Pacific Rim (2013)

Wow! (Inner 12 year old claps gleefully). It’s true…this flick really IS Guillermo Del Toro having a geek jerk-off session with a hefty budget…and it’s rather great. I haven’t caught myself unconsciously grinning away in the darkness of a movie theatre in a LONG time, but here…it happened…more than once. ‘Pacific Rim’ is a highly entertaining flick that is unapologetic about what it is. It’s a big-screen version of smashing toys together in a sandbox as a kid, fueled by an overactive imagination and a fat dose of processed sugar…only done with a hefty scattering of inspired, interesting or just plain cool elements.
For those who don’t know (which seems to be a lot of people, as this one is, unfortunately, sinking at the domestic box office), ‘Pacific Rim’ takes place in the year 2020, 7 years into what everyone is calling ‘The Kaiju War’. The ‘Kaiju’ are a mixed bag of huge, Lovecraftian monsters that emerged from a rift in time and space; in an abyssal trench between two tectonic plates. The film wastes no time (under 15 min) in showing us the emergence of these rampaging beasts and the subsequent path of destruction that they inflict upon our world. After it’s established that our ‘normal’ military forces simply aren’t enough to stop these things, ‘The Jaeger Program’ is put into effect. The ‘Jaegers’ are huge, mechanized fighting machines that use the melded minds of two compatible drivers to handle the rigors of piloting such complex mechanisms. The two pilots use a method called ‘The Drift’, which finds a middle ground, a “neural handshake” as they call it, in their mutual psyches to become one with the ‘Jaeger’, in order to bring the fight to the fierce, merciless ‘Kaiju’ (‘strange monsters’ in Japanese). Narrowing the story, we then find ourselves following a former ‘Jaeger’ ace, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who chose to pull away from ‘the front’ after he, and especially his brother/partner, found themselves on the losing side of a ‘Kaiju’ skirmish in Alaska. The war situation has grown desperate, and Raleigh is pushed back into service by his tough but fair former CO Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Along the way, new alliances and conflicts are encountered and dealt with. In many respects, and by all rights, this story line should really be given the B or even C budget treatment, but the studio had faith in Del Toro…and so did I. Rightfully so, it appears.
This flick is tons of geek, fanboy fun and is destined to become one of those big-budget flops like John Carter (2012) that achieves cult status when people opt to check it out ‘after the fact’, only to discover just how entertaining it actually is.
One of the sweet elements was the world that Del Toro created in which to stage the conflict. The urban and industrial settings carry a tangible sense of worn grandeur, especially The Shatterdome (awesome name!), the cavernous underground base/hangar that our main group of ‘Jaeger’ drivers inhabit. Everywhere you look, things are scuffed, stained, dented, dirty, worn or spattered. Everything has texture. Complimenting the texture was the rich and attractive color palette used for the film. For once, it seems, a director chose to NOT bleach out or ‘Saving Private Ryan’tize the look. There’s lots of deep oranges and crisp blues, accented by a ton of neon and night-time city lighting. Everything looked really pretty.
One thing that I noticed, being the WW2 nerd that I am, was that Del Toro seemed to be using the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots of the Second World War’s Battle of Britain as a template for the ‘Jaeger’ pilot characters, right down to the dwindling numbers of surviving pilots and useable ‘Jaegers’, coupled with an ‘Oh shit…we COULD lose’-type of desperation. Many of the wardrobe choices also had a certain 1940s feel to them (bomber jackets, lots of wool etc) and most of the clothes worn by the characters and ‘background’ consisted of somber shades of brown, grey and black, in sharp juxtaposition to the richly colored lighting.
Something else that was quite pretty was the actual combat scenes between the ‘Jaegers’ and the ‘Kaiju’. Given the fact that we’re talking about gigantic monsters and robots going violently head-to-head, this easily could’ve gone the route of Michael Bays Transformers franchise, in that there is a shit-ton of action happening on-screen, only there are so many badly composed shots of hectic indecipherable motion, involving hundreds of moving parts and flying debris, that you can’t make sense of it. Now don’t get me wrong…there were a couple shots that got close to THAT aesthetic, but I’d wager that about 92.5 % of the action made perfect visual ‘sense’. I understood the geography of the fights. And what fights they were! These were some serious ‘knock down, drag out’ kinda battles! Monsters and robots get punched, grabbed, thrown, smashed, shot, cut, blown up and melted, all with a sense of desperation and ‘weight’. The sound design was kick-ass, and made me feel the massive blows as they rained down on their targets.
Which then brings me to the 3D. VERY nice. It reminded me of the immersive styling of both Avatar (2009) and Prometheus (2012). It’s funny, at one point, we are shown a huge military landing gantry, with all kinds of vehicles, aircraft and people milling about in a cold, metallic-blue color scheme…and I was instantly reminded of the opening Valkyrie shuttle landing at the Hells Gate Station, in Avatar. I even leaned over to my buddy and said “I think James Cameron just High-5’d Guillermo Del Toro”. He nodded in agreement. So the 3D sucked me in and let me look around, instead of trying to poke me in the eye with gimmicky effects. It was very cool.
Now as awesome as this flick was (for me), all was not perfect. Some of the casting was a little questionable, especially when coupled with some dialogue that was a lil too ‘on the nose’, and simplistic for it’s own good. But considering that this is essentially a huge budget, live-action Manga (popular Japanese animation style)…it should probably be forgiven.
Something I have a little more issue with was specifically the casting of Charlie Hunnam as the protagonist, Raleigh. I’ve never heard of the dude before…but man, is he dull! He spends a significant chunk of the flick looking quite constipated, while giving the flattest narration since Blake Lively tried using multi-syllable words, in Savages (2012). While obviously struggling with his American accent, his line readings are dreadfully flat and unengaging. Most of the ‘issues’ this movie has lie in scenes involving people interacting among themselves. Some of the connections between characters are murky and leave questions open about ‘motivation’. In that regard, I was again reminded of Avatar, another gorgeous flick that suffers from weak dialogue and unconvincing deliveries. But, like that movie, this one makes up for it by throwing more ‘Kaiju’ at us for the ‘Jaegers’ to punch, stab, shoot and blow up, in spectacular style.
Most of the other actors do pretty much exactly what is required of them, for a story of this kind. Aside from the terrific Idris Elba (Prometheus), we also get Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) as an ‘inked’ lil weasel of a scientist, (a ‘Kaiju’ groupie, as he’s called ), Del Toro’s Hellboy buddy Ron Perlman as a butterfly-knife wielding black marketeer with gold teeth and Rinko Kikuchi as the quintessential Manga girl, right down to the blue streaks in her bobbed hair, who gets prematurely thrown into the pilot seat next to Raleigh.
In a nutshell, a couple minor character and story issues aside, ‘Pacific Rim’ is a great example of a highly Geek-friendly sci-fi near-epic that tells a simple but very cool story on a canvas that is bigger than the narrative that we are following but is appropriately restrained in scope. If you want to see giant, gnarly-looking monsters and massive, bulky battle robots loudly beat the living shit outta one another, for the sake of Mankind, then this is DEFINITELY the flick for YOU!!! “Hold the Miracle Mile!!!”


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