Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Rim

There are movies that define a particular point in time and there are others are quickly forgotten. Pacific Rim is the former. It's the Jurassic Park of 2013.

The plot is that gigantic alien creatures, called Kaiju, are traveling to earth via a dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean and are destroying civilization as we know it. In order to combat the threat the nations come together and create the Jaeger Project, huge robotic automatons each piloted by two mind-linked individuals. Can they avert the apocalypse?
The answer is… well, I won’t ruin it for everyone. But I will say that this is quite possibly the most consistently entertaining film I’ve seen all summer and there were times that my jaw literally dropped. Even during the character development scenes and filler in the second act I still was absolutely mesmerized by what was flashing by on the screen and when the end credits began to roll I wanted more. It’s rare that a flick sucks me into its world in the way Pacific Rim did, and I’m here to say it is one incredibly awesome ride.

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite filmmakers. Not only does he know how to tell a story extremely well, he is supremely imaginative and comes up with some of the most hauntingly beautiful designs I have ever seen (the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, the marketplace scene in Hellboy II: The Golden Army). The sad part is that, Blade II aside, his American made movies usually fail to find the audience they deserve. I have loved all of his films (if you haven’t seen his debut, Cronos, get off your ass and do it now) and I now stand by Pacific Rim being my absolute favorite (The Devil’s Backbone being a close second). Not only does he give his characters a good amount of development, he also has created a world where the population has adapted to the constant threat of the Kaiju. All the world’s resources are focused on the Jaeger program, so the rest of the world is on a ration program, walls are being built along the coastlines to (hopefully) protect from Kaiju incursions, the remains of defeated Kaiju are harvested by black market dealers who tout their medicinal properties and the Jaeger pilots are treated like rock stars. It’s well thought out and intriguing to boot. I want to see comic books or novels that further expand on this world.
On the filmmaking side of things del Toro can do spectacle like no other. The Jaeger vs. Kaiju battle scenes are epic in every way and are super cool to watch go down. There are geeky touches thrown in once in a while that just adds to the awesomeness of it all (when Gipsy Danger’s head attached to its body the first time it forced me to quote Voltron aloud – “And I’ll form the head!”). He’s also not afraid to make things comical to lighten the mood. Some of the funniest moments of the summer come from Pacific Rim, most I’m sure were adlibbed dialogue by his cast. The Kaiju, a homage to Toho’s iconic Godzilla (or Gojira for superfans), all are unique and look rad as hell, each new one topping the design of the last. The Jaegers, which are glorified versions of the battling ‘bots in Robot Jox, are not quite as cool at first, but as we get to see their capabilities they get so awesome that it will make your brain melt. But the reason I like del Toro’s films so much is that even though they feature fantastical shenanigans and ridiculous action they never lose sight of the human element and they are ALWAYS full of heart.

Guillermo has always had a way with actors, and gets the majority of his cast to turn in great performances. I’ve never heard of Charlie Hunnam before (I have never seen a single episode of Sons of Anarchy), but he impressed me here. He’s not entirely successful in covering up his British accent, but for the most part he did well. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) comes off a little restrained, but it is all part of her character and in the end I thought she was great as well. Charlie Day steals every scene he’s in and gets all of the good lines (“I can’t tell you, it’s classified. But it’s awesome. I might tell you. Okay, I’ll tell you.”). The oddball casting of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia vet turned out to be a gamble that paid off. Burn Gorman (Torchwood) seemed to be a strange bit of casting too, but he fit in better than expected. Ron Perlman isn’t given a large role as a black market Kaiju organ dealer, but his inspired costume and props, along with his eccentric performance, make for some of the best moments in the film. When he’s paired up with Day its comedy gold! But it’s Idris Elba (Prometheus, The Losers, Thor, Luther) who impresses the most. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he is the MVP, as he always turns in fantastic performances no matter what the quality level of the project may be. Here he gives a measured portrayal that ends up being the stabilizing force of the whole film. When his character gives his short, but rousing speech about “cancelling the apocalypse” I wanted to stand up and cheer. He’s the real deal and I always look forward to seeing what role he might take on next. Some of the supporting cast don’t fare so well, as they are either too dull or too over-the-top for their own good (Clifton Collins, Jr., I’m looking at you).
There is one scene that stayed with me long after the movie ended, and that was a flashback scene involving a young Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), played by little Mana Ashida. Holy crap did del Toro go all out to make you feel for this character by showing the horrors of her past and the moment that defines her current state. Ashida is one talented little actress and sold every single second of her screen time and more. So awesome.

As with most of del Toro’s films there is always something “off” as well. In Pacific Rim it’s the major plot holes that pop up during the finale. I will not discuss them due to their spoilery nature, but when a specific thing needs to happen to make something work and then it is conveniently ignored in order to make for a happier ending I have to call bullshit. Plus, there was such an easier solution to the rift problem that was so obvious that it was twenty feet away from the damned thing, but it was pushed aside to make for a more histrionic and visually stunning finale.
A minor quibble are the names the characters and Jaegers are given. Who names someone Stacker Pentecost?! The robots get handles like Gipsy Danger, Striker Eureka, Crimson Typhoon, Cherno Alpha and Coyote Tango. What the hell is a Gipsy Danger?! What does that even mean?!

Regardless of my issues, which are minor, it didn’t take away from the complete and utter geekgasm that is Pacific Rim. Visually stunning, strongly acted, action packed and filed to the brim with humanity, it’s THE movie event of 2013 (at least so far, but I don’t see any movie even coming close to topping it). I just saddens me that more people decided to see Grown-Ups 2 this past weekend instead. What is wrong with America?! Stop giving Adam Sandler’s talentless ass money and go for what is clearly the superior choice! I know the good word of mouth will win out in the end and Pacific Rim will be a success. Not only is it the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer, but it has me super hyped for next year’s Godzilla reboot. And I hope its success will allow Guillermo del Toro to finally make his long gestating Lovecraft adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. Make it happen Hollywood!

4.5 out of 5

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