– Summary –
Director : Guillermo del Toro
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr, Ron Perlman, Diego Klattenhoff.
Approx Running Time : 132 Minutes
Synopsis: In the near future, giant monsters arrive on our planet through a breach beneath the ocean, and are only held back thanks to the invention of enormous robotic warriors, piloted by humans, who stand in their way of total world destruction.
What we think : Dynamite sci-fi spectacle devours criticism, obliterates concerns and annihilates curmudgeonly besmirching. Pacific Rim is the modern Independence Day, a film existing purely to entertain in the most visceral, visual manner possible. Impeccably directed by cult favorite Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim’s most astonishing aspect is that – unlike Michael Bay’s oft-maligned Transformers franchise – even when things are at their most confusing, it all makes sense. See it on the biggest screen you can, and as loud as you can stand it. Awesome in every regard.
2013 was not kind to the ubiquitous Summer Blockbuster. Star Trek Wrath Of Darkness was all show and no go, Iron Man 3 was eviscerated by Marvel fanboys for its treatment of the central villain, Man of Steel polarized critics and fans alike with its no-nonsense depiction of a millennial Superman, while The Wolverine came and went with what seemed barely a whimper. And The Lone Ranger? Don’t even, man. When the history of 2013 is studied by aliens in the distant non-human future, it’s good to know that not every tentpole film released that year was a major bomb, or critical disaster. Pacific Rim, the Giant Monster vs Giant Robot movie from everyone’s favorite unknown director, Guillermo del Toro, is probably the genuine high-water mark for a successful Summer Movie; it’s high concept, excellent execution and all-round entertaining, ensuring future viewings by new humans will always leave a pleasant taste in one’s brain. It’s a pity the marketing confused many, and the box-office wasn’t as massive as it should have been, because the much hoped for sequel rides a lot on the financial success of this film’s unique central premise. One felt that the tide of public opinion for yet another “giant things destroying major world landmarks” film was on the wane, which could have been a contributing factor to Pacific Rim’s less-than expected box-office return. Which leads me to ask: is Pacific Rim as good (or bad) a film as the box office deserved, and is it worth your time to watch, should you feel the need to see yet more earthly destruction writ across your screen?
In 2013, Earth comes under attack from enormous monsters known as Kaijus; enormous, skyscraper-sized creatures who arrive on our world through an inter-dimensional portal ripped open via tectonic plate fractures deep beneath the oceans. Initially, only one Kaiju arrives, which levels a city before the military can stop it. Then, more of these enormous creatures arrive, and a plan of defense is initiated. Mankind constructs enormous, equally skyscraper-sized robotic warriors, known as Jagers, piloted by brave soldiers with a unique ability to “drift”, ie share a consciousness in order to keep better control of the colossal construction. The Jager Program, led by Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), is initially successful, defeating Kaiju after Kaiju in increasingly destructive battles. However, the tide begins to turn (as it always does) and the Jager Program is discontinued after several heavy defeats. When humanity’s secondary plan of defense, giant walls to keep the Kaiju at bay, fails, the Jagers are thrown a lifeline, and former pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnan) is recalled to duty, with his new co-pilot in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), as they launch a desperate plan to detonate a nuclear device inside the dimensional portal, before a full-scale invasion of the Earth begins.
Pacific Rim doesn’t waste any time. It’s down to business from the get-go, delivering the first arrival of the Kaiju in San Francisco in frame one, wreaking destruction and havoc to set up the massive task ahead of this film – to deliver believable odds in the most unbelievable of premises. The core story is elegantly simple; giant monsters invade, we build giant robots to fight back. It’s simple, and easy to understand. The narrative technicalities, such as where the Kaiju come from, and how the Jagers are built and operate, are brushed over with an apparent “if you can’t keep up, that’s okay” attitude by screenwriters del Toro and Travis Beacham, meaning that even if a lot of the nitty-gritty of the nuts and bolts flies over your head, the film remains cheerily entertaining. That’s not to say that Pacific Rim dumbs itself down for the cheap seats, but it’s not essential to understand everything to get what’s going on. It’s your basic Monsters vs Robots genre, operating at staggering levels of destruction.
This is a major, major blockbuster film, and it delivers its inherent thrills and excitement in the most astonishingly believable manner possible. Exactly why we decided to go with giant robots to fight the monsters, instead of some other, less resource-intensive route, I don’t know, but the film doesn’t waste time trying to fill in the blanks – it’s too busy pitting giant monsters against giant robots. Cue fanboy drool. The characters, from leads Becket and Pentecost (such a cool character name, played by the equally cool Idris Elba) and Mori, down to Ron Perlman’s enormously engaging huckster racketeer and black-market operator, and the duo of Charlie Day (who looks a lot like JJ Abrams, it must be said, although his voice is infinitely more annoying than excessive lens-flare, of which this film contains almost none) and Burn Gorman as scientists trying to study the Kaiju in the hopes of discerning more about them, Pacific Rim wastes as little time as possible in delivering depth or emotional weight to the people in the story; I’d normally have this down as a criticism, but even in the face of blank, rote characters with little development, Pacific Rim still works its charms. Perhaps it’s because of the Stock Character Playbook leaving more room for gargantuan visual effect-driven battles and enormous set-pieces, that I’m prepared to forgive del Toro’s decision to make this spectacle over story.
The cast all perform admirably, achieving in relatively short time their functions within the narrative and establishing quickly their character nuances and peculiarities. Charlie Hunnam leads the way as Becket, the head-strong, yet emotionally tarnished (his brother, Yancy, played by Diego Klattenhoff, is killed in an early scene that sets the tone for Becket’s dramatic arc) Jager pilot who has an interest in his female co-pilot, Mori. Rinko Kikuchi’s career post-Oscar nomination (she snagged a nom for her performance in Babel, which is thoroughly worth a look) hasn’t set the world on fire, but she’s solid here, even if her character feels underwritten and somewhat masculine in scripting. Idris Elba summons his Bill Pullman Presidential Performance, delivering the hugely advertised “…cancelling the apocalypse” speech with great vigor, if not square-jawed hutzpah. Elba’s role feels paternal to the movie, almost as if he’s a hidden force waiting to be unleashed. He snarls and growls at the rest of the cast, and while I was initially annoyed by this as a constant (he’s no Apone from Aliens), the payoff at the very end is worth the journey. Robert Kazinski’s antagonistic Jager pilot character (he’s got an attitude problem, you see) seems destined to become the Defacto Sacrificial Lamb, in order to actuate the typical Last Stand by the heroes, and this plot point could be seen coming a mile away – although del Toro is canny enough to stack the deck in his favor and deliver a real hootenanny of a climactic showdown for Kazinski’s reprobate operative.
Watch for comedy by Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and a blithering Burn Gorman, all of whom sell their roles with the pronounced tics they need to generate laughs away from the battles. Perlman in particular draws several chuckles, although his role is ancillary to the plot – it’s good to see him nonetheless. Bit parts to Max Martini (such an awesome screen name) and Clifton Collins Jr, as other Jager-based operatives within the film, round out a cast of actors who deliver exactly what’s needed for a major film like this. Yet, even if the cast are Oscar nominated, critical-acclaim drawing thespians, they are brushed aside by Pacific Rim’s most staggering, most astonishing achievement. The visual effects.
As I said earlier, Pacific Rim is a spectacle film, designed to be as massive and broad-spectrum entertaining as possible, and deliver big-budget effects that will make your jaw drop. Indeed, the film is almost entirely visual effects – every cent of the nearly $200 million budget is up on the screen, as Jager and Kaiju collide repeatedly, causing untold collateral damage and giving us more metropolitan carnage than all three of the last Transformers movies. The scope of the film is massive, with the Kaiju attacks occurring all around the Pacific rim – Manilla, Australia, the Western US seaboard, are all in the Kaiju’s firing line, since the Pacific plate is ringed by these continental land-masses. Although the bulk of the second half of the film is set in Hong Kong, del Toro scatters references to other world wide cities to set the backdrop for just how – it’s only taken me seven paragraphs to say it – apocalyptic the scenario actually is. The enormous Jagers are wonderful in design, each with their own unique look and style that never becomes confusing or hard to follow. The lead Jager we follow, Gipsy Danger, piloted by Becket, is probably supposed to be the coolest looking of them (after all, it’s the main one) but the others we see on screen are equally as sweet. Each has its own unique style of combat as well, which leads to some truly spectacular battle sequences with the monstrous Kaiju. The Kaiju themselves, which come out of the portal in a variety of categories (in this film, the largest yet recorded is a Category 4, although by what scale these categories are set by is hard to follow) are also well designed, each with its own unique bodily armaments that make them formidable opponents. They have a definite del Toro flair.
If there’s a problem with Pacific Rim, it’s one similar to the issues which plagues a lot of major effects films – shooting at night. Vast swathes of Pacific Rim are set during the night time, and gigantic battle sequences in semi-darkness are usually hard to follow at the best of times – audiences can lose who’s doing what to whom, and on the whole I find them a bit of a cheats way of getting out of revealing exactly what’s going on. Directors who shoot night action sequences better have a solid foundation of a story, lest they end up like the miasma that was Godzilla back in 1998, where almost the entire film felt like it was set at night. I want to see the effects, I don’t want them hidden by darkness and indistinct shadows all the time. Del Toro skirts this issue by making his battle sequences seem to occur in slow-motion, with every punch, blast and explosive contact shattering the senses and sending the viewer into symbiotic convulsions; you really do feel every Earth-shattering moment, such is the visceral nature of the on-screen events. And truthfully, the constant darkness never really bothered me. Even the last act, where two Jagers are battling enormous Category 5 Kaiju deep beneath the sea, where it’s not only dark but murky as well, is easily viewer-friendly, although the occasional shower of debris and thunderous shock-waves make the camera shudder in sympathy (it’s an overused effect these days, but del Toro works it in without making it ostentatious).
I really want to waffle on a lot more about this film, but I won’t. Pacific Rim is entirely thrilling, engaging and entertaining – it’s big budget spectacle that, for once, delivers all the heft a film like this should. If the core premise that giant monsters are fighting giant robots doesn’t interest you, then there’s not a lot about Pacific Rim I can persuade you with, because that’s all the film’s about. With a markedly fat-free screenplay, some dynamite visual effects (expect this film to not only be nominated, but score the Oscar for its CG work, as well as sound editing and design, IMO) and del Toro’s deft command of the film camera, and a simplicity of story that never once stands on ceremony for what it wants to accomplish, Pacific Rim is an unparalleled success. It’s enthusiastic, exciting and easy to recommend. It’s not smart, but then it never sets out to be, because it delivers exactly what a film like this should: splendid effects and a terrific two hours or so being swept away by its fantasy.