Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro.
Written by: Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket), Idris Elba (Stacker Pentecost), Rinko Kikuchi (Mako Mori), Charlie Day (Dr. Newton Geiszler), Burn Gorman (Gottlieb), Max Martini (Herc Hansen), Robert Kazinsky (Chuck Hansen), Clifton Collins Jr. (Ops Tendo Choi), Ron Perlman (Hannibal Chau), Diego Klattenhoff (Yancy Becket).

On the surface, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim seems like any other summer blockbuster – full of explosions, special effects and pointless 3-D. And if that’s all you want from Pacific Rim it delivers the goods. The film was marketed almost as Transformers vs. Godzilla – and no one who walks into the theater expecting that will go away disappointed. The fight sequences between the giant robots – known as Jaegers and the reptilian or fish like monsters – known as Kaijis – are great. Unlike Michael Bay, del Toro doesn’t get lost in rapid fire editing, and movement for movement sake – you can always tell where everything is in relation to each other, as del Toro is a master of special relations in this film – something that seemingly few directors today are. But del Toro’s film is a little bit more than a typical blockbuster – at least this summer’s blockbusters. There is a human story that he never loses site of. And there are moments that truly tap into the audiences fear. While the film is effective at being a big, dumb action movie, it’s a little deeper than it first appears. It’s still not a great film – but in a summer that has largely left me wanting more from the blockbusters, it’s as good as we’re likely to get.

The plot is really quite simple. It’s 2020 and 7 years ago (or in 2013 – watch out!) a transport between dimensions was discovered deep in the Pacific ocean. Nothing humans have can enter this “rip”, and they cannot destroy it. But the Kaiji can get through – and they do, laying waste to coastal cities along the Pacific ocean. With humanity on the brink of collapse, countries put aside their differences and started the Jaeger program – essentially huge robots, that are piloted by two men, who are mentally connected with each other – and the robot. This was successful for years – but the Kaiji keep getting bigger, and the Jaeger’s are no longer enough to stop them. So politicians, as they always do, decide to abandon the Jaeger program and instead build huge walls (not coincidentally, del Toro is originally from Mexico – although surprisingly, he doesn’t really use these huge walls as a political point). The head of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) doesn’t like being shut down – and he has a plan to once and for all end the war. But most of the Jaeger pilots have been killed, and he only has a few robots left. So he calls on Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who was once a Jaeger pilot, but was connected to his brother as he was killed by a Kaiji, and left the program, for one last go. He needs a new co-pilot however – and wouldn’t the adorable and brilliant Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), haunted by her own traumatic memories, be perfect. There are only three other teams left – one from China, one from Russia, and one from Australia, and together, they are going to shut down the portal. How? Two bickering geniuses Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) seem to have the answer.

I’m not going to try and argue that the movie is at all original – my anime obsessed wife was so incensed by the preview she texted me that they were just ripping off the old series Evangelion (she has a point), and of course del Toro borrows liberally from old monster movies – mainly out of Japan like Godzilla and his ilk. Giant monsters have been a staple of science fiction movies for decades now – although you don’t see them much anymore. But del Toro, a movie geek at heart, wanted to bring them back – bigger and better than ever before. And he does that.

Pacific Rim is large scale Hollywood filmmaking at its finest. The movie has all the action anyone could ever want – and it’s handled with skill – and the special effects are probably the best I have seen in a movie so far this year. I’m on record as not being a fan of 3-D (I avoid it when I can, which I couldn’t this time) – but I will say that while I didn’t see much of a point to the 3-D here – it didn’t really enhance anything, except in a few, quiet moments – it doesn’t really detract from the movie either. And with 3-D, that’s pretty much the best we can expect.

The movie snuck up on me though, to the point where I didn’t really realized how involved I was – how much I cared about the characters – until fairly late in the movie. True, Hunnam’s Becket is a kind of one-dimensional hero with a tortured past – but he plays it well. Day provides quite a bit of comic relief in his role – especially when paired with Ron Perelman who has a great moment that will remind some of Deep Blue Sea. Most of the rest of the cast does what is required of them, and little more. The two standouts however and Kikuchi and Elba. Kikuchi, who was marvelous in her Oscar nominated performance in Babel, and the best thing about The Brothers Bloom, creates a real character out of Mako – who could have easily just been the token cute girl they throw into the movie. Here backstory – told in the film’s best sequence, which is probably the best sequence in any blockbuster this year – truly is terrifying, even if you can see it coming before it gets there. More surprising however is Elba – who for much of the movie seems like a square jawed, one dimensional military man who screams a lot. But there is a real person underneath that, which Elba nails.

I’m not going to try and say that Pacific Rim is some sort of masterpiece – it isn’t. Like many blockbusters, it is hampered by studio demands, who get a large say in what goes into the movie they are spending a few hundred million making. But del Toro plays the game better than most – delivering a movie that the studio wants, while also making something that fits into his filmography. Del Toro is at his best in smaller scale movies – like The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth – but when he steps in and makes a big budget, Hollywood film – like Blade II or the original Hellboy – he makes something wholly his own. Pacific Rim comes close to that as well. The film is fun and entertaining – big budget filmmaking on a grand scale – both in terms of its action and special effects, and the emotions of the movie. Out of all the big blockbusters so far this year, Pacific Rim may just be the best.

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