to beat the kaiju with? Is your robot made of the same stuff as a container ship? If you have plasma guns that kill kaiju, why not put them on helicopters/planes and just shoot them from the air? If you have a sword that can just cut a kaiju in half, why not start with that? If you are building a customized monster-fighting robot, why not build the plasma gun and swords in as arms?

The whole point was just to get the visuals of robots going up against the monsters in close-up hand-to-hand combat.

It wasn't dumb because it was simple, it was dumb as well as being simple -- although still great to just look at.
Shan
12. dav
Film Crit Hulk over at Badass Digest wrote a pretty amazing article about the evolution of the convoluted blockbuster. http://badassdigest.com/2013/06/12/film-crit-hulk-smash-the-age-of-the-convoluted-blockbuster/

Seems appropriate.
Charles Hamlyn
13. cbhamlyn
@6: They took great pains to show that Pacific Rim, while fiction *IS* supposed to be set in our world in the future. Golden Gate Bridge and other recogonizable landmarks in addition to the names of countries and states and everything. So if someone is turned off by "bad science" in a fictional movie based on our world, that's totally legit. It's a cop-out to say "Well it's fiction" when they (appear to) attempt to use real-science and mess it up. I'm a big fan of the movie, but I got hung up on a couple of those things, and to say I shouldn't watch fiction because of it, that's kind of a black and white of you to say.

@11: I think you nailed it. I think a lot of the people calling it dumb are the ones that can't embrace the idea that giant robots would be the best solution to a giant monster problem. If you can punch a giant monster into submission, surely missles and bullets would do the same thing faster, and jets would be more manuverable. I loved the movie but cringed at the stupidity of having jets engage those things at the range they were at. I mean, why try to fly between it's legs or whatever when you can just pelt it from a couple miles out and veer off to make a second approach?
Brian Carlson
14. images8dream
@12: That was an interesting article. I know Man of Steel has its problems and its share of internet hatred, but I thought that it, like Pacific Rim, did not suffer from needless obfustication. You get to see Superman's early life at the beginning of the film, which gives motivation for the end. Same with Pacific Rim.

@6: This is grossly incorrect. There is a whole body of philosophical literature on this subject. Basically, fiction does not have the time to tell you all the facts about the imaginary world it is creating (e.g. is water still made out of H2O? Is there still an alpha centauri star system? Is drywall the main building material for interior walls? Do people pay taxes?). So it relies on the audience to import a large number of facts from the actual world into the fictional world, unless the audience is explicitly told that fact isn't true. Pacific Rim never makes any attempt to convince us that the world being presented has grossly differrent physical laws than our world (gravity still works, light behaves correctly, etc.), so we can safely import those facts into the film. Thus, when those facts are violated, we are thrown out of the fiction. So the stuff about dinosuar brains, alloys, digital vs. analog, flying kaiju, and nuclear reactors really are aesthetic flaws. They violate the import knowledge that the film told us was true.

On the other hand, the movie is in the giant robot fighting monster genre. The film makes an attempt to claim that in this world, fighting with giant robots is a good idea (although I think this point should have been addressed specifically). So we know not to import our facts about military strategy against giant aliens.

So, you are correct that there is no imperative for the science to be correct in a work of fiction, but the work has to make clear to us that the science is differrent, and tell us what exactly about the science is differrent. Anything else is sloppy storytelling.
Shan
15. Jason Langlois
@11: The belief was that the Kaiju were mindless beasts, so walling them up would keep them under control. Up to the point where Knifehead busts the wall in Sydney, the walls probably seemed like a good solution. Given they were building the walls, I'd expect they hadn't faced a flying kaiju yet, either. The moving people inland was also predicated on the assumption of "mindless beast" kaiju. It's not until the Drift with the kaiju brain that anyone knows this is a directed invasion of earth, and that the kaiju are purposefully targeting the human population.

They say that they're funding the Jaeger program for 8 months, until the walls are finished. It's just that they're not building new Jaegers, and diverting the money they were putting into that program into the wall building... the arguement would be "Why build new Jaegers when we'll just be decommisioning them in 8 months anyway... that money should go towards speeding up wall production!" Also, Striker Eureka was decommisioned after the wall around Austrailia was finished, so they were waiting.

In hindsight, the wall program was an bad idea... but given the available knowledge, and the dismissal of the "radical" kaiju science the two Doctors were preaching, I totally bought it as a typical government solution to a problem.
Sean Tabor
16. wingracer
I haven't seen the film yet so I can't comment on that but a few comments on the comments.

@1. You are so right on formula. The fugue is also a formula. Pretty much everything Bach wrote followed the contrapuntal formula of the time and yet, he is widely regarded as the greatest composer to ever live.

@9. Nuclear reactors do blow up, it's just not a nuclear explosion. The high heat causes the water to break down into hydrogen and oxygen. When this hygrogen and oxygen gas builds up in a confined space full of electrical gear and high temperatures, what do you have? A big freakin bomb. See Fukashima and Chernobyl. But you are correct in that it would not be a giant nuclear detonation like is often portrayed in movies. I also agree with you about Moon.

And regarding "visual spectacle" or "visual storytelling" from the aricle, the only times I would use those as deragatory are when that is the only thing good about an otherwise awful film. A rotten script with terrible actors and bad directing but the best visuals ever put on screen is still a bad movie. It might still be worth seeing, but it's still bad.

It seems like what you are implying is that the visuals are the most important thing in a movie and the most important aspect of something is all that matters. I disagree with both points.

1. Visuals are not the most important thing in a movie. The story is the most important thing. The story can be told visually. I have seen some great films that had very little dialog (and virtually no explanation in what little dialog was there) but they were not great because the story was told visually but because it was a great story told well. Castaway on the Moon fits this bill for me. Brilliant film. But that's not the only way to tell a story. Pi was a great story (imo, I know a lot of others hate it) and it's pretty much all dialog with very little going on visually.

2. There are a lot of different factors that go into making a great movie. The script, the acting, the directing, cinematogrophy/effects, sound, etc. Now a film certainly doesn't need to be great at all those things but it does need to have more than one going for it. It's like the Neil Gaiman speech where he talks about publishers and editors like three traits in an author: they are likeable, they are on time, and they are good. But as he said, you really only need two of the three. When a movie forsakes all else in favor of dazzling effects (insert favorite Michael Bay insult here), you get a pretty but bad film.
Shan
17. Jayms
TRON: Legacy got a similar, undeserved trouncing by cynical critics, and that was intelligent AND dark.
.
What it comes down to is that there will always be people that think everything is dumb, either because they immediately understand it (if you understand it before it's explained it means that you're smarter than the movie, right?), or because the movie didn't match their expectations of it, or because what works to suspend your disbelief in a two-minute trailer gets tiresome after 1.5 hours. Not only that, but the audience wants to, by default, resist what a movie is feeding them. If you're suppose to feel a certain way, and the movie pushes that onto you, it's almost as if people go, "Aha! I see what you're doing! You take me for a fool? You can't trick me!" If a movie makes one feel* something it's because it tricked the audience into feeling that way! Oh, movies - why do you push us around and tell us what to do?! ;)
.
Heck, some people think Avatar was dumb! That was one of, if not THE, most amazing movie I've ever seen. The visuals are amazing, sure, but the pace of the movie was spot-on. It didn't linger on how clever the characters are - you know that self-serving cleverness that movies strive for nowadays - the hero looks at one tiny bit of evidence and suddently knowledge of everything that's happening springs forth into their mind in a lucid manner - they just know. Avatar wasn't about the cleverness of the human mind, or the characters inate ability to just figure things out, but about passion, respect, and instinct. These things are not dumb.
.
Modern movies try to confuse the viewer as a substitute for 'smart' movie-making - if you keep the audience in the dark and they can't figure it out in a matter of seconds then the movie must be 'smart', right? Not quite - being convoluted and obtuse does not necessarily mean the characters are smart, or that the logic of events is sound.
.
Some people also tend to believe that a characters that spells out their emotions and their thoughts in a way that the audience agrees with is an indication that the movie is smart - if you understood it exactly as the character does, and you're smart, that means the character MUST be smart, right? Goodness forbid the movie character makes the same decision you would have but, in doing so, events turn to disaster! What a dumb movie! In 'smart' movies the characters always make the decision you would have made and it's always the correct decision.
.
To me, a dumb movie is one that points out the obvious, then proceeds to explain the obvious, then it spells it out more slowly still, long after you got it - or when key information is arbitrarily omitted simply as a way to keep the audience from putting two and two together to get four. A smart movie is one that knows that a good story doesn't need to be spelled out to the audience, nor do actions need to be hidden - the audience should be given as much information as possible in order to come to a reasonable conclusion, and it must be done through more than just dialogue.
.
Movies are a visual-auditory medium, not simply a platform for reading to the audience as if from a book. That's one of the things that I didn't like about Kosinski's Oblivion, for example - why do we need everything spelled out to us? Instead of showing us that (Morgan Freeman's character) disagrees with his second in command through an argument, Freeman simply says to the main character that they disagree with one another! It's as if all the interesting human interaction happened in the other room, five minutes ago, and we missed it!
.
Movies are a medium of emotion and passion more than thought. That's not to say that the audience doesn't need to think, but that how one percieves and believes what they're seeing is far more important than exactly the sequence of words that are used in the dialogue. I would love to see a movie made in complete gibberish, using the words that would have been spoken, but in a jumbled manner, emphasizing certain words, and see how that affects how the audience feels about the movie. Language in movies is not as relevant as audio-visual cues, which is why some silent movies (or silent characters) ellicit a far more powerful response from the audience - like Wall-E, or the concerned parents in Tangled where you could feel the weight of their loss in their body language.
.
I have a lot more thoughts on this, but I've already written too much!
Shan
18. Kasiki
I saw the movie yesterday and enjoyed it greatly.
I believe i simply out thoguht the movie at a few area.
I get that some weapons become un weildly at certain sizes. How big a missle or gun can you actualy make and it still work? But clearly the best way they found to take down each of the monsters was physically, so they used metal fists....Later they decide blades work two... so why weren't they built to be like knights and be able to hold weapons like a sword, sheild, mace, speak to increase that physical damage or protect itself?

The last hong kong Keiju. The flyer. was it just me or did it evolve to fly when it lost its tail? I didn't see wings anywhere then there they are and it is flying. It was a WTF moment, that lead to another one with the arm mounted sword that the origonal pilot didn't know about (and it was his arm origonally too), that then proved rediculously effective and notice then the two remaining Bots bot have arm blades for the final mission.. it took you this long to figure that Out?

Those were really my only - "Dumb"- moments. Over all it was much better than i hoped and never seemed to rush, lag, or seem too long. a simply story told in a beautifully entertaining Sci fi way. Wish far more movies would do it this way.
Shan
19. Tesh
@17 Actually, I thought Avatar was dumb because its major plotline was "Big Eeeeeevil Corporation and Crazy Military vs. Space Hippies". It had brilliant moments, like Jake taking his Avatar out for its first ride, where the tech of moviemaking really carried the day, and the visuals were very, very good, but the core was paint by numbers Hollywood political storytelling.

The parents in Tangled were another bit of brilliance, agreed; they communicate very well without every saying a word. They feel like real people because of what they do, not how they look.

As for Pacific Rim, I haven't seen it yet, but, like Star Trek, I fully expect the science to be poor, but the "spectacle" to be excellent. I'm perfectly OK with that for a single viewing, when I'm just along for the ride. I'm even OK with studying the thing for filmmaking and visual FX tech, since that's my professional interest. I just won't use it as a good example of "smart *science* fiction"... and there's nothing wrong with that.

Maybe there's merit in realizing that elements of a movie might be dumb (science, dialogue, acting), and other elements might be brilliant (staging, SFX, CG, pacing, whatever), all within the same movie.
Niraj Merchant
20. NirajMerchant
I think that Pacific Rim was a dumb movie because the basic premise of the movie was rather unbelievable in the world that they had created. In addition, the whole neural load thing didnt ring true to me at all either, as what inputs were the people getting from the robot that they couldnt handle. The characters were not great, and the plot was mediocre. While it wasnt a travesty like the transformers movies, having to make so many allowances to accept a movie firmly places in in dumb territory for me. Simply verifiable statements like the alloy one were gotten wrong. The dinosaur brain thing was something that was debunked years ago completely.

Avatar on the other hand was a visual spectacle with better characters, though it had an equally mediocre plot. Where that movie did better was that the world of Avatar was much more fully realized and internally consistent. Rarely did someone just do something a particular way because it was cool. The technology seemed to work in a consistent manner.

My main criticism of Avatar was its undercurrent of racism and the boring predictable plot. However it got many things right. On the other hand, my main criticism of Pacific Rim was bad characterization, weak plot, and unrealistic use of technology. Hence it was a beautiful but dumb movie
Shan
21. puck
No. I'm sorry, it is a horrifically DUMB movie. It can still have good points, it can still be fun, but that doesn't keep it from being dumb.

My measure for dumbness? The number of times I literally face-palmed in the theater and looked at my friends and family to see the "wtf" expressions on their faces.

Dumb (SPOILERS):
1) The "science." I'm not even talking the pseudo sci-fi "science." I'm just talking the "every school kid knows a dinosaur doesn't have two brains so WHY the hell does this supposed 'expert' biologist think that's legit??" The selective EM field and G.Danger being "manual" (WHAT.) and so much more.

2) The plot had so, so many plot holes the size of a truck to service the flimsy set up. I just can't even...

3) The dialouge, yeah. I groaned a lot, but I could maybe give it a pass as a homage, considering the roots of the thing.

4) The plot was so amazingly dumb and cliche, that I called ALL of the "twists." From the deaths that would happen (brother, adoptive father, "Villian" and 2nd tier pilots? OH YEAH), to the minor stuff like the Kaiju being pregnant (I actually said "PREGNANT!" at soon as we got the line about a team going in the Kaiju), to Hannibal getting eaten, to minor things like every move Mako made. And I don't think I was the only special snowflake that could do that. It was painfully dumb.

5) The stupidity of the human race (due to story or design). "Let's build big humanoid robots, when mostly we try to fight Kaiju in the water BEFORE they destroy things on land! Not aqua vechicles! Not something that can be transported in a reasonable way (copters, omg)! But something that takes forever to get there and is completely ineffective in force or movement when it does." "Hey guys, you have big guns...but let's PUNCH IT UP CLOSE instead! Wait, guns not as effective as a sword? TRY GUNS FIRST EVERYTIME!" "Fail safe on big guns? A BIG PLUG. On the 'MANUAL' Jaeger!"

6) Are we a drama? Or a comedy? Because someone needs to let Burn know that his over-acting is freaking hilarious on it's own, but completely off next to super-serious scenes of people dying. The weird over-the-top antics of the science guys and Hannibal were so bizarre next to the seriousness of the pilots and other crew. Where is the direction?

Bonus) You mention the "occasional dollop of racism" in Transformers? But "Gipsy Danger" is what? Totally not cringe worthy? I mean, cool we have yet another black guy in a position of power who gets killed. Or the Asian girl who is super smart and happens to know martial arts. These are cliches and though I'm glad there is diversity (yay, leading lady who's not the sum of her cliches! Except the trama caused by Godzilla...um.), but it could still be done better.

I could go on, but here's the thing: Just because you like something doesn't mean you can tell everyone else that their extremely similar descriptor word is not as right as yours.

I liked things about Pacifim Rim. I thought the visuals were beautiful and extremely well done. That whole department needs a huge raise. The music was great. There were scenes that made me laugh (intentionally). I loved Ron Perlman's cameo. This does not make the dumb stuff go away.
Shan
22. jere7my
Calling the science in a kaiju movie "dumb" makes about as much sense as complaining about the inconsistent physics in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is a positive good that Pacific Rim contained lousy science and ridiculous tactics and cheese-tacular dialogue; it displayed respect for genre. Accurate science wouldn't have improved the movie; it would have missed the point entirely.
Shan
23. Jimk
This movie reminds me of Shawshank Redemption in one sense. It's being overlooked by the general audience for varous reasons. I forsee a late bloomer. Robots and monster really? Yet after seeing it I understand why its garnering mostly positive reviews. This is one of the best pure fun kick butt action movies of the summer. The action is much more entertaining and the effects more amazing than that other robot movie. I was pleasantly suprised. I know people get tired of too much CGI, but the effects in the movie are amazing.
Peter Tijger
24. Peter-Tijger
It is dumb to let your so-called intelligence stand in the way of enjoying a movie. Really, lots of people miss out on fun things because they want to be regarded as intelligent and/or adults...and by that somehow not allowed to enjoy things regarded as kiddy/dumb by the majority. That majority itself is probably not as bright as they think themselves.
Sit back, relax and enjoy, not everything has to be so intelligently thoughtprovoking.
Alan Brown
25. AlanBrown
Good article, and a spirited defense of the premise.I am surprised to see some holding Avatar up as a 'non-dumb' movie, as the science was questionable (floating mountains? unobtainium?), as were the social aspects (I am surprised the military men did not have mustaches to twirl to go along with evil laughs), the heavy handed morality, and the horribly stock characters.
And in other threads on this site, I and others have outlined the problems we found with Pacific Rim. I have read, however, that the filmmakers did not throw science out the window--they had advisors and when they did take liberties with science, it was to serve the story they were trying to present. For example, if you are going to have giant robots versus giant monsters, you cannot hew to the cube-square law that limits the size of robots and monsters in the real world.
But I will say that, while they used some stock elements in building their worlds, and sometimes bent science to fit the stories, both Avatar and Pacific Rim allowed me to suspend my disbelief, swept me into another world, and I enjoyed the heck out of both of them.
Shan
26. SYABM
decorative girls,
T1: Mikaela helps 'Bee in the final battle, despite clearly being terrified, negotiates her father's way out of jail, worries about being seen as shallow.
T2: Captures Wheelie all on her own, basically runs her dad's garage, hotwires a car and runs over Alice
T3: Carly, a professional woman with no combat skills or military experience at all manages to talk a millenia-old conquerer into killing the big bad.

In the comics, Carly uses a Transformer's weapon to fend off a decepticon, and in an alternate version where the 'Cons won, Mikaela's a major resistance agent.

I disagree. I honestly believe Mikaela is a better protagonist than Sam is, and find it tragically ironic that a character who's misjudged by her appearance is often, by viewers, misjudged by her appearance.

It's also ironic that, in an article about simple not being dumb, you assumed the TF movies were dumb because they appeared simple.
Shan
27. Cvnov15
"Dumb" is basically a lazy term normally used by lazy people who just didn't put in some efforts to follow thru the whole story, be it good or bad. And when others ask them about the show, they can just put it down bluntly as "DUMB"

And the correct terms to describe Pacific Rim are SHALLOW and CHILDISH
Howard Brazee
28. HowardBrazee
I've only seen previews. They obviously didn't come up with a smart reason to explain why humanoid robots is an ideal fighting machine. Our past experience is very, very different.

Maybe the movie found a reasonable explanation. Or maybe it is just dumb.
Lee Anderson
29. DSNiner
Thank you so much for writing this. I couldn't agree more.
Shan
30. Jenrose
I enjoyed watching it. As we walked out, I said, "Fun movie, but there was some truly terrible science in there."

My 20 year old daughter looked at me and laughed. "Watch it for the punching robots, Mom. Not the science."

The punching robots were AWESOME. The monsters were fantastic. The people were endearing. The science was atrocious.
Shan
31. BMunro
My verdict?

NOT EPIC ENOUGH.

The robots were cool, I guess, but I never really cared for the giant mecha genre. The monster designs were OK, but didn't really make me go "wow" or anything. Didn't really give a crap for any of the characters, although my general fondness for humorous British mad scientist types made me tolerant of the physicist guy. Only occasionally got more of a feel for the hugeness of the monsters than I would have in an old movie with guys in rubber suits bouncing off eachother. No real sense of the scale of the destruction inflicted by the monsters. Never got a real sense of scale for the "wall" they were building. "Cloverfield" gave me a better feel for the terror of a Kaiju attack than this movie. The Final Boss monster's design made me go "ho hum."

I could have put up with a lot of the sillyness for a sufficient level of Awesome. But the movie just didn't impress me as being so much of a step beyond previous Giant Monster movies to make up for it. Overall, a decent popcorn-muncher, but it sure as hell isn't the monster movie answer to "Star Wars."
Shan
32. Urstoff
I agree that simplicity in plotting is a virtue that has been completely lost in action or sci-fi movies these days, probably because if you have a simple plot, you need to have much stronger characters, dialogue, motivations, etc. Pacific Rim exposes just this; the plot is simple, but this shows just how bad everything else is. Comparing it to Star Wars or Indiana Jones is just nonsense. Raleigh Becket is not going to become the icon Indiana Jones is. Why? Because Raleigh Becket is incredibly boring and generic. He had an obligatory past trauma to get over, has pretty much no personality, and looks and talks like someone put Channing Tatum, Chris Pine, and the Hemsworth brothers in a blender in order to smooth out any differences between them that make them individually unique or interesting.

Plus the obvious scientific howlers (a giant, computer-controlled robot is somehow analog). We can suspend our disbelief that the square/cube law doesn't hold and so we can have giant lizard monsters and giant robots (that can wield a container ship without it bending/breaking). What we can't suspend is just some very basic things being obviously incorrect. Calling Gypsy Danger "analog" is like having a plot point hinge on the fact that people require methane for respiration. It's flat wrong; in other words, it's dumb.

Of course a few dumb things in a movie doesn't make the whole movie dumb. I do think it's an overstatement to call Pacific Rim a dumb movie. I don't think, however, it's a reach to say that most of the value of the movie lies in the sheer amazing spectacle of the thing (particularly in 3D) given that the rest (characters, motivations, emotions) is so incredibly generic.
Shan
33. glorbes
It was better than most of the stuff I've seen this summer, I'll give it that, but this has been a dismal year for blockbuster entertainment. Before Pacific Rim, I would say that Iron Man 3 was the standout, and that had some real stretches (but overall I liked it). So I guess its faint praise really, but I did love a number of sequences from Pacific Rim, and I do believe del Toro's boyish enthusiasm for what he was making comes through.

What is frustrating about Pacific Rim is that you have this very unique director with his biggest budget and biggest canvas yet, and he makes something so deliberately generic. Of course I want to see robots wailing on monsters, but I'm much less interested in a lantern jawed blonde hero with a dark past and a chip on his shoulder...why not make the girl the main protagonist, or develop a story that is less loaded with cliches from a million other movies? Crap science doesn't bother me, but having Idris Elba deliver a BIG SPEECH so laden with tired dialogue does.

I will say that the first two big fights were thrilling spectacle, and I love the first drift sequence between Raleigh and Mako where the monster terrorizes her as a little girl...that was delightfully terrifying in a way that so few movies manage to acheive. The last sequence was big and stuff, but the spectacle and the running time had started to wear on me...I think I need to see the early shows, because these modern blockbusters are two long and I'm always ready to leave 15 minutes before the movie is done.
Shan
34. TooAnnoyed
Oy.

People, People. THE CLICHES ARE THE POINT. When del Toro made this movie, he was making a love letter to the genre and all its horrible cliches. When Raliegh says crap like 'We'll do this together', it's because he's referencing the classic movies with that kind of horrible dialogue. When they say 'all iron, no alloys', they're referencing both the bad science and the Lost in Translation mistakes from the genre. After all "all your base are belong to us".

Pacific Rim's problem is that it is both homage and satire. And people don't know what to do with that. Also, Poe's Law
Alan Brown
35. AlanBrown
I'm just a Poe boy and nobody loves me,
He's just a Poe boy from a Poe family...
Shan
36. Alan Morlock
The whole "digital" vs. "analog" thing is ridiculous but then again so is trying to pass off "12 parsecs" as a measurement of time.
Shan
37. tb4000
There's no way to say what's dumb and what isn't considering how subjective it is. To some people the entire concept of a movie featuring robots fighting is dumb as all get out. No matter how much it may be a homage or a reference.
Niraj Merchant
38. NirajMerchant
@25 Floating mountains can be explained with unobtanium being a high temperature superconductor (which is what it seems to be). There is a quantum coupling effect which exists in real life which allows superconductors to float indefinitely over a magnetic field (and most planets have magnetic fields).

Pacific rim made mistakes about science that the general public is already aware of
- the digital vs analog thing was painful. they could have cooked up another explanation with pseudoscience that was not so blatantly wrong
- parsecs is something that is already used as a measurement of distance, why pretend its a measurement of time? use something else
- not an alloy, only iron. everybody knows this doesnt make it stronger. Why not say its a superalloy and leave it at that. no one really cares what the robots are made of, just they shouldnt be made of something which is obviously stupid.

In a movie like pacific rim, i dont expect the science to make sense at all, for example the flying kaiju didnt bother me, even though it could never exist in real life. That is in service of both the plot and coolness. It is considered dumb, when something is said/done/set up that is so ridicuous, that it throws you out of your suspensions of disbelief, and is an example of lazy writing/research.
David Moran
39. David Moran
Debating the degree to which form and formula are the same thing, or whether the storytelling cliches reflect authorial intent or authorial laziness, or whether "simple" is the same thing as "dumb" (they ARE synonyms ... ), is kind of immaterial. Pacific Rim is a bad movie because there isn't an authentic emotional moment in the entire movie, period. Cool robots are cool, but the story is a badly told one.
Pamela Adams
40. Pam Adams
I enjoyed the heck out of Pacific Rim. Why I'd classify it as 'dumb?' Because having two-legged robots with a high center of gravity having to get up close and punch monsters was dumb! Couldn't we have invented 4-legged robots? Maybe used tracked vehicles that were conveniently low to the ground? Stood off at a distance and shot them?
Shan
41. Jon P
Just because Transformers was dumb doesn't mean Pacific Rim is not. Transformers (particularly the last 2) was dumb and terrible. Pacific Rim was dumb and ok.
Shan
42. William R. McGrath
Thank you for that truly intellent review.

"We have reached a point, and really let this one sink in because it gets more flooring the more you think about it, where it’s more radical and unacceptable to say, ‘Humans can accomplish amazing things when we set aside our differences and disagreements and work together to make the world a better place,’ than to say something sour and bitter and cynical."

Reminds me of the following from a book on Tolkien:

Literature begins (according to literary critic Northrop Frye) in the mythic mode, whose characters are demigods; next succeeds the romantic mode peopled by human beings superior to us; next, the high mimetic mode, the characters are as good as us; finally, in the ironic mode, as bad as us. There was the mid- twentieth century, wallowed down in the ironic mode. Then The Lord of the Rings was published.

From "Deconstructing Tolkien", by Edwin MacFadden
jen howell
43. jencat
I say this with love, having just seen PR a fourth time, but it does just seem to take an odd - old fashioned? Broad? Or just plain old naive? - approach to its characters and dialogue, set up against incredibly smart visuals. The worldbuilding and some of the background characters are strangely fascinating with very little context, and yet what we're left with in the foreground is all tell and no show. The rest of the foreground being giant freaking robots being awesome kind of overshadows that though, i guess.

I will say it plays better after a couple of watches - the battle scenes are always amazing, obviously. I'm left puzzled why all the little character touches evident in the background material either don't make it onto the screen or are done far too subtly to compete with all the shouting and love of cliches, but there you go. I still can't quite stop cringing at Rob Kazinsky's attempt at an Aussie accent though, and even Max Martini only barely scrapes it. Methinks actual Aussies would have worked better, sadly (it's a hard accent to nail...!)

What's really interesting otherwise is comparing the film with the prequel graphic novel - lots of female characters with agency and much darker, more sophisticated plots as a background to what happens in the film, so... It's a deliberate choice to go in a different direction for the film?
Alan Brown
44. AlanBrown
I just read that the first Chinese box office returns are in, and this movie is about to earn back its production costs, despite not having opened in some major movie-watching countries. (Like Japan--think they'll like a monster movie there?) And if present trends continue, the movie will cover advertising costs as well, and turn a profit.
So it looks like, despite soft box office in the USA, we are well on our way to a big, dumb sequel being made!
Despite all my quibbling about details, I really liked this movie, and can't wait to see another!
Shan
45. Gweilo
re "I suggest that pedants debating the accuracy of science in Pacific Rim,or any sci-fi/fantasy film, should simply stop consuming fiction."

No, I won't. There is fiction, there is fantasy, and there is science fiction. Science fiction at its core has a respect for science. The science can be imaginary or extrapolative, but if it varies from real world science, it should have a rationale and be necessary to the story. Not just because the writers couldnt be bothered to check their facts.

Exactly the same as a historical movie should try to get its history right; a sports movie should have the right number of players on the field.

A film where a character's wound changes position in every sceen is justly derided for poor continuity. Details are important. Wrong details break the illusion and make the whole story less convincing and involving.
Shan
47. Tumas
Just watched the film today and I have to say I quite loved it!

Strangely enough, despite 'simple' and 'dumb' being synonymous in real life (as pointed out above somewhere), I think that in everyday film-related conversation, there is a difference. I equate 'simple' with, well, enjoyable but simple story-arcs and/or details. I equate 'dumb' with the sort of simplicity that is excuciating, if not outright insulting. In more subjective terms, you feel like your IQ has dropped after watching a 'dumb' film, but may come out enjoying a 'simple' film which does not require you to think too much and/or question the very core of your existence.

For example, the Transformers films have been dumb (their simplicity in wierd, dumbed-down and sometimes racist/sexist etc characters after the franchise's cartoons was so much better); Avatar was simple, with the same 'human vs nature', 'military, bad', 'conquerors vs natives' stories we've seen over and over.

Pacific Rim was simple, but never really 'dumb'. I went in thinking the plot was simple robots vs kaiju spectacle; I got that in spades, but was genuinely surprised that there was some humour and emotion thrown in too. Moreover a) I've never seen the film being advertised as hard-core sci-fi with realistic science and b) I've hardly seen anyone expecting any proper depth for characters amidst the action. The film's opening set up a world pretty different for ours, where somebody decided humanoid mechas were the best weapons against giant cloned monsters from another dimension. Such a scenario is extremely improbable in real life, so whoever cares for 100% scientific accuracy from that point on is really nit-picking. Characters could have been less cliched and better-defined, but they work somehow. And how many films in the sci-fi genre - or in general - can brag they have a female lead who genuinely kicks arse, doesn't become the love interest of the male partner at all at the end?

Pacific Rim just like Atomic Robo, an optimistic antidote to the grittiness and mind-f*** expected of a lot of modern blockbusters, only somewhat more grounded in our reality.

I doubt Pacific Rim was ever meant to be anything more than a love letter to the giant mecha/monster genre as it stands at present, with all its cheesiness, scientific discrepancies and quirks, and I love it for it. The film is marketed as fiction meant to be consumed for pure unadultered child-like enjoyment, period; it succeeds in its goal. It was fun, which is what all I wanted out of the Pacific Rim in the first place.
Shan
49. Whatever
Pacific Rim caters to the same mentality level as a typical Saturday morning cartoon. Dumb wouldn't be the correct description, but still there was nothing even remotely intellectual or realistic in the movie. What bothers me most is the kind of people who would praise this movie, but tore apart movies such as Avatar for inane reasons that only make sense when realizing it's what's make them feel cool and important in front of their peers, tearing apart something popular in light of fact they are incapable of doing anything of any significance themselves.
Shan
50. carlos19900
I loved it, but it´s a dumb a movie.

A movie is dumb when characters don´t follow a logical thought.

You don´t build robots to fight monsters, you just build bigger weapons.

Why use the sword so late? The excuse: the blood is toxic is not a good excuse when the alternative is to fistfight in the middle of a city. Just slice them before arriving, and is not like fist fighting won´t cause blood spillage.

With all these technology to build huge robots, they can´t figure a way to control them remotely? Just pack up an xbox controller and fight them from your couch :P jajaja

The emergency escape pods are the slowest I have seen in any modern warfare technology.

Who builds huge walls with no defense mechanism, just pack them with guns and shoot them down from the distance.

Of course this would kill the premise of fighting robots, but it´s the writer´s responsibility explain these decisions. If they can come up with good explanations then it would be AMAZING. If they don´t then it is a great dumb movie :)
Shan
51. Foxtrot
The biggest problem with sci-fi in general is the "sci". What is the word science doing in the description of the genre for Pacific Rim, or Star Wars??? ROBOT DOES NOT EQUAL SCIENCE, nore SPACE. Action? Of course. Adventure? Yeah for sure!

One thing I like about James Cameron is how he sets the fantasy in the best science possible without insulting our intelligence. Of course we can cope with some far fetching, but I personnally can't cope with ridicule. James Cameron wouldn't use a super tanker boat as a baseball bat in Hong Kong because he knows that kind of boat can't support itself outside of the ocean. Nore would he lift those robots with helicopters. And no BRAND NEW CLONED KAIJU WOULD HAVE BEEN PREGNANT 20 FEET NEXT TO ITS BRAIN, secondary or not!

That said, I admire Del Toro fantasist esthetic

Excuse my weird english

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