When the apocalypse comes down and the world is being destroyed by an endless stream of giant monsters that are determined to squash the human race, do you want to be one of those people running up the street screaming for help, or hiding in an underground bunker praying for the reptilian ragnarok to just go away; or do you want to helm a giant weaponized robot and give those malevolent lizards the what for? If you’re the latter, then the new film, Pacific Rim, is going to be your summertime cinematic savior.
After a very brief introduction that quickly sets up the animalistic Armageddon of Pacific Rim, director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) wastes no time in getting the thunderous action started as brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) Becket man their giant Jaeger(German for hunter) robot, named Gipsy Danger, and engage in a devastating battle with a Kaiju (Japanese for giant monster – think Godzilla) that ends up taking the life of the older soldier, Yancy.
The Jaegers are helmed by pairs of warriors who are cerebrally compatible with each other, usually siblings, fathers and sons and so on. If the co-pilots have similar memories they are more capable of “drifting,” or connecting mentally with each other, which is necessary when linking to and operating the complex behemoths they are driving into battle.
After a few years of war with the Kaiju, the Jaegers have gained some ground and Earth’s cities feel safe once again, even though the war still rages on beyond their sight (an allegory, I’m sure, for the current status of the all but forgotten US war in Afghanistan); but now the monsters are coming faster and in larger numbers, and the Jaegers are becoming obsolete as desperate world governments attempt to build an enormous wall to keep the beasts at bay and ultimately prepare to use nuclear weapons against the monsters.
The Kaiju spring from an inter-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and a rogue group of scientists and soldiers plan a last ditch effort to try and plug the monsters’ hole with a nuclear detonation delivered by one of the remaining functional Jaegers. Although it is an original film with new characters, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim has borrowed heavily from Japanese anime and manga concepts, Godzilla monster movies and the Shogun Warriors toy line and comics of the late 1970s.
There is plenty of science-fiction, drama, and even a little romance to be had in-between what we really want to see, which is the fights between the Jaegers and the Kaiju; and that is where director Del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham focus their efforts and deliver a wicked punch. The monster battles in this movie are some of the coolest action sequences ever committed to film (or hard-drive, which is where I suppose the action is captured these days.)
There are basically three gigantic battles in this film, the opening one I’ve already mentioned, another about mid-film, and then the finale; but for my money the sequence that takes place midway is worth the price of admission by itself and of all the grandiose action sequences I’ve seen this summer, this is the only one that has literally given me ecstatic goose-bumps.
As for all of that “other stuff” – like romantic tension between Raleigh and his new co-pilot, Mako Mori (played by Acadamy Award nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi – see Babel), and Top Gun like clashes between Raleigh and Australian hot-shot pilot Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), and nerdy scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) with last second plans to defeat the Kaiju – it’s all pretty weak and predictable, but entertaining nonetheless. Kikuchi in particular does a very good job as Mako, with a fine mixture of vulnerability and sexy badassiness, and Idris Elba (Heimdall from Thor) is a lot of corny fun as the Jaegers’ commanding officer.
Del Toro favorite, Ron Perlman (Hellboy), also makes an appearance as a war profiteer, Hannibal Chau, who salvages and sells body parts from deceased Kaiju. He’s meant to provide comedic relief together with the goofy and overwrought scientist, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), but I found them both to be annoying and my least favorite part of the film (although I loved the astute idea of people profiting from the monster war.)
This is a minor complaint, but I didn’t really grasp the timeframe that this film was set in. If I understood correctly it takes place circa 2020, which is less than seven years in the future. I get this is all just fantasy, but I sincerely doubt we’ll have the kind of technology seen in this film in seven-hundred years, let alone seven. But who knows, “necessity is the mother of invention,” right?
For pure popcorn-munching summer movie entertainment it’s going to be hard to beat the monsters and robots of Pacific Rim. It may be lacking in high-brow drama and have some minor character annoyances, and it may not be the most original film ever made, but if you get a kick out of giant monsters fighting giant robots, then this movie is on the high-end of that spectrum. (Oh, and be sure to wait through the credits for a surprise final scene.) Grade: 8/10
A note on Pacific Rim 3D: I’m rarely a proponent of 3D in movies and I highly recommend you skip the extra money you’d pay to see Pacific Rim in that format. The action in this film mostly takes place at night, in the water and in the rain, and the dark 3D-glasses make it a visual mess that is also a distracting strain on the eyes. There is no effect in this film that is worth the cost and inconvenience of seeing it in 3D.
Photos © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.