Worth A Look: 45.71%
Pretty Bad: 5.71%
Total Crap: 0%
4 reviews, 11 user ratings
by Brett Gallman
Not that Guillermo del Toro’s bona-fides have ever been in doubt during the past 20 years, but one only has to look at the closing dedication for “Pacific Rim” to know that his heart is in the right place. Issued to “Monster Makers” Ishiro Honda and Ray Harryhausen, the film feels like the phantasmagoric sandbox dream of a child raised on a steady diet of Toho and assorted creature features, and that closing dedication serves as the exclamation point to a two hour love letter that combines affection with true skill.Save for Quentin Tarantino, I’m not sure there’s a director that’s been able to consistently update childhood preoccupations and reinvigorate them with such forcefulness: “Pacific Rim” doesn’t just resurrect giant monsters and mechs in the biggest sandbox imaginable—it does it with the same, unabashed glee that of kids who have been staging their own battles for decades.
"It's not based on toys, but it should inspire a ton of them."
Del Toro sets a familiar stage in the apocalypse, but this one’s unlike most endtimes. For one thing, it’s the result of enormous creatures called Kaiju ripping through an inter-dimensional breach in the Pacific Rim. A breathless sequence (imagine the opening crawl for “Star Wars” on a sugar rush) introduces us to this strange new world, where Kaiju attacks have been a regular occurrence for 7 years. To combat the beasts, mankind “created monsters of their own,” an intonation that sounds more dire than it actually is because its Jaeger program—which involves the construction of giant, nuclear-powered machines—is wildly successful. Jaeger pilots (each machine requires a mind-melded duo) become rock stars, while Kaiju become toys (a reflection of the monster movie's fate, perhaps). Maybe it’s not the apocalypse after all.
Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is our narrator for this sequence, which introduces an incredibly dense, colorful world that’s already rich with its own mechanisms and terminology. Not since “The Matrix” has there been such an expansive universe that seemed to live and breathe before its creator began to unwrap it. Del Toro seems to peel back just a corner here, as “Pacific Rim” picks up in the year 2020 and keys in on Raleigh and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), the co-pilots of Gipsy Danger, an American Jaeger that’s slayed a record number of kaiju during its commission. The emergence of a Category 4 Kaiju presses them into action, and, while it eventually results in Yancy’s death, it serves as a perfect overture for “Pacific Rim.” Raleigh is a maverick who constantly defies the orders of his superior officers, and his first instinct is to save a small fishing vessel before engaging the Kaiju in battle. For a movie that’s billed as GIANT MONSTERS vs. GIANT ROBOTS, it values human life above all, and that’s the recurring theme that makes “Pacific Rim” soar.
After the disastrous encounter with the beast, Raleigh hauls his busted Jaeger to the shore and collapses. His failure coincides with the downfall of the program itself, which is in shambles five years later after government leaders have decided to shut it down in favor of constructing an anti-Kaiju wall. That’s where Raleigh finds himself: haunted by his brother’s death, barely eking out an existence until his old boss, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), shows up and recruits him back into what’s left of the Jaeger program in an effort to stage a last-ditch assault on the Kaiju breach.
Even during mankind’s darkest hour, “Pacific Rim” never fails to be unrelentingly spirited and only becomes more colorful as del Toro continues to introduce the larger world surrounding Raleigh. Gathered within the Shatterdome (the last outpost for the Jaegers, housed near Hong Kong) is a swath of humanity’s brave and bold. It’s a place populated by awesome characters that look to be ripped from comic book panels, such as the bleach-blond Russians and a trio of Chinese Jaeger pilots. There are guys with pulpy, alliterative names like Herc Hansen (Max Martini), the patriarch in a father-son Jaeger duo from Australia that have ascended to superstar status after the destruction of the Gipsy Danger. The program has also recruited brains to go along with the brawn, as a pair of scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) is uncovering mysteries surrounding the breach that could explain why previous efforts to bomb it have been unsuccessful.
“Pacific Rim” is an assault on the senses in the best possible way—it revolves around the concept of mind-melding, and the film itself just jacks right into your brain and feeds it a sensory and informational overload teeming with concepts like “drifting” and crazy notions about melding with the mind of a Kaiju. Pentecost even stages a mini bo-staff kumite to determine Raleigh’s new co-pilot (it was at this point that I’m pretty sure I moved into “holy shit, I love this movie” territory).
When one of the scientists (Day’s character, Newt, a name that recalls “Aliens,” which might be appropriate since “Pacific Rim” carries itself with a similarly macho swagger) has to search for answers outside of the Shatterdome, the universe-building only mounts with the discovery of a seedy, black market underbelly that deals in Kaiju organs. Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman, in full-on badass-merc-with-a-mouth mode) is the kingpin of an underworld that approximates what it might look like if Mos Eisley were plopped into the neon-lit, rain-sleeked streets of “Blade Runner.” Untold stories upon untold stories lurk around every corner, and I would pay money tomorrow to see a movie just centered around the Kaiju salvage crews (think Marvel’s “Damage Control” crossed with the Toho universe).
The garishness and boldness of it all is a refreshing departure from the grit-and-debris aesthetic that has shrouded blockbusters like so much ash in recent years. The exterior mirrors the film’s luminous soul; it might be teetering on the brink of total annihilation, but it’s more concerned with how humanity fights back from that brink through its willingness to cooperate with each other. It cuts through so much of the grim-n-gritty junk—Raleigh does briefly hesitate about being pressed back into service (being joined to your brother’s brain during his last moments of life will do that), and he develops a rivalry with the cocky son (Robert Kazinsky) of the Australian Jaeger team, but the film is resolute in its stance that mankind is essentially good if we can just figure out how to work together, an earnest-as-hell sentiment for a world that needs more of it. When Pentecost bellows about “cancelling the apocalypse,” he may as well be serving notice to “Pacific Rim’s” fellow blockbusters—we don’t have any more time for that doom and gloom shit.
Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham pepper the script with more thumbs to the eye. You know how so many modern films have become so preoccupied with over-explaining every single detail? Pentecost exists as a pure, enigmatic, laconic badass—we learn only what we need to know about him, and Ebla infuses him with both dignity and sternness that fills in all of the gaps. His story is connected to the film’s other great gambit: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Pentecoast’s assistant who is also haunted and who desperately wants to prove herself in combat. When the film reveals her history, it does so at just the right time and during one of its more impressive sequences, which finds a young Mako fleeing in horror from a Kaiju that killed her family. Capturing that mix of childhood awe and terror has been one of del Toro’s obsessions, and this is a pure distillation of that, only on a massive, Spielbergian scale. If Pentecost is the fiery, brusque swagger of “Pacific Rim,” then Mori is its contemplative, solemn soul that recalls the sobering horrors of Honda’s “Gojira.”
With so many brash, colorful characters surrounding him, there’s a temptation to consider Hunnam bland and stiff. He doesn’t quite pop off the screen, but he’s a convincing do-gooder that never thinks twice about doing the right thing. Raleigh is the sort of guy who’s considered boring in a world that demands darkness and tortured souls from its heroes, a misguided concept that’s often mistaken as depth. But the truth is, we need more good guys like this—the sort of guy who will stand up to a fellow hotshot for disrespecting his peers and demand an apology for it. Like the great stories of old, Raleigh is the unwavering hero surrounded by more interesting characters. Growing up, it might have been cool to be Han Solo, but, deep down, we all wanted to be like Luke Skywalker, and “Pacific Rim” captures that dynamic perfectly.
It’s also nice to see an epic movie elude the tendency to be needlessly complicated. In an era where blockbusters have become enamored with attempting to impress through convolution, “Pacific Rim” just wants audiences to believe in its characters. Narrative and dramatic elements precisely fall into place with efficiency, and del Toro utilizes his downtime between the billed bouts to ensure that it actually means something when these people step into the Jaegers and head into battle. These fights earn their place on the marquee. While they’re occasionally cluttered and unfold under rainy, moonlit skies, they consistently produce sheer awe through their fluid, coherent construction. The centerpiece is a rip-roaring sequence that finds two Kaiju romping and stomping their way towards and through Hong Kong, with only a trio of Jaegers standing in the way.
If it were only observed in a vacuum, it’d serve as a masterclass of escalation and storytelling through action and special effects because there’s a clear purpose to each movement, a clear motivation for each beat. The scope and scale are rarely diminished by needless cropping, and del Toro cleverly employs the dual pilot system to not only remind viewers that human beings are still involved, but also to provide a clean sense of motion that allows viewers to follow the action. Watching pixels bounce off of and plow through each other is usually a weightless, tedious affair, but “Pacific Rim” carries weight and volume.
And its beats are enormous, jaw-dropping moments that will awaken the imagination of a generation and reignite the fires of those that came before them. For many, this will be akin to the first time we ever saw Godzilla throw down with Mechagodzilla or watched King Kong ascend the Empire State Building. For us, it’s a reminder that we’ve come a long way since 1933, and, watching it, I could only wonder if the likes of Willis O’Brien, Eiji Tsuburaya, and Harryhausen could have ever imagined their craft could have ever inspired such wizardry. My guess is that they could. After all, they were visionaries who constantly put monster movies—the stuff of childhood playthings, essentially—at the forefront of cinema itself, always using the media to push and expand possibilities.
“Pacific Rim” is another pinnacle of their achievements, and I also believe they would have been delighted that their craft would be in the service of a film that deserves it. While the effects are the calling card, they don’t just exist in that vacuum but serve a rousing, pulpy adventure. Best of all, you can feel its director’s delight throughout: it’s in every instance a Jaeger rises from the sea to meet its enemy, in every pummeling of a Kaiju (via either iron fists or a battleship being wrapped around its head), in every distinctive creature design. You can almost hear del Toro insisting that this is the monster movie he’s wanted to make his entire life for an audience that’s been waiting for it just as long.
There are some slight stumbles in its rush to the crescendo where some grace notes feel missing, but it’s otherwise a stirring rejoinder to a landscape dominated by cynicism and doubt. In 1954, “Gojira” peered into the anguished soul of a world haunted by a nuclear holocaust, a place where destruction loomed in the distance because even its best and brightest were snuffed out by an atomic age that demanded their sacrifice. “Pacific Rim” also requires sacrifice and heroism, but it also provides the light at the end of the tunnel by asserting its conviction that humanity will eventually get it right through teamwork. Coupling is the thematic backbone to a film that seems light and airy because that’s exactly what it should be; del Toro wisely doesn’t mistake darkness for weight, and his simple, hearty faith carries as much currency as the most ponderous of recent blockbusters.For whatever reason, designating a film as “fun” sometimes feels snide and dismissive, but it’s the highest compliment I can pay “Pacific Rim” because that’s exactly what we were having in the sandbox all those years ago. Who knew the antidote to apocalyptic doom-mongering was right there in the pure joy of a kid smashing his monsters and robots together?
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originally posted: 07/11/13 18:43:42