PACIFIC RIM Review

As I sat watching the latest from director Guillermo del Toro I couldn't help but wonder how much I would have loved this had I seen this movie when I was seven or eight. It likely would have been an earth shattering event, a childhood defining piece of entertainment that would influence countless Halloween costumes and inspire me to want to make my own monster movies. Unfortunately, I'm not seven or eight but was still able to sit in awe as these giant, man-made robots did battle with these monsters from the deep that have come to be known as Kaiju. If you are going to see Pacific Rim it is likely due in large to this aspect and on that basis the film delivers in spades. It was admittedly nice to walk into a big summer action film in the vein of something that is usually part of a franchise (and if this does well enough financially, it soon enough will be) and being able to know you can expect something new and fresh that requires no prior knowledge or research. With so many of these comic book adaptations and reboots being produced with hopes of cashing in on name recognition it feels somewhat of a rarity to have a studio lend this type of film the budget it needs to be and look credible enough that we become so invested in these people and the world they live in that we want to go on another adventure with them. Pacific Rim is a sometimes cheesy, but mostly raucous good time that is aided by the fact it has a very straightforward story, characters we can root for and no intentions of being anything other than flat-out, B-movie entertainment. I wasn't overly looking forward to the project and have never really understood the fascination that has come to surround del Toro as I enjoyed the Hellboy films as well as Pan's Labyrinth, but besides a signature style didn't see much in the way of why his name was being singled out so heavily as being so creative. With this film, the director has given me reason to know that he really understands the audience he is making his films for. I still wasn't as enthralled or as wowed by the film as I'd hoped, but was at least entertained enough to say that Pacific Rim is the kind of summer action movie we don't get enough of these days.  

Stacker (Idris Elba) and Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) respect each others skills in Pacific Rim.
When I say the plot is simplistic I simply mean that it doesn't deal in subversive undertones or means to stand as a metaphor for any current situation going on in the world, but instead only means to create a situation where foreign life forms come to attack earth (mind you with a bit of a twist in that they come from beneath the ocean rather than up in space) and humans develop a way of fighting back and defending our planet. There aren't even any allusions to government or foreign affairs here, those issues are squashed early in the film when our lead protagonist Raleigh Becket (Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam) explains a brief backstory of how the Kaiju came to invade the planet and how the world banded together when they realized the attacks weren't going to stop and built the Jaegers. These robots were the only answer to stopping the destruction, but it takes two very skilled pilots to take the Jaegers out against the Kaiju and be successful. The robots are controlled simultaneously by their two pilots whose minds are linked by a neural bridge allowing them to share each others memories and become one in guiding the Jaeger. This was one of the few quips I had with the script as it seemed to over-complicate things more than necessary only to later in the film feel like a forced story element used to set-up a certain set of consequences. Even the explanation at the  beginning for why the two pilots had to be linked is a little hazy. I understand the reasoning for it and I understand why there needed to be two pilots rather than one, but it still seemed, in the explanation given, that even the writers weren't completely convinced by the justification they'd come up with. I won't dwell though because for as much as it does force certain things to happen in the films climax it also allows some nice relationships between characters to develop as well. As the Kaiju seem to be getting stronger the Jaegers are becoming unable to handle them with all other defenses proving unworthy. After an initial incident leaves Raleigh jaded with the Jaeger program it only takes a quick pep talk from his former boss, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to convince him he's needed to help save the world in one last ditch effort.

For me what was probably the most fascinating thing about Pacific Rim was the world in which it created for these events to take place. While at some points it was like having flashbacks to episodes of Power Rangers where Rita Repulsa summoned a bad guy from the core of the earth or the depths of the ocean it was also refreshing to have a completely realized world of make believe so effortlessly integrated into the world we live in today. The film takes place in the not too distant future and as the Jaeger program is commissioned by the worlds governments there is a sense of credibility and understanding that if something as ridiculous as monsters rising from the deep were to happen, this wouldn't be a bad route to go. What was even more interesting about the film was that it didn't necessarily go the direction with this world that I was expecting. It wasn't all concentrated around the initial attack by the Kaiju, the initial reaction with the Jaegers and the ultimate defeat of these monsters all wrapped up nicely with a bow at the end and a window of opportunity made obvious in case a sequel is an option. Instead, the film gives us a history of the first attacks, the responses and the bad news of how after all efforts the humans are still not winning and have made very little progress in terms of slowing these attacks down. The fact of the matter is the attacks are occurring more frequently and whereas at first it was only one Kaiju coming to the surface, the research team highlighted in the film predicts that as the monsters become more advanced and more powerful there will also be larger numbers of them. This presents a problem as the Jaeger program has lost nearly all its robots and even more of its pilots. When Stacker comes to recruit Raleigh it is because they are at the end of their resources and I found it both compelling and original that del Toro and his co-writer on the screenplay, Travis Beacham, decided to look at the end of a war rather than the more expected and likely easier course of how this all started. Instead they allow themselves to waste no time in getting past all the beats you would expect the "start of a war" movie to hit and open it up to something a little different, something a little more interesting with a lot more meat on its bones.

One of the elaborately designed Kaiju that surfaces in Guillermo del Toro's latest.
Making this ride all the more enjoyable is the presence of some fine performances from unexpected places. Unfortunately I found the weak link to be in Hunnam who is supposed to be our hero. He isn't necessarily bad he is just fighting with his native accent the entire time and it was hard for me to get past this as he is clearly trying very hard to sound like the all-American boy who no one expected anything from, but is determined to prove them all wrong. He has a winning personality, a sense of himself, and a respect that isn't always common in these movies protagonists that tend to preach going outside the rules is fine as long as you believe what you're doing is right. It is clear Elba's character knows what he is doing and knows the people he is working with and Raleigh realizes that Stacker is better equipped for his role than he is, that is why he's in that role and he respects his decisions for those reasons. Though Elba is on fire here it is somewhat of a one note performance. I found him to be more entertaining in his small role in Prometheus, but he certainly elicits a kind of macho charisma here that is perfectly in line with the tone of the movie. Though Hunnam skirts by on his natural charm and willingness to be that everyman it also helps that he isn't asked to carry the weight of the entire film. The time is split between the story of the pilots and that of the research team who have to figure out what the pilots need to do to, you know, cancel the apocalypse. As Doctors Newton and Gottlieb Charlie Day and Burn Gorman form a team that is at the same time a kind of comic relief while also serving as some of the more interesting parts of the film. Day, in an unconventional role, does exceptionally well and is our point of entry into better understanding the reasons as to why all of this is happening in the first place. As the film began and was giving us the story of how the Kaiju showed up and started attacking our cities I wondered if they would simply leave it at that or if they would give us some kind of explanation. Day is our ticket into the surprisingly thoughtful and inventive explanation as to why the Kaiju are coming to Earth in the first place. This and the fact that the scenes he shares with Ron Perlman are instant classics make him a stand-out in a cast full of recognizable faces.

The wild card of the cast though is Rinko Kikuchi who represents the culture from which much of the inspiration for this film has been pulled, but also has to give one of the stronger performances of the entire cast due to her character arc being the most involved and carrying a weight no other pilot is revealed to have. I have only seen Kikuchi in one other film (The Brothers Bloom) in which she hardly had any dialogue (if any, I can't completely remember) but here she turns in a performance as determined young woman Mako Mori. She is Stacker's right hand woman who desires more than anything to pilot a Jaeger and return the hurt to the Kaiju that they caused her as a young girl. It may in fact be her performance that makes Hunnam's look more sophomoric than it actually is, but I found her story much more compelling and much easier to feel a part of in terms of wanting to exact revenge of the Kaiju. In saying that, it should also be noted that del Toro does well at balancing each of the storylines he creates and guides them through to not only a satisfactory conclusion, but one that delivers on the spectacle of what giant monsters fighting giant robots should be. Pacific Rim is a fine film, well-written with a strong awareness of what it wants to be without making fun of itself and delivering the visual flare the director has become known for. What is doesn't do is soar above everything else that has come out this summer as it seems so many fanboys wanted it to do. Contrary to what many people will say, I've found this summer to be quite consistent in both its blockbuster and indie output. When you take into account the films that have come out and how well they've matched what they were originally intended to be (Furious 6, World War Z, The Heat, This is the End, Now You See Me, Star Trek Into Darkness) it is easy to see how Pacific Rim is slightly underwhelming while still remaining a fine summer popcorn flick that delivers on all it promised.