Theatrical Review: “Pacific Rim”
Produced by: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Guillermo del Toro, Mary Parent
Written by: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Edited by: Peter Amundson, John Gilroy
Cinematography by: Guillermo Navarro
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Ellen McLain (voice)
In a year that’s been packed to the brim with follow-ups and counterparts to fan favorites, so far, I have to say that, as much as I may have loved movies like Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and even Star Trek Into Darkness, I can declaratively state that one of the best things I’ve seen so far was this giant machines vs. giant monsters film that, despite alluding to anime like Gundam and giant monster movies like Gojira, is a completely original thing. This makes it all that much more of a tragedy, as in its first weekend, it has already fallen behind two sequels – Despicable Me 2, which had already been out for longer than a week but at least has a built-in family audience, and Grown Ups 2, which by all means really shouldn’t be a thing that exists based solely on the amount of figurative and literal human waste that went into making the first, let alone be more popular than something as magnificent as Pacific Rim. (Seriously, all you who looked forward to watching a sequel to the glorified home movie that was the first probably have some kind of issue. Seek help. Also, I hate you.)
The whole story of Pacific Rim is quickly and simply set up from the start of the film, so take none of this as a spoiler: Powerful, giant monsters have been emerging from a portal that rests in the depths of the Pacific. These creatures, dubbed kaiju after the Japanese word for “giant monster,” make their way to cities, leaving untold destruction and death in their path. With the frequency of their emergence ever increasing and the human and monetary costs of fighting them in traditional fashion becoming too much, the governments of the world unite, for once, under a common cause and start a program to build giant mechanical suits to take on the beasts. These anthropomorphic walking tanks are called jaegers (“hunter” in German) and are controlled by skilled soldiers, dubbed Rangers, who connect their minds to the computer in order to control their mechanized armor and take on the monsters in a form of hand-to-hand combat.
Over time, however, the governments begin to stop their funding of the program as the rate of kaiju emerging, with each better adapted for combat than the last, begins to increase. Pacific Rim follows the last remnants of the program trying to stay relevant and defending the world from the monsters, even as the governments attempt to work out some other line of defense in the meantime. Among the colorfully named characters is Raleigh Becket, our reluctant hotshot hero who is still dealing with the loss of his brother to a kaiju years prior, and Stacker Pentecost, their commanding officer and head of the jaeger launch port (“Shatterdome”) in Hong Kong. Mako Mori, a young woman from Japan, also seems to serve as Stacker’s assistant, though it’s also clear to Raleigh that there may be more to her than both she and Stacker are letting on.
The world of Pacific Rim is incredibly well realized, which should really come as no surprise to those who have seen del Toro’s previous directorial work in the Hellboy films, though here he’s freed from the bonds of an already established franchise. In case you were for some reason worried about Pacific Rim just being an excuse for monster battles in the city streets, I’m happy to report that del Toro provides us with some comic relief through the two kaiju-specializing scientists, Newton Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb, and black market peddler of kaiju-originating products, Hannibal Chau, all of whom provide us with some entertaining, albeit silly, comic relief, but also help to further inform us about how a world ravaged by giant monsters may operate, too.
There’s also something quite clever about the story mechanics that are quite literally built into the jaegers that allow for the film to use the outrageous technology for some welcome and strong pathos for the characters – you see, the machines are so large and the strain to control them so severe that it quickly became apparent that a minimum of two soldiers per jaeger are necessary in order to prevent them from fatally succumbing to the stress. The result of this is that, when making the mental link with the machine, in order to remain in sync with their copilot, the two Rangers must also be mentally linked, sharing one another’s thoughts and, yes, even their traumatic memories.
That’s the cool thing about Pacific Rim: even amidst all the action, there remains a core human story about the various types of interpersonal bonds that help us get through life and make it better for everyone, including ourselves, and the general setup within the story allows for these bonds to quickly but effectively take hold and mean something to the characters, no matter how long they’ve known each other or what sort of relationship they form with one another, and gives a neat little bit of nuance to their relationships with one another – you’ve really gotta trust someone who’s going to have access to any ugly memories that may show up when you least expect it. It’s also just another reason why sci-fi is such a freaking cool genre, as well.
As always, however, interpersonal drama and nice performances from a solid cast weren’t exactly the major selling points for this type of film (at least, not beyond Idris Elba’s commanding speech in the trailers). Pacific Rim will certainly be remembered for providing some of the most thrilling action set pieces ever brought to life through CGI. Though the finale may feel a bit anticlimactic in terms of awesome factor when compared to the one in the middle, that’s only because that middle fight sequence is sincerely one of the most eye-poppingly impressive special effects sequences ever conceived. It. Just. Keeps. Going. And. Just. Gets. Better. And. Better. The audience I saw it with was quite vocal about just how freaking awesome it all was, and, being someone who tries not to make too much sound at the movies, I admit that I found myself freaking out continuously and audibly alongside them. That’s saying something. I’ve seen all three Transformers movies, and I can tell you now that they don’t hold a candle to anything in Pacific Rim combined. Pacific Rim glances at their puny candle and unleashes an inferno upon their stupid, cold metal faces – box office takes be damned.
I can only hope that word of mouth results in a second week uptick for Pacific Rim. (And hopefully not the same word of mouth spread by this girl I talked to this weekend, who told me this movie was dumb because its premise wasn’t realistic — an accusation I have, sadly, heard far too often these days from what I can only assume are tragically unimaginative and joyless people.) For me, it’s already reached the top… er… two on my list of best movies of the year by a wide margin (the other being the wonderful Mud), and I don’t suspect that too many other films coming out this year are going to top it – at least not in terms of sheer excitement and amazement.
This is, quite simply, what a summer blockbuster should be, and this movie certainly deserves to be a blockbuster – if not just for its own sake, but for our own sake as presumably intelligent moviegoers, ‘cause if we don’t support intelligent but thrilling movies like this, then all we’re going to get is yet another sequel to a movie that combines farting, sneezing, and belching into one grotesque bodily function, sometimes during sex – not just for one or two throwaway jokes, mind you, but as a basic framework for how a film is made. I’d say that nobody wants that, but… well, apparently that’s sadly not true. At least for now. There’s still time to prove me wrong…
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5