Special Features – Pacific Rim and The Law of ‘Average’

Anghus Houvouras on the Law of ‘Average’….

Most movies are average. If you go to the cinemas ten times a year, I’m guessing about eight of those outings will end with you thinking that the movie you just watched could have been a little better or a little worse. Sometimes you’ll luck into something truly great.  Others will leave you wondering what somebody was smoking when they financed the monstrosity you just wasted two hours watching.  However, the majority of movies end up in the middle in terms of quality.

The problem is this overly agitated state where film fans and critics alike have come to believe they have to condemn everything less than average and heap the above average ones onto their shoulders.  Case in point: Pacific Rim.

I enjoyed watching Pacific Rim.  It’s a goofy, fun, almost deplorably stupid summer blockbuster.  And despite being absent of logic, populated with sub-par acting, and almost blatantly obtuse I still walked away feeling as though my time had not been wasted.  Pacific Rim was an entertaining average movie.  But you wouldn’t know it based on some of the reviews and reactions you’ve been reading online. 

Great pains have been taken for creative types to declare the movie ‘genius’.  Adjectives like ‘diverse’ and ‘original’ keep getting thrown around.    Original?  Sure.  If you haven’t seen Robot Jox, or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, or a large chunk of anime and manga from the last fifty years, or Top Gun, or any kaiju movie.  Pacific Rim is the same kind of ‘original’ as Tom Cruise’s Oblivion.  It borrows so heavily from other material that it feels like a proper, big budget homage.  And I realize we are in a time where the cineplexes are choking on franchises and sequels.  But lets not start throwing around the word ‘original’ so liberally. 

I also take liberty with the word ‘diverse’.  Only because the filmmakers and proponents of the film have been so prone to promote the idea that Pacific Rim is diverse featuring a multi-ethnic cast from different regions around the world.  For all this talk about how different Pacific Rim is for not being jingoistic American disaster porn, they do kill off the ‘diverse’ cast real quick without any character development. And the world is saved by two Brits, an blonde haired blue eyed American, and a hot Japanese girl which is basically the ultimate geek fantasy.  And (SPOILER ALERT), the Chinese and Russian characters are dispatched in about five minutes with not a single ounce of character development.  Unless  you count a moment in the background where the three Chinese pilots play basketball as ‘character development’.

Pacific Rim isn’t original or diverse.  And that’s fine.  It doesn’t have to be.  Movies can be flawed.  Most of them are.  It doesn’t mean we need to engage in hyperbole to try and propel something average into loftier territory.  It also means we don’t need to take a flamethrower to a movie because it fails to meet expectations. 

I’m fine with people saying they love a movie like Pacific Rim. Thats cool. I’m not going to tell you what to love. But when they start saying words like ‘original’ or ‘diverse’ I will challenge those assertions. Because a film doesnt have to be original, diverse, or well directed to be enjoyed. Hell, I liked White House Down and it was none of those things. 

It seems like we’re losing the ability to articulate into anything other than good or bad. No one seems to care about the nuances within those categorizations.

As a writer, columnist, and a film critic, that concept troubles me. 

I still believe in average. Which is what most films are. I still believe you can criticize a movie for its obvious flaws and still say you liked it.  We have to stop treating movies like political positions.  Movies don’t need to be so vigorously condemned or universally praised.  They can be flawed and entertaining like The Lone Ranger.  Or stupid and fun like Pacific Rim (sorry Rohan).  Or completely mental and still be worth the price of admission, like White House Down

I hope we can return to the idea of average.  The good critics and columnists are the ones who can avoid the knee-jerk reaction to destroy something pedestrian or forgive flaws because the film doesn’t have a “2” after the title.  If every review has to be glowing or glowering, we’re going to end up burnt out at both ends. 

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.


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