There seems to be some sort of contest to create movies that trump the special effects of the last blockbuster special effects movie. Pacific Rim, from director Guillermo del Toro (who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth) is the latest special effects spectacular that proves, yes, yesterday’s special effects aren’t cool enough anymore. The plot, of course, is harebrained. Invading aliens from other world arrive not from outer space but from some sort of inter-dimensional portal deep in the ocean. These huge monsters called Kaijus are an intergalactic wrecking crew out to make the earth safe for their species. I can’t say I disapprove too much, considering how often humans want to exterminate various races and ethnicities, but these are not cute little bunny aliens but giant, fearsome, hundreds feet long and mostly slimy monsters that make Godzilla look like a 98-pound weakling. They are sort of like balrogs on steroids, and there is no magic wizard named Gandalf to keep them away from the good people.
There is nothing like a good alien invasion to make humans stop warring each other and to band together for survival instead. To cope with these monsters we eventually developed gargantuan metallic robots that, because it makes the plot more interesting, have to have two copilots, both of whom must be in constant mental contact with each other. This means compatibility is very important. It also helps make the movie marketable if they are in prime physical condition and good looking. These robots responders called Jaegers can kick some alien ass, but it seems no matter how powerfully they are made, the next generation of Kaijus is even more powerful.
Del Toro is obviously a fan of Godzilla movies. He created quite a playhouse for himself in this movie. Surprisingly, he chose to include some decent characters in this movie, including Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnan) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who are strongly attracted to each other but are not allowed to actually kiss each other, even at the end (oops, may have given away the ending). I guess that when you can sift through each other’s memories, kissing is kind of pointless. The movie also includes a few interesting badass humans, including Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, who has cornered the market in black market Kaijus parts. You also get a clash of nerdy scientists, a father-son Jaeger connection, some Jaeger pilot rivalries involving a requisite amount of fistfights, and guaranteed ear-piercing volume. I have never been to a louder movie in my life and spent most of the movie plugging my ears with my fingers while still hearing perfectly well. Someone call the EPA for a noise pollution check!
Watch Hong Kong get drenched in lots of rain and many buildings get digitally smashed. If action-packed, character-driven alien monster movies are your thing, Pacific Rim is better than most. It’s surprising though that at its heart this is really a relationship movie, and a pretty good one. This may explain its tepid reaction at the box office: too squishy and feely despite all the testosterone for the football crowd. Go see it while it is still champ of special effects movies. That will probably change with the release of Ender’s Game this fall.
3.3 on my four-point scale.
Sequels rarely live up to the original, but this follow on RED 2 to the original R.E.D. movie nearly succeeds. The success of the original meant that more money was available to produce this sequel. Besides, the cast apparently likes to travel to exotic locations, so there are plenty in this movie. Surprisingly, despite the change in directors (this one was directed by Dean Parisot) it’s hard to tell. With the exception of Morgan Freeman, all the original stars are back including Bruce Willis (who is not aging well), John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker. With the exception of Parker, they all play supposedly retired secret agents all particularly good at doing their nation’s dirty work. Newly married Frank (Willis) and Sarah (Parker) cannot even go to the Costco without quickly getting embroiled in a complex plot which quickly puts their lives in danger and gets them to pal up again with their fellow secret agents, some of whom are out to kill them.
The plot of course makes little sense, but it didn’t make sense in the last movie either. The premise though is cute: all these lethal killers, sixty-plus, can’t quite get out of the killing business despite being retired and who are so good at what they do it is almost reflexive and banal. The movie is thus principally character driven, and each actor seems anxious to outdo the other for the title of most memorable performance. This is a shoot-em up that is really just a comedy, and nearly as funny as the original. It is just not quite as fresh because in 2010 the premise of retired secret agents was novel. It remains a great gig for these actors to stay busy who, with the exception of Willis, are all probably well past their box office prime. And it goes to prove that older actors still have a lot of comic appeal and certain sixty-plus women, like Helen Mirren, are amazingly hot.
RED 2 is a fun popcorn movie, guaranteed to provide lots of laughs but like all popcorn movies will feel quite ephemeral. You won’t recall more than a few of the gags just minutes after leaving the theater. But you may be more tuned in on how to keep a marital relationship vital. (It’s a key plot point, for some reason.)
3.2 out of four-points.
Jack the Giant Slayer
If you ever wanted to see a fancy version of Jack and the Beanstalk then Jack the Giant Slayer is your movie. This kind of movie is definitely not my typical fare. My wife wanted to see it because she is a Ewan McGregor fan, and he has a side part here as the brave knight to King Brahmwell. He plays the stereotyped good king of a peaceful kingdom. He is the offspring of a distant king who had to deal with a previous attack from giants in the sky when somehow a giant beanstalk grew into the cloud and brought a giant invasion.
This time it is Jack’s turn. That’s right, this is the story of a second giant invasion, not the first. It helped pad the plot. The handsome and wholesome Nicholas Hoult gets to play Jack. His house is modest but considering he and his widowed father live in poverty, his father can still look like he shaves with a Gillette razor. Dad dies in a plague, his evil uncle takes over and eventually through some shenanigans with a fake monk Jack somehow exchanges their old horse for some beans. You know the basic plot, but in this version Jack first encounters Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) who naturally doesn’t like being cloistered. She escapes into the countryside and into Jack’s house just in time for him to literally spill the beans and join him in his adventure.
So don’t expect a lot of suspense here. The only real interest is in how well these giants are rendered and portrayed. Here at least director Bryan Singer does a decent job. The movie is rendered decently, but it’s hard to develop any empathy for anyone in this kingdom and in truth the giants are far more interesting. At least they have something resembling personality. In short, this is a movie that can and probably should be easily avoided for better fare, as it falls into the “nothing special” category. It’s fine fare for children of a certain age, say ages eight to twelve, but most adults should just steer clear of it.
3.0 out of 4-points.
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