Obviously several thoughts come to mind when explaining that Pacific Rim is about giant robots fighting giant aliens, which includes properties like Transformers or Godzilla. More importantly, it would seem that one’s mind is probably already made up in regards to how seriously they want to take said premise. Even if one is unsure, the film certainly is not. Pacific Rim is larger than life and it knows that. The film is wildly outrageous at times and no matter how much stock is put into the logic behind how this may actually be able to work, physics is not the thing that people have to worry about. Deriving fun from the film is and director Guillermo Del Toro is quite happy putting his imagination on display and letting people consider that for themselves.
Stacker Pentecost: Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!
We are launched into the story quickly, as some handy narration catches us up to speed. A giant portal has opened up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Colossal monsters, referred to as kaiju, emerged from this portal and began to attack earth. A solution was developed in the form of Jaegers, gigantic mechs, operated by two humans, who use special equipment to share the same mind space and fight as one. Basically, giant monsters came to earth, so earth built giant monsters to stop them.
There is more to the actual story that I can get into, but this is clearly the kind of movie has one thing on its mind: entertaining the audience with its scale. Pacific Rim easily has scale covered. The kaiju and Jaegers presented in this film are enormous and their battles are epic. Despite the heavy use of rain and darkness, it is hard to deny that these things look great too. With a huge budget to work with and the latest that ILM has to offer in the way of visual effects, putting this kind of action on screen was definitely realized to its fullest. It is certainly the kind of movie a kid would not mind having the toys for and the adults who also had fun wouldn’t mind checking out for themselves.
Watching a director play with his toys can certainly be a complaint leveled at Del Toro this time around. Pacific Rim is definitely coming from the side of everyone’s favorite geeky Mexican director who enjoys delving into his more outlandish and creature-heavy features like Blade 2 and Hellboy, rather than the more introspective director who combines his love of fantasy worlds with stirring drama in films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. That said, while spectacle films are certainly capable of delivering more than just broad fun and can show off bold ideas, while mixing in grand scale (Inception or District 9 come to mind), Pacific Rim and other films like it can easily inhabit an area that works for simpler reasons and still feel like time well spent.
The fact is: I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It comes from having this concept being fully realized on screen, while I witness this grand scale on a giant IMAX screen (solid 3D conversion by the way), and it also comes from sheer admiration of the world that has been established. Something Del Toro continues to do is take pride in having worlds that feel like they are being lived in. Nothing looks shiny and new here. All the Jaegers and operator suits have damage, cities are designed to look like they have evolved based on the impact of kaiju, and the kaiju themselves are all fairly unique. Even with such a grand scale, the details are there and I can only begin to imagine all the stuff I missed after an initial viewing.
Another aspect that goes a long way is how I genuinely enjoy the people I am following. While the characters are not incredibly complex and the film has a very basic plot outline, the cast is quite likable. Charlie Hunnam (of Sons of Anarchy fame) may be the weak link here, simply because he is required to serve as the reluctant hero and deliver his lines in a gravelly voice to emphasize “coolness”, but I enjoyed the set up with his character. He plays Raleigh, one of the top Jaeger pilots, who had his life shattered, following the death of his co-pilot/brother. Idris Elba (an actor who is synonymous with awesome) serves as the head of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost, and recruits Raleigh back into service, with an ultimate plan to stop the kaiju. Raleigh is then teamed up with Rinko Kikuchi’s character, Mako Mori, in an effort to see this plan through.
There is not a lot that is new here and the film owes plenty to Top Gun, among other films, in the way it goes about showing a pilot who plays by his own rules coming to terms with what the right thing is in the heat of battle, learning about teamwork, etc. These are things I enjoyed, simply because the movie, again, seems to get that its own plotting is goofy. It uses clichés to get us not only to Jaeger-Kaiju battles, but into discussion of what these things are. I really enjoyed learning about the different Jaegers, but I also really enjoyed delving into the kaiju, as well how society has been effected by them.
These are areas where the characters played by Charlie Day and Ron Perlman come in and they are both having plenty of fun. Day plays a sort of rock star scientist, looking to understand the kaiju, while Perlman plays a black marketer, who makes a living by selling off kaiju organs (it is only fitting that his name be Hannibal Chau). There is no excuse made by the film for having these characters, among others, and it does not need it. They exist for fun. Having a speech made by Idris Elba that is made up of aggrandizing humans fits because this is the kind of movie that has those speeches. It too exists for fun. Melodrama plays in this kind of film, because this is the goofy sort of premise that works better with truisms rather than maintaining a level of self-importance.
Fittingly, a lot of the dialogue is brief enough to fit in a comic book word bubble, because that’s the kind of brief and blunt emphasis needed to get to the point. Basically, this movie has the spirit of a giant adventure story that does not waste too much time on going to darker territory. Whereas so many summer films tend to move towards despair and brooding these days, Pacific Rim is one of the ones that does not rely on using what worked tonally for another film in an effort to make itself better.
Getting away from the handle on tone and story, another area of concern may come from the lack of deeper meaning in the film, but I still can’t say I wasn’t satisfied by how things played out. There are certainly themes present in regards to establishing a connection to others, but the film doesn’t highlight too much concern over the war aspect and the fight against kaiju as much of a play on anything else. For being a film about the fight to save earth, the tone is far too light to really weigh in on that sort of thinking, so social relevance is not a concern in the same way as it was in Gojira for example. Again, Pacific Rim does not necessarily need this, it is fine serving as another fine example of live-action anime, but I will be curious where things will go with this world that Del Toro has created.
In terms of summer spectacle, Pacific Rim pretty much has it all. The concept is pretty effectively cut and dry (giant monsters versus giant robots), the visuals are amazing, the characters are about as over the top as the scale of this film, and it is unapologetic about wanting to show you how much fun everyone had putting this film together. While this is an original film, which culls together many ideas and influences from an assortment of old sci-fi stories, kaiju films, anime, and other blockbusters, Pacific Rim has the look and feel of a wonderfully entertaining comic book come to life. It has so much going for it in the way of visuals, art direction, and production design (as well as having a sense of humor), that it is easy to look past its biggest flaw, which is having a story simple enough to allow the audience to get wrapped up into the fun that is being presented on screen. Given that fun is what I wanted from director Guillermo Del Toro’s super-sized monster epic, I can easily say that this film delivered just that.
Dr. Newton Geiszler: Two thousand five hundred tons of awesome.