Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pacific Rim is the best summer blockbuster in years

As a child I spent many a weekend gorging myself on summer action adventure blockbuster movies (and sour candy). Those escapes into the cool theater were a favored way to pass the time with my younger brother and father. Star Wars was our absolute favorite, the king of the hill, but we saw all the others in the hopes that something could match it and let our imaginations run wild. Nothing really satisfied (the first Indiana Jones movies, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Independence Day and the first Matrix the exceptions). As I grew older my viewpoint on these kinds of movies grew more cynical. Nearly everything Hollywood spat out seemed like an excessive waste of money, a retread of the same old story, and a gross failure to deliver on what makes these movies resonate (the escapist thrills, a sense of fun, adventure and wonder, larger than life heroes and villains and meaningful conflict portrayed on an epic scale). This was our pop culture cinema, Hollywood was the only entity with the machine in place to create this particular kind of dream, and they were (and still are) failing miserably. 90% of blockbuster movies basically steal your money, feed you cancerous snacks, and leave you psychically violated with a primal urge to rant on Twitter.

So my childlike curiosity sent me looking elsewhere, in books and on television. Some of my favorite stories came out of the East, in the form of the giant robot/mecha genre of sci-fi. Maybe it was because Voltron was just so super cool!, maybe it was because Robotech offered a layered tapestry of characters set against a philosophically sophisticated war saga, or maybe it was the nightmarish traumas splashed across the colorful, trance inducing images of Neon Genesis Evangelion. This stuff coming from Japan was much more imaginative than the stories the West was producing, and I lost myself inside these worlds. I often tried to imagine what it would be like to see them realized using live action and visual effects. I assumed it couldn't be done, or that if Hollywood went for it, they’d fall flat on their faces (case in point: the Transformers movies).

I’ve seen Pacific Rim twice now, and Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beacham fucking did it! The first time I saw it in IMAX 3D. The 3D was impressive, but we sat too close (rookie mistake), and my high expectations for the storytelling were disappointed when I realized the script played more like a campy Saturday morning cartoon than an epic philosophical meditation on the nature of war against monsters and the kinds of people who have to fight them. But they got SO MUCH right! In doing so they cracked my mask of adult cynicism and returned me to the silly state of a boy smiling in pure wonder. It’s an amazing achievement.

This movie delivers astounding visual images of heroes (real heroes who leap into action, not the emo, brooding kind found in most superhero movies) being heroic. The Battle for Hong Kong is one of the greatest action sequences I’ve ever seen in my life. It's so fun! This kind of pop culture cinema is important for our future. These are the dreams burned into the imaginations of the next generation, and Pacific Rim offers a humanistic, cooperative, positive dream.  It doesn’t match the resonance of Star Wars, but it’s so visually intelligent, bursting with detailed love for this kind of operatic cinema. There were literally people whooping and cheering, bursting out of their seats in both screenings I went to! It gives me some hope that we can go to a movie theater in the future and have a great time again. 

If you like blockbuster movies with amazing spectacle, and think GIANT ROBOTS vs GIANT MONSTERS sounds pretty cool, you have to see Pacific Rim on the biggest screen possible. Watch it as if you were 12 years old again (or bring a 12 year old with you if you know any), Discard your cynicism, have fun with the story. Be an optimist again.

Also, Idris Elba (aka Stacker Pentecost - how awesome is that name?!) is a goddamn BOSS in this.

*The new Star Trek, INTO DARKNESS, is pretty good too. It's really entertaining and features some crazy images and fun sequences. JJ Abrams is going to hit a home run with Star Wars 7, imo.

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