We critics love to complain: about bad movies; about bad theater going experiences; about unnecessarily beloved actors and actresses or titles that get too much attention/credence from less than selective audiences. But nothing gets our aesthetic panties in a wad quicker than when an otherwise strong entry in the medium, something we believe viewers and seasoned moviegoers have been asked for over the years, goes unnoticed or underappreciated. Typically, it’s a smaller, independent film which tries to broaden the language of the artform while remaining recognizable as entertainment or message. In the case of Pacific Rim, however, it’s a huge Summer season tentpole that bests lesser examples of its similarly styles monster movie mayhem.
Some have called Guillermo Del Toro’s future battle between alien kaiju and high tech robot Jaegers as Transformers vs. Godzilla, and while the notation is clever, it’s not really true. Instead, Pacific Rim plays more like a twisted take on the entire Toho/Daiei output from Japan meshed with oddball ’80s entries like Robot Jox. The main narrative thread has a former fighting pilot being recruited by his out of commission military team to command a mighty attack machine for one more go at the increasingly effective giant extraterrestrial threat. Cities are leveled as oversized entities take a final stand between man and menace, the fate of all of humanity riding on whether or not we can cease the invasion, or die trying.
It’s all very heroes and villains, given the addition of Del Toro’s patented pre-adolescent wonder wow factor. The Mexican maverick understands scale and how to manipulate it for maximum effect. He gets the inner child. Yet over its opening weekend, the final film failed to make much of an impression with ticket buyers. Earning a paltry $38 million (which was a bit MORE than anticipated, mind you), it couldn’t live up to the previously mentioned comparison. In money terms, Transformers raked in $70 million plus its first weekend (yes, it had massive name recognition and nostalgia value), while Roland Emmerich’s equally mediocre take on Godzilla brought in $58 million. Heck, Pacific Rim couldn’t outpace the poorly reviewed (but eagerly anticipated, apparently) Adam Sandler sequel Grown Ups 2.
Now, we could spend time admonishing the great unwashed for once again picking juvenile toilet humor and wildlife scatology over quality and craftsmanship. We could also argue that something as strategically calculated to raise untold quantities of cash – namely, Despicable Me 2 – was bound to leave all other pretenders to its kid vid throne in the dust, financially. But why is it that, when all one hears is complaints about Hollywood and how it lacks vision and originality, something with both can be so easily overlooked? Of course, there’s still word of mouth and relatively weak competition in the upcoming days, but for the most part, it seems like Pacific Rim reached out to its prime demo (the geek) and then, strangely enough, stalled.
Of course, Warners can be blamed for part of the problem. Their marketing strategy was limited, they allowed bad buzz over their break-up with production partner Legendary to set the stage for disappointment, and they never argued that the movie would be a better, more enjoyable experience than Michael Bay’s increasingly bad toy adaptations. It never established the proper movie mythos, never explained why ‘children of all ages’ would dig its oversized vision. Instead, they figured the nerd contingent would get Messageboard Nation up in a froth, and that would spill over into the whole new fangled social media thing. None of that ever happened. Instead, the movie limped toward theaters with hardly any advanced word of mouth, only the most devoted Del Toro fans eager to see what the man had in store (and what took him away from The Hobbit and In the Mountains of Madness).
And then there is the wrongfully applied belief best described as “been there, done that.” With Bay already bulking up for another run at Transformers tepidness, and King kaiju himself, Godzilla, getting a reboot by flavor of the moment Gareth Edwards (by Legendary, FYI), it’s quite possible that viewers are just tired of more oversized F/X battling each other. It doesn’t matter if Pacific Rim adds in character, emotion, cleverness, and comedy. Audiences must have thought “we’ve been down this path before” and rejected another ride. Of course, had the studio showed more faith in the movie, building it up properly over the course of a few months, there’d be no feeling of déjà vu.
Then there is the undeniable fact that Guillermo Del Toro is not a bankable filmmaker. He’s the King of Great Ideas, but an also-ran when it comes to eventual box office returns. His Hellboy movies are wonderful. Neither set the turnstiles on fire. Similarly, his more serious works, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, have been praised up and down by all manner of media types, and yet both are considered “difficult” or “weird” by the general public (Don’t think so? Just wander over to IMDb and read some of the user comments). There’s also the release date. Pacific Rim would have been the perfect March movie, like 300 or Alice in Wonderland. It would have arrived with the same amount of fanfare, but not necessarily with the competition of other overhyped ‘hits’ like World War Z, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Fast and Furious 6, or Man of Steel. Apparently, audiences can only handle so much over-amped action.
Yes, the audience, the one factor that flies in the face of all of this. It’s the moviegoer, the person who plunks down their hard earned money while determining the best entertainment value for same that calls the shots in the end. Even with Tomato Meter ratings in the 70s, Pacific Rim obviously didn’t click with them, or if it did, their word of mouth was wasted on minds who want Minions and moronic comedic hijinx. If Del Toro’s Star Wars doesn’t become an international phenomenon (it’s doing well overseas, if not billion dollar gangbusters) and fades away in the wake of Wolverine and other late in the season entries, all we pretend pundits can say is “you get what you pay for.” Think Transformers is terrible? Too bad. You’ve made Bay and company rich and they’ve given you garbage in return, so expect more. Much more.
And the next time you bellyache about the lack of decent choices at your local Cineplex, remember this: you had your chance. You went with ice cream diarrhea and deer urine instead.