Pacific Rim came out last week, and I loved it for most of the reasons I already predicted. Visually, it’s fantastic. It hits all the bright colors and foreign feel of Blade Runner while containing the grittiest elements of military fiction. And that’s kind of what the movie is, a marriage between Starship Troopers-esque action and Voltron with a massive budget and an adult demographic. It’s all the best parts the Power Rangers, Godzilla and, for reasons I’m not entirely sure, Street Fighter 2.
What the movie isn’t, though, is an origin story. And thank god for that. The audience gets caught up with the current events of the film through a 10 minute introduction with protagonist narration. It’s simple, elegant and somehow not reminiscent of the 90 second info dump at the beginning of Green Lantern.
I can’t say what every film should do because there is no such formula for success, but I can say what I liked about this movie: simplicity. There’s no question about how to use power or how to deal with the morally grey questions of supeheroics. The protagonists aren’t grappling with the hardships of great power and great responsibility or restraint.
There’s simply a hole in the ocean where monsters keep coming out and you need to punch them in the face with a robot while wearing Mass Effect style armor. Kick it in the d*** and don’t get killed.
And I couldn’t help but reflect on other summer movies that were a little too bulky. Man of Steel‘s origin story, coupled with the obligatory struggle with power and shoe-horned romance, had enough girth to bog down the entire story to a degree that made us questions whether it was still Superman.
For anyone that saw the film, did romance between Lois and Clark seem uncomfortably forced? With all the time we spent rehashing Superman’s past and dealing with the Kryptonian invasion, by the time they were kissing at the end, all I could think was, “Uh, Lois! You barely know that dude!”
Also, that Superman couldn’t stop the destruction of Metropolis, the death of thousands of people and snapped a guy’s neck: SUPERMAN IS SUPPOSED TO SAVE ALL OF THEM!
Am I saying that Superman’s origin shouldn’t have been part of the movie?
I’m saying that everyone knows his origin story because Superman is the most recognized fictional character on Earth. Would it have been bad to do a clip montage like Pacific Rim or a brief intro like the 2009 Star Trek? Actually, that’s a great idea. In 8 minutes Abrams created a tangent history for Kirk and the entire Star Trek universe. Granted, the rest of the film was still a kind of origin story for the crew, but it was dynamic and interesting.
Speaking of Abrams, Star Trek: Into Darkness has a lot of the same baggage. I really wanted to like the film, and I’m quite fond of the first J.J. Abrams reboot, but there were some things that I couldn’t get past.
1. Kirk getting demoted for being a screw-up and then being immediately promoted to save The Federation and avert war.
2. Having a battle with a secret ship in orbit of Earth. Where is the rest of the Federation? They just had a terrorist attack like 2 days ago.
3. Earth’s complete lack of monitoring devices or defenses, allowing for a terrorist to crash a ship into Star Fleet HQ. If the destruction of Vulcan was the 9/11 (or Pearl Harbor) of Star Trek, how is it Earth is completely undefended?
4. Kirk kicking the ship’s engine to get it working again. This wasn’t so much an oversight as an accidentally perfect metaphor for the transformation of Star Trek characters from their original incarnation as diplomats and scientists to people who get things done by hanging off ledges and punching people.
All of these things are symptoms of movie baggage. These films are trying to complicate characters that, traditionally, are considered beyond reproach. And maybe this is the heart of the problem. I’m tired of flawed characters burdened by their responsibilities. I’m over shades of grey and coping with how awful having super powers must be.
Where is the joy? Where is the sense of whimsy? Where is the simplicity of having the ability to help people and wanting to do it? That’s what Pacific Rim had and, I argue, what Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness were missing. Again, I’m not saying that this is the way all films should be because you know I would be on here complaining about how static and boring protagonists are. But I do believe these two franchises deserved characters with a sense of wonder and joy.