Pacific Rim - Review
There's a sense of irony in the fact that Pacific Rim is being beaten at the box office by Grown Ups 2. On one hand you have Adam Sandler's latest attempt to defraud audiences, and on the other, what is possibly the least cynical movie released this year. That's what should be taken away from Pacific Rim, it genuinely loves being what it is: a movie about giant robots smashing the crap out of giant underwater monsters.
Much like last year's The Avengers, Pacific Rim is a bright, fun, and enjoyable riposte to the dark and uber-serious summer blockbusters that are the norm post Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Also, similar to Joss Whedon, director Guillermo Del Toro is one of those genuine geek types. Compared to say, J.J. Abrams, who makes science fiction movies because they're good for his career, Del Toro loves what he does, just go and watch interviews with the guy, his enthusiasm is infectious.
In a rather surprising turn, given the information that we get in Pacific Rim's trailer, the story is actually set after the giant sea-monsters, known as Kaiju, have been ravaging the globe for several years. The Jaeger project that resulted in the construction of giant mecha, is being shut down as the world's various governments resort to giant walls in order to protect themselves from the otherworldly creatures.
Due to this, Pacific Rim cleverly sidesteps becoming a disaster movie and instead is able to focus on being an action film first and foremost. That's not to say that Del Toro doesn't have us invest in the characters. Raleigh Becket is an engaging enough lead, played by Charlie Hunnam. However, it's Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost that remains the most interesting character out of the bunch as the stern commander of what is left of the Jaeger program.
It's broad-brush characterization, nothing overly complex, that the film aims for and makes for a remarkably refreshing Hollywood blockbuster. All of the characters are played straight up, none of those "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" moments as if we're actually meant to be laughing at the cheesy dialogue. One of the worst effects of Michael Bay's Transformers series was the propensity for big-budget action movies to have massive tonal shifts within a single scene; a supposedly serious moment would constantly be undercut with a "comedy" quip at every turn.
Instead it's up to Burn Gorman and Charlie Day to provide a light-hearted and rather amusing side plot as a pair of bumbling scientists searching through Hong Kong for the black market dealer Hannibal Chau, played with wonderful quirkiness by frequent Del Toro collaborator Ron Perlman. It makes for a nice change of pace, despite being rather colourful and light-hearted film it's clear that if the Kaiju aren't finished off soon then the world isn't going to last much longer, and Perlman's scenes help ease some of that tension.
Of course, a lot of the tension-breaking comes from the epic mecha on monster fight sequences. If there's one thing that Pacific Rim gets right it's the physicality of the robots. There's a real heft and weight to their movements that makes the sucker punch to a giant lizard's face much more satisfying. Del Toro's work on both Hellboy movies showed that he's a director that still loves using practical effects and, despite being on a much bigger scale, Pacific Rim is no different. The cockpits which are used by the mecha's pilots are actually sets which again helps give the film a weighty feel to it and feeds back in to some of the epic CGI that we get to see.
The film even manages to drop in some political commentary too, albeit rather cleverly and without disrupting the flow. There's about one line in the movie that hints that the monsters arrival may have been the result of global warming and more overtly is the script's attempt to paint the struggle against the Kaiju as a worldwide collaboration and not just fist-pumping American militarism, like what Michael Bay excels at doing. A Russian mecha stands alongside a Chinese and an Australian one, all in an attempt to protect Hong Kong, whilst the chief robot in the movie, Gypsy Danger, is controlled by American and Japanese co-pilots.
There's still some things that could have been improved, the middle section of the movie potentially lags a bit and could have been put to better use connecting the various character arcs together. Raleigh's and Mako's partnership as the pilots of Gypsy Danger feels a tad rushed and could have done with a bit more breathing space.
Still, as an original summer blockbuster there's not a lot wrong with Pacific Rim. It won't convert anyone whose never been a fan of the giant monster genre but at the same time it avoids alienating any new younger fans that it might give it a go. With the new Godzilla movie heading for a release next year it looks like Pacific Rim might be paving the way for a new wave of city-levelling monster movies. With a sequel already being hinted at, things are looking somewhat hopeful.
Pacific Rim was released in theatres on July 12th.
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