Pacific Rim (2013)

2014 #62
Guillermo del Toro | 131 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Pacific RimThe names writers choose for their characters can sometimes tell you a lot about a movie. Pacific Rim is the kind of film that has characters called Raleigh Becket, Stacker Pentecost, and Hannibal Chau.

This is a film about giant monsters invading Earth, and we fight back with giant robots. It has the logic of the Japanese movies, anime and art that inspired it rather than any basis in the real world. Which is fine — del Toro has said it was aimed at 11-year-old boys (hence the “for over 13s” rating, of course), and it slots pretty neatly into that world. Which means it should also cater to a good many “adult” genre fans, which does make it flopping in America a little surprising. I suppose the lack of a recognisable brand name is a deciding factor in that market now.

Stand out features include blunt, functional, over-explanatory dialogue delivered in largely second-rate performances, but which at least carry us through the story solidly; and fights that are moderately exciting, but could do with zooming out to give a proper sense of scale, not to mention some variety in their primary black-and-blue colour palette. There’s a whole featurette on the Blu-ray about how hard they worked on conveying scale. Oh. Didn’t come across for me. OK, the giant robots didn’t move super fast, but it still felt quicker than I’d expect from something of that extreme size.

Perhaps the problem lies in how the film was obviously made for 3D — not because stuff’s poking out at you all the time, but because of shots that are clearly meant to have great depth, but where everything is in focus. For 2D it could probably do with a shallower depth of field, and maybe this is where the scale went awryRobot rescue — it was the 3D that added depth and height, and without that (or, as I said, an adjustment of focus to compensate) it’s all a bit… not flat, but not big either. That aside, it is beautifully shot, with excellent lighting.

Yet, for the easy criticisms, Pacific Rim largely entertains. Compared to most of the blockbuster fare targeting 11-year-old boys these days, it’s a positive triumph. Heck, compared to the other films for that age group that star giant robots, it’s Shakespeare. Similarly the music, by Game of Thrones’ Ramin Djawadi, is a little obvious but also suitably fist-pumping, which at least renders it easily enjoyable.

Goodness knows where the mooted animated series and confirmed sequel are going to go with the world that seems so wrapped-up here — but hey, at least this one told a complete, self-contained story. It might fall short of excellence in many areas, but it’s an exciting, fun thrill ride nonetheless.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

Tangled (2010)

2011 #69
Nathan Greno & Byron Howard | 100 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

TangledDisney’s 50th animated feature is Rapunzel in all but name, for no particularly good reason. It seemed to be met with universal praise on its release last year, critics hailing it as a return to Disney’s previous quality after a run of lacklustre releases, in particular the underwhelming return to 2D in the year before’s The Princess and the Frog.

Well, to get that comparison immediately out of the way, Tangled isn’t as good as The Princess and the Frog in my estimation. I’m not sure why it seems to have been more widely praised — it’s solid and good fun, but I thought Frog had more going for it.

Which isn’t to say Tangled is bad. It’s funny, which is its biggest asset, and exciting at times — as usual, the highly moveable camera of CG animation adds fluidity, speed and excitement to the action sequences, making them one of the high points.

It’s not all good and shiny though. The setting — a comedic-ish fantasy-kingdom world — can come across a bit like lightweight Shrek, lacking the anachronistic postmodern real-world references that made that film zing. Worse, the songs are distinctly unmemorable — I’d forgotten some of them by the time it came to their own reprise. A gang of thugs singing about their dreams is the best thanks to its comedy, but I couldn’t hum or sing any of it for you now. I especially lament the lack of a decent villain’s song, Why not just call it Rapunzel?a number I usually particularly enjoy. It has one, I suppose, but it’s one of the weakest examples I’ve ever heard.

Tangled isn’t bad by any measure, but I don’t feel it should be the praise-magnet it became. There are certainly better Disney musicals — it can’t hold a candle to those; and there are better funny fairytales too — but at least it holds up as a solid addition to that sub-genre.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Tangled is on Disney Cinemagic this Sunday, 23rd October, at 5pm and 9pm.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

2010 #107
Stuart Baird | 112 mins | TV (HD) | 12 / PG-13

After the widespread disappointment with Insurrection, the ninth big screen outing for Star Trek, fans hoped the tenth, Nemesis, would mark a return to their old adage “even ones good, odd ones bad.” They had reasons to be hopeful: a new director, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and (potentially) the final outing for the beloved Next Generation crew. Surely they’d be given a fitting send-off?

Sadly, it wasn’t to be: Nemesis was a critical and commercial flop, the only Trek not to open at #1 in the US, the lowest-grossing of the entire franchise. And quite rightly, because it isn’t very good.

While Insurrection was accused of being dull because it was largely about a dispute over who got to live on a planet, the political side of that kept it engaging. Nemesis’s plot, on the other hand, just doesn’t go anywhere fast. Attempts to liven it up with some action sequences often come off as tacked-on asides, while discussions about just who Picard’s clone is and what he wants feel hollow — of course he’s a nasty piece of work, otherwise your film is completely villain-free!

Picard’s clone is played not by Patrick Stewart, but by a shaved Tom Hardy. Yes, that Tom Hardy. We should be glad Nemesis didn’t kill off his career, which at the time consisted of small roles in Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down but has gone on to acclaimed leads (or other significant parts) in TV such as Stuart: A Life Backwards, Oliver Twist and Wuthering Heights, and on the big screen in Bronson, Inception and (soon) The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max 4. He’s not got much to work with here, Only the clonelythough the knowledge of better things to come means his presence somehow lifts his scenes a notch.

The film ends with the most pointless heroic sacrifice I’ve seen for a while. OK, the well-loved character’s dead, but that identical clone — you know, the one they downloaded all the character’s memories into — is still hanging around. Give me strength.

It’s a shame the Next Generation lot had to go out on such a duff note, their series of movies conforming more to the usual sequel pattern of diminishing returns (their first, First Contact, is highly praised, with the next two increasingly slated) than the original series crew’s good/bad alternation. Still, at least it cleared the way for what Trek probably needed more than anything: a good, clean, rebooting.

2 out of 5