Film Review: Pacific Rim

by Chad Liffmann on July 12, 2013

Finally, the summer blockbuster we’ve been waiting for! Pacific Rim is smart, compelling, and unleashes an exhilarating fury of battling giants.

A jaeger strolls through Hong Kong streets in Pacific Rim

A Jaeger strolls through the neon lit streets of Hong Kong in Pacific Rim

From here on out, every time I gaze up into the fog-filled night sky that enshrouds the top portions of downtown San Francisco’s office buildings, I’ll imagine a colossal Kaiju smashing through the buildings like tissue paper, the debris raining down upon the dimly lit streets…and a Jaeger behemoth emerging through the haze, crushing the Kaiju’s skull in with a downward punch and throwing the giant beast’s body down the length of Market street.  This is the lasting effect of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.  The film makes a solid effort to tell an emotional human tale in the midst of a near-future world at war with giant alien creatures.  The effort is not lost, but takes a backseat behind the extraordinarily impressive battle sequences.  As a science-fiction action movie, Pacific Rim delivers and then some.

Pacific Rim begins with a lazily narrated, yet, engrossingly visual prologue that explains how our world was suddenly under attack by giant Godzilla-type creatures, Kaiju (Japanese for “monster”), that emerged from an interstellar portal in an underwater canyon between tectonic plates in the Pacific ocean (yes, in the Pacific Rim).  A series of Kaiju encounters leave a handful of major cities around the globe in ruins.  Countries join together in creating the Jaeger program (‘jaeger’ is German for “hunter”), which involves the expensive and resource-draining creation of juggernaut robots that must be piloted by the brainpower of two people.  The program is run by stoic military leader Stacker Pentecost (The Wire’s Idris Elba).  As the prologue continues to show, pilots soon become international rock stars and the success of each country’s Jaeger becomes a source of pride and superiority.  The pilots connect together through a mind meld called “The Drift,” becoming one entity with the robot, with shared memories, actions, emotions, and thoughts.  Pilots must have the right compatibility with their partner, otherwise their minds won’t work well together and the Jaeger won’t operate successfully.  In 2020, years after the war with the Kaiju began, one such pilot partnership, between Raleigh Becket (Sons of Anarchy’Charlie Hunnam) and his older brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), take their Jaeger to fend off a new Kaiju.  The results are tragic and signal the imminent shut down of the Jaeger program.  But of course, the Jaeger program stays afloat, and under the radar, and thus is able to return to action when new adapting Kaiju resurface to wreak havoc.

Long story short, the Jaeger program re-emerges with the help of a motley crew of personnel, including the uninteresting Raleigh Becket, two bumbling scientists/Kaiju specialists (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day and Torchwood’s Burn Gorman), various Jaeger pilots from an assortment of countries, and a young Japanese female assistant seeking revenge against the Kaiju for a tragic past encounter.  All actors, save Hunnam, do an adequate job.  Hunnam, on the other hand, struts around like a pompous troll and speaks as if he learned his lines moments before delivering them.  (Insert joke here about how even the Jaegers have more personality).  Nevertheless, the film is able to progress at a steady pace thanks to some comic relief (thanks to Day and Gorman), a few powerfully visual flashback sequences, and the resonant theme of humankind stretching itself thin in order to combat extinction.  And when engaged in combat, Pacific Rim is unforgettable.

Though it’s been five years since his last feature film, Guillermo Del Toro hasn’t missed a beat in bringing his lively sense of fun to the big screen.  His knack for creature design was crucial in the 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and the fun Hellboy series.  Here, Del Toro is working on a much larger scale but employs the same approach he has over the years.  Pacific Rim doesn’t feature the quick cuts that Michael Bay, Justin Lin, and other action directors use.  Instead, shots are long and still, giving the audience a chance to feel the full weight and size of the fighters (and to know what the heck is going on!).  The film also chooses to abandon any sense of wise military tactics, and leaps comfortably over any plot holes in favor of highlighting visceral moments the audience can cheer for, a good choice on the filmmaker’s part.  When the action starts, the film employs all of its resources to add to the fun — the actors shout their stereotypical “let’s finish this!” type lines, the rockin’ score kicks in, composed by Game of Thrones’ Ramin Djawadi in collaboration with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello — and then the astounding visual effects take center stage.

A few pop culture titles immediately jump out as likely influencing a bit of Del Toro’s Pacific Rim; from Power Rangers and Transformers to Godzilla and scores of Japanese anime, the list of titles with Pacific Rim-related concepts is not a short one (let’s also not forget 1989’s Robot Jox).  However, Pacific Rim still feels fresh…and bad-ass.

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Pacific Rim opens in Bay Area theaters today, July 12, 2013.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon July 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm

The lead is so bad (doesn’t he look like a buff Matthew Modine?), forgetting constantly what accent he was supposed to have. How could he have been so badly cast? Every scene with him is impossibly long; otherwise, there’s a lot to like here. Personally, I would rather have seen a movie with the prologue as plot.

The fight scenes are really pretty, especially the Hong Kong one. But if you’ve got a sword, maybe you should use that BEFORE punching? That’s usually how it’s done. Weapon first, THEN hand-to-hand. A minor quibble at best.

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ramesh July 15, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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