FILM REVIEW: Pacific Rim
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman
Out of all the summer action movies so far, it’s safe to say that Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is by far one of the most entertaining. The main reasons are humongous and obvious: Monsters vs. Robots, with lots of drama and wonderfully beautiful images thrown in between fights.
A glorious pre-credit sequence deals out all the exposition into one huge dollop, which is very handy with this kind of film. The first fight scene is thrown in as an appetizer. In the near-future a huge dragon-like monsters emerge from a rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and destroy much of San Francisco into rubble before the military is able to kill the creature. When more of these monsters, named Kaiju, keep emerging and attacking more cities, the world’s superpowers come together to counter-attack with skyscraper-sized robots, called Jaegers (the German word for hunter) that require the tandem operation of human co-pilots who are locked in a telepathic “neural handshake” known as The Drift. It’s an intriguing concept and one that doesn’t disappoint. Its science at its most convenient but it is believable and thoroughly entertaining fare.
All this this information is served up in a series of nice and fluid montages, with a voice-over Kaiju fighter Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam). We also experience our first Jaeger vs. Kaiju fight, when Raleigh, along with his ill-fated older brother, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), engage a Kaiju off the coast of Alaska, which offers a quick immersion into the nature of the battles and what entails when these two colossal entities engage in a fight to death.
The film cuts to five years later and the powers that be who rule the world have changed their minds about the Jaeger fighters. The world’s governments now deem the program as a last resort. The new solution being proposed is to build a giant protective wall around the Pacific coast, while foolishly mothballing the Jaeger program. Scientists are predicting and ever increasing ratio of Kaiju attacks and with that the end of the world. The last remnants of the Jaeger program are now four robots, holed up in a giant airplane hangar in Hong Kong named the Shatterdome. Which has been lovingly designed in a nice eclectic mixture of crumbling medieval antique, army surplus bunker and greasers garage. The commander, who goes by the name of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, The Wire), is a large, intentionally well-dressed British man, who looks and sounds like someone you would want in charge when monsters attack. When Stacker bellows the film’s signature line – “Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse,” he sounds like he has the authority to make it happen.
Some of you may find the robot vs. monster battles too frantic, dark and confusing to know who is doing what to whom, but, it somehow works: Most of the battles are shot at night, against the backdrop of glowing city harbours, involving a lot of shows of strength rather than grace. What sets apart Pacific Rim from the rest of the summer blockbusters is that is del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), a visual artist at heart, creates living fantasy more than just packaging slow-motion explosions together. The design throughout is always imaginative, and even at two and a half hours, it moves along an enjoyable pace with the film layered with plenty of “Woah” moments. That’s because Del Toro and co-screenwriter Travis Beacham have brought us innumerable ideas from other creature features and sci-fi plots, paying homage to Japanese studio Toho Co. Ltd. that gave us Godzilla and other post-war monster metaphors of nuclear terrors, but also including nods to Terminator, Transformers, and, probably, the Japanese nineties anime series Neon Genesis Evangeline. The monsters are supposedly evolving with each encounter and with each appearance they become more ferocious and grander in scale. This intensifies the situation and presses our heroes into ending the Kaiju threat once and for all. The beasts are essentially a quasi-Biblical reminder that human beings need to learn how to work together better for the greater good.
The cast is refreshingly international, in keeping with the movie’s endorsement of co-operation between the whole of the world’s leading countries. The co-pilot teams include an Australian father and son (Max Martini and Rob Kazinsky), Russian and Chinese couples, and even cross-cultural soul-mate strangers. It reflects quite realistically the inherent believe that during the hard times the world should together to battle an even bigger threat that threatens us all. At the centre of the human story is the relationship between Becket and a Japanese woman, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel), a ward of Stacker Pentecost’s. They meet when she is working as a combat analyst but after their first martial arts contest to determine the most compatible partner for the drift they recognize a meeting of the punches as a meeting of the minds. It’s almost like looking in a mirror in that they both are suffering from post-traumatic Kaiju-induced stress syndrome, so when they mind-meld it’s like a double visit to a psychotherapists’ couch. The other characters include a couple of squabbling scientists, including Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as Dr. Newton Geizler, a scratchy voiced Gabby Hayes-type who wants to form a neural-bridge with a Kaiju. Burn Gorman (Torchwood) plays his twitchy British partner, the statistics-loving Strangelovian, Dr. Hermann Gottlieb. Further pulpy weirdness includes Ron Perlman as Dr. Hannibal Chau, a pimped-out dealer of Kaiju body parts in a Blade Runner inspired underground world.
My final words on this are thus: del Toro does a fine job treading into more light hearted territory. The story may have been done to death but it’s adapted and warped into something that is engrossing and very entertaining. The cast do a fine job in their respective roles especially Hunnam, elba and Kikuchi. The film never tries to overcomplicate matters and it doesn’t have to. The sheer awe that is experienced with the always impressive battle scenes are enough to compensate for that. With a blockbuster with this much horse power the pedal is always pressed firmly to the floor throughout. It never fails to entertain and ultimately bring a smile to your face.
Watch the trailer for Pacific Rim below.