Posted on 8/03/13 04:04 PM
Pacific Rim is the latest effort from Mexican directing prodigy, Guillermo Del Toro. His ambition with the film (and it shows) was simply to make a worthy ode to the films he grew up with. You know the ones: King Kong, Godzilla, the like. What Del Toro has over these (mostly old) films is a budget the size of a small country, and a rich backlog of inspiration. He clearly has oceans of love for the genre, and as he has said, his primary goal was to introduce Children of all ages to the mecha/kaiju genre, while providing a suitably "light and airy" distraction from the brooding, atmospheric films that clog up so many blockbuster seasons these days. Judging the film based on these ambitions, and goals, I'd say Del Toro has succeeded, and with style to spare.
The plot (and yes, there is one) concerns what happens to society in 2013, following an inexplicable attack by giant beasts from deep beneath the Pacific Ocean. The first thing to note about Pacific Rim is that it wastes no time in setting up how the "Robots vs. Monsters" premise comes to fruition. Within the first fifteen minutes, we have transported to 2020, where the world's governments have united to battle the biggest threat humankind has ever faced. Pooling all their resources together, the U.N (or whatever) builds giant mechas (Jaegers, German for 'Hunter'), that must be piloted by two people, to combat the Kaiju (Japanese for 'Monster', a not-so-subtle ode to the genre of the same name). Within a half an hour, we've had the hero of the piece, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam, turning in a very solid performance)'s backstory fully elaborated, and we are moving swiftly into the meat of the story.
The year is now 2025, and humanity is on it's last legs: The consortium of countries can no longer afford to fund a war on the Kaiju, and turn down Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, the film's best actor)'s proposal to launch one final attack, with everything in their arsenal. Instead, they are turning their attention to building wall large and strong enough to withstand Kaiju attacks. Working on this wall is Raleigh, now working in construction following a disastrous failure a half decade ago. Suddenly, Stacker re-enters his life, offering him the chance to pilot a Jaeger for a final strike against the Kaiju, along with three other teams, from China, Serbia, and Australia. Finally having a reason to live, Charlie accepts, knowing that Pentecost only approached him because he was the only pilot to not have been killed.
From here, we get a number of predictable factors added to the story: Raleigh's rivalry with one of the Australian pilots, Chuck Hansen (Rob Kazinsky), as well as his romance (or is it?) with partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kokuchi), the best-developed character in the film. What separates them from other generic blockbusters, I suppose, is Del Toro's affection for his characters, and the actors' enthusiasm, melding together to produce a fine human drama, amidst the CGI chaos. We are even treated to a delightful secondary plot featuring the two remaining scientists of the resistance, as they bicker, and trade petty insults. While certainly immature, it reassures the viewer that we aren't watching a brooding, complicated drama, akin to The Dark Knight.
Del Toro's direction is just superb. Featuring some of the best large-scale action I've ever seen in such a blockbuster, and enough focus on the characters to make the premise believable. It has been said that Michael Bay, and his franchise of Robots could learn a thing or two about how to correctly choreograph action from Del Toro, and I'm inclined to agree. The framing of these massive battles adds a sense of weight that I rarely feel when watching such films. Watching the Jaeger, Gipsy Danger, take a swing at the Kaiiju, in the middle of the sea, complete with earth-shaking sound effects, the best comparison I could draw was to the Leviathan first rounding the corner towards the climax of last year's The Avengers. On top of that, Del Toro is patient, taking his time with these battles, so they can be appreciated for their fantastic effects, and great choreography. Indeed, most directors today could take a tip from Del Toro in crafting a truly satisfying action scene.
Undoubtedly, the direction by Del Toro is the strongest facet of Pacific Rim.
Secondly, the visual effects are just jaw-dropping. I know that it goes without saying in most modern blockbusters that the effects are top-notch, but it's their presentation in Pacific Rim that really makes them note-worthy. Del Toro has expressed in interviews his happiness at not keeping the colour palette consistent between shots, and I, as a movie lover, must agree. The neon lights of Hong Kong, mixed with the stark blues and greys of the ocean just outside of it, heightens the realism of the Jaegers, and makes the Kaiju an even more terrifying sight. Much of the Jaegers were created through models, if I'm not mistakes, and praise needs to be given to the designers, as they look absolutely impeccable, and further heighten the sense of awe in the film.
The last thing I suppose is a positive, is the acting, While Pacific Rim is certainly a blockbuster, Del Toro has assembled a cast that could almost be though of as B-Movie-esque. That only adds to the appeal however, further reinforcing the 50's monster movie aesthetic. Charlie Hunnam is perfectly passable, if uninteresting as Raleigh, playing the character well, even if his material is uninspiring, and at least providing enough good guy charm to hold the picture down. Idris Elba, who is probably the best-known actor in the film, aside from Ron Perlman, delivers everything one would expect from an inspiring, hard-nosed-but-secretly-lovable general archetype, spouting off great one-liners, and generally machoing things up. Klattenhoff perfectly harks back to the douchebag character that was essentially a requisite in the classic creature features and nostalgia classics of old. In the end however, his character is more than one-note, keeping up with the film's being a bit smarter than it at first seems. The two bickering scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) provide some great comedy relief, while proving they are more than just throwaway characters later in the film. My favorite performance, however (And I'm sure many agree with me) is Rinko Kikuchi. She plays what has come to e known as the most badass character in the film, a strong woman who can take care of herself. I was aware of this going in, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that she is a multifaceted character, with a well-developed backstory, and sufficient character building throughout. Overall, Pacific Rim's cast was very solid, with standout performances from Elba and Kikuchi.
However, Pacific Rim's greatest flaw is it's script. While the plot allows for some memorable moments, and fine character development, the script itself is very cliche, and is carried entirely by the actors. A few great lines here and there (Mostly from Pentecost) make the script passable, but there is no really standout dialogue scenes, and often I found that the characters were written in a very cliche, entirely predictable manner. I know it doesn't matter much, when your premise is Robots vs. Monsters, but great scripts are what elevated The Avengers, The Dark Knight, and many other classic blockbusters to such a level.
My only other gripe (and this will sound a bit contradictory), is that the action tends to get a bit over-blown by the credits. I found that the film was over long by just a few scenes, and could have been edited to make it a slightly more streamlined picture, but as it stands, the action took up a little to much of the film's third act, and hampered my overall enjoyment of the piece. If the editing wasn't so choppy during the final battles, I could have handles it a bit better, but as it stands, there were too many rapid cuts (Defeating the point of the earlier scenes and their impeccably crafted shots), with far too much shaking going on during shots withing the Jaeger.
Overall, Pacific Rim is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year, with superb visual effects, more masterful direction by Del Toro, and a committed performance by an offbeat cast. Although the film has a lot of lapses in logic, and gets a bit annoying towards the end, it doesn't matter: Pacific Rim was designed to appeal to the kid within all of us, and if you could recapture even a hint of the magic of cinema that you (hopefully) felt as a child, then poor script and too much action be damned, Del Toro succeeded spectacularly.
Final Grade: B+