Film Review: Pacific Rim
After hearing about it, a few things attracted me to Pacific Rim. For one, it was directed by Guillermo Del Toro. While I have not seen everything he has done, his work has been generally solid. Hellboy was really good.Pan's Labyrinth was AMAZING. Secondly, and more importantly, this was one of the few blockbusters I have seen in a while that was not a sequel, remake, reboot, re-imagining, retelling, rehashing, or reupholstering of anything I have already seen.
Pacific Rim tells the story of a world where... Let's just cut to the chase, giant robots battle monsters. In a nutshell, that is the story of the movie. Okay, there is more to it: The monsters are known as Kaijus, and they are pretty tough customers. To combat them, machines known as Jaegers were created - which require two pilots because of the neural hookups that connect to both sides of the brain. Raleigh Becket is a pilot who watched his brother meet his end at the hands of the Kaijus. He also strikes up a relationship with Minko, a Japanese scientist who seems qualified to fly the Jaegers, but is held back. Two eccentric scientists are constantly trying to solve the mystery that is the Kaijus. And one of the scientists takes this obsession to dangerous lengths.
The first thing to talk about is the Jaegers and the Kaijus. First of all, these two beasts are awesome. For starters, the designs on both of them are amazing. Without a doubt, the Jaegers come straight from anime. And it is pretty cool seeing the absurdly unrealistic designs of anime "brought to life" so to speak in a live action movie. Aside from looking big and imposing, everything they do feels like it has such a serious impact. Admittedly, the idea of the mental link is pretty clever. Because of the linkup, the two pilots share thoughts and inherit each other's memories. For example, Raleigh remembers everything his deceased brother Yancy remembers. It also leads to a clever reveal in Mako's backstory and how she encountered the Kaiju - a pretty impressive scene I might add.
The Kaiju are pretty impressive too as their wicked design makes them quite intimidating. With monsters like these being in the big bads of the movie, comparisons between Pacific Rim and classic monster movies are going to be inevitable. Even though Del Toro seemed to have taken a few cues from those movies, Pacific Rim is definitely closer to a live action anime than a modern monster movie - especially since the focus is on the Jaegers (Then again, a lot of older Godzilla movies did feature long, boring scenes of people talking in-between monster scenes). Either way, Pacific Rim is a film that does not hide its Asian influence as much of the film takes place in Hong Kong.
Whenever the Kaiju appear, it is impressive. Whenever, the Kaiju fight the Jaeger... Holy @#$&! These fight scenes are truly impressive - and not just for the spectacle of two giant beasts roughing each other up. Yeah, the Jaegers and Kaijus fight and do the typical city destruction stuff we have seen in Avengers and Man of Steel, but Del Toro deserves credit for the creative and over-the-top lengths he takes these battles. The Jaeger just slices a Kaiju in half, a Kaiju just grows wings and lifts the Jaeger into space.
Characters in this movie are hit and miss. True, the Jaegers and the Kaijus are the draw, but we do spend a lot of time with these characters so they are worth discussing. Sadly, one of the misses is the lead, Raleigh Becket. There is very little to say about this character: He is kind of a generic action movie hero, and worst of all, he teeters on Gary Stu territory. (For those of you who don't know, a Gary Stu is a male character that seems just a little too perfect.) I have not seen lead actor Charlie Hunnam in anything else (not even Sons of Anarchy) so judging his credentials is a little difficult. He comes off like he has the potential to be an action lead, but he has very little to work with in this movie. In fact, a lot of characters in this movie seem to fall into archetypes: The experienced commander, the love interest, the bully to the hero. Giving credit where it is due, none of these characters rubbed me the wrong way. And even if they do fall into archetypes, a lot of them are likable. For the most part, Mako is definitely just the love interest who doubles as a hero, but I kind of had a soft spot for her. Maybe it is because we see so few Asians in American blockbusters or maybe it was actress Rinko Kikuchi's likable personality. But she was kind of likable. The movie also fell into what I like to call "who's that guy?" syndrome where a character popped up and I found myself saying "who's that guy?" Or there were times I found myself saying "Oh, that's who that was." This really only happened once or twice, but it did happen.
Though there are definite bright spots. While the idea of Charlie Day (best known as Charlie Kelly from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) being in a blockbuster like this may seem odd, he fills the role of the eccentric scientist to a tee. Instead of the arch typical socially awkward nerd that usually fills the scientist roles (like Brent Spiner in Independence Day), Day brings his usual manic hyperactive energy to the Kaiju-obsessed scientist. Even just hearing Day deliver exposition in his machine-gun delivery is exciting. He also brings a lot of his comedic energy as he delivers some of the movie's funniest lines. Day has a partner, Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). This is a British fellow with a cane who comes closer to the typical movie scientist. Sadly, Gottlieb is absent from a lot of the movie, which is a shame. Not only is he a fun character, but he and Day play off each other brilliantly. Del Toro's frequent partner in crime Ron Pearlman also shows up as a black marketer who knows an awful lot about the Kaiju. This is an example of the actor breaking the mold as a lot of the fun of this character derives from Pearlman's charisma and fearless performance. Overall, when it comes to characters, the good outweigh the... par for the course (because the other characters really aren't bad for the most part).
Pacific Rim does have a few issues. For starters, the world of this film is not that well established. In the beginning, some clever ideas are thrown around: Saying that animes based on the real life conflicts have arisen, Jaeger pilots have earned celebrity status. These are pretty interesting concepts (albeit not 100% fresh) but they are just talked about in the opening narration and never discussed again. Speaking of the beginning, that is another unusual area as the first couple of scenes felt like intros for different movies. Also, there is some pointless jumping ahead in the film's timeline. Okay, that last one is kind of a nitpick, but it did leave me scratching my head when after the first conflict, the film inexplicably jumps ahead five years. But overall, these minor gripes are forgivable in the grand scheme of things.
So why does Pacific Rim work? Simply, put Guillermo Del Toro knew what kind of movie he was making. He set out to make a live action anime-style monsters vs. giant robots movie and he delivers. Yeah, there are a plethora of stock characters and this movie does have some typical action movie moments, but this movie is really about the giant monsters and the giant robots, and those deliver in spades. This is the kind of movie that knows what it is and does not pretend to be anything else. It may not be a masterpiece, but if you are willing to shut your brain off for two hours and just have some fun, you will have a good time at Pacific Rim. Besides, it was worth seeing a movie that was something new. Even if it inevitably will spawn sequels, rip-offs, rehashes...