Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day
Release date: July 12th, 2013
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 132 minutes
Best part: The Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights.
Worst part: The stereotypical Aussie accents.
Pacific Rim‘s tagline ‘Go Big, Or Go Extinct’ can easily be applied to every blockbuster released in 2013. This year, Hollywood has laid waste to cities, countries, and the box office. People turn out in droves to see these horrific events and refuse to take these images seriously. Thankfully, they will always be allowed to. In recent months, Hollywood has gone apocalypse crazy. Movies like Oblivion, World War Z, and Pacific Rim are visually splendid films that deal with mass destruction and the end of time.
Unlike the other apocalyptic actioners released this year, Pacific Rim never falls into melodrama or overblown seriousness. It’s a fun, kooky, and occasionally laughable (intentionally and unintentionally) sci-fi movie. The plot may be filled with silly elements, but it’s still solid. In the not too distant future, according to this movie, a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean will open up and allow gigantic monsters, named ‘Kaiju’ (Japanese for ‘giant beast’ as described in the introduction), into our world. After decades of fighting a losing battle, the world’s governments and military forces pool their resources to create monsters of their own. Their creations, automatons called ‘Jaegers’ (German for ‘hunter’), match the Kaiju in speed and brute force. Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) seeks a new life after his brother is killed in action before his eyes. Five years later, Raleigh’s former boss Marshall Stacker Pentecoast (Idris Elba) talks him into one last mission to save mankind. Joined by aspiring Jaeger pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), Raleigh will need to prove himself worthy of completing this terrifying assignment.
This film’s surprisingly high quality is due to its visionary director. Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies) is one of the most prolific and unique filmmakers working today. Similarly to Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, del Toro creates movies that contain exciting blockbuster tropes and many elements of a signature style. Pacific Rim is a guilty pleasure that’s much better than it has any right to be (it’s also Cloverfield x1000!). Pleasantly, the first half contains dramatic weight and many cute interactions. We are gently introduced to this cartoonish world so the audience can adjust to its many intricacies. Del Toro gleefully lends a balance of drama, action, and kineticism to every one of his films. However, his direction is far superior to his screenwriting. Judging by the silly dialogue, it’s entirely obvious that English is del Toro’s second language (Pans Labyrinth is by far his best work). As you can tell from my plot synopsis, the story is very straightforward. In fact, the movie somehow contains more cliches than destroyed buildings. This is yet another del Toro movie to feature a lead character joining a secret organisation to fight fantastical enemies (Blade 2). Some plot points are telegraphed too far ahead of time and others are silly and completely unnecessary. I would normally feel disdain for the fact that these problems can still occur in a multi-million dollar production. However, the film vastly excels when and where it needs to.
Del Toro is clearly in touch with his inner 10-year-old. His toy-box has been flung open and every elaborate toy is now flying onto the big screen. This may sound cool, but his zany ideas and ambitiousness have caused major production issues over the past few years e.g. dropping out of directing duties for the Hobbit trilogy. Like his previous movies, Pacific Rim is breathtaking from beginning to end. Del Toro’s wonderfully quirky style is applied in an effective and imaginative manner. Like in the Hellboy movies, the characters and story are eclipsed by everything on screen. Clearly influenced by classic Japanese Kaiju movies (1954’s Godzilla in particular) and the original King Kong, del Toro has provided a nostalgic romp and intelligent modern blockbuster. Del Toro knows how to deliver truly original visual effects. The production design has to be applauded. Every setting, costume, and contraption is elaborate, inventive yet slightly familiar. This sensory experience is heightened by del Toro’s visceral, tangible, and gooey creations (especially the Kaiju body parts). This cartoon/anime/blockbuster excels in the gigantic set pieces that surpass anything seen in the Transformers trilogy. Shot, edited, and choreographed with flawless technical precision, every action sequence, ironically, packs a punch! The camera is pulled back far enough to capture every stab, punch, and grapple inside these video game-esque smack-downs. The Jaegers and Kaiju even interact seamlessly with the waves and skyscrapers in their path. Thankfully, the cargo ship/baseball bat scene doesn’t disappoint.
“Today, we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, be are cancelling the apocalypse!” (Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Pacific Rim).
Commendably, the film’s epic sense of scale allows other countries, cultures, and ethnicities to get in on the action. The film’s ethnically diverse cast is unique and indicates just how important del Toro is to Blockbuster cinema. Despite being overshadowed by the awe-inspiring visuals, the cast does an acceptable job bringing these broad characters to life. Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) is acceptable in the lead role but fails to distract from his character’s many generic traits. With his excellent fighting skills and swagger, Raleigh is little more than a typical action hero. However, Hunnam has a nice rapport with Kikuchi. Kikuchi delivers a sweet performance as the emotionally disturbed yet ambitious Mako (it’s refreshing to see an Asian actress in a Hollywood leading role). Her doe-eyed expressiveness brings levity to this damaged character. Hunnam and Kikuchi’s best scenes involve ‘The Drift’ (a system linking two minds so the Jaegers can be successfully operated). Mako’s flashbacks are hauntingly beautiful and terrifying. Day is a fun comic relief. Finding the link between humans and Kaiju, his character is much more interesting than the two attractive leads. Day’s chemistry with Ron Pearlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ dealer) makes his sub-plot exciting and pacy. Elba delivers Pacific Rim‘s best performance. His charismatic screen presence elevates his archetypal role.
Despite the hammy dialogue, simplistic characters, and its slightly tedious length, Pacific Rim is an engaging and inventive sci-fi romp. Del Toro has applied his creative side to this ‘been there, done that’ premise. The result is a blockbuster that eclipses 2013’s other epic sci-fi action flicks.