With a simple opening title card explaining the definition of the words Kaiju, Japanese for Great Beast, and Jaeger, German for Hunter. Pacific Rim is off. A quick sub 5 minute opening montage explains exactly everything the audience needs to know about Guillermo del Toro’s latest film built around the boyish idea of giant mechs fighting giant monsters.
One of the strongest criticisms I have had with this summers allotment of blockbuster cinema is: most of these films just don’t know what they wanted to be. Iron Man 3 was clearly Shane Black making a critique on Marvel films (and blockbuster cinema in general) while playing with that studios toys. As such it was successful. Man of Steel wanted to be lots of things all at once, never really finding a role to play. The Lone Ranger felt like Disney didn’t want it to be a Lone Ranger movie even though Gore Verbinski had moments of a loving touch. None of these problems exist in Pacific Rim. Director Guillermo del Toro and writing partner Travis Beacham knew what movie they wanted to make. A movie in which giant Mechs, not robots as Del Toro has reiterated many times, take on giant monsters aka Kaiju and humanity feels very very small.
Singular in motive and pure of heart Pacific Rim gets by on charm and earnestness. Making up for very slight characters, a well known plot, and your typical cool sounding sci-fi vocabulary that don’t really mean a thing. Rim is a pastiche, a work imitating other art, of Kaju films, Mecha anime, and anime in general. This isn’t soulless imitation in an attempt at box office millions. It is a love letter to the giant monsters Del Toro grew up on. Borring the same cinematography found in countless Kaiju films, as the Kaju traipse through Hong Kong. With the world created Rimmanages to be unique and a place ripe for exploration in ancillary media. In this respect it has much in common with James Cameron’s Avatar. Cliche as it is that movie earned those moments, this one does too.
It’s almost a bummer that we don’t spend more time in the City of Bones slum of Hong Kong or see more of Hannibal Chau’s(Ron Perlman) operation. Such diversions would have pushed Rim away from it’s streamlined episodic structure and hurt the movie.
Look, this is a movie built around giant mecha fighting giant monsters. There isn’t a lot you can really do with that story that isn’t kind of bonkers. To freshen things up Del Toro and Beachmam cast it as a greater war film, one that humanity is losing. Pacific Rim shows humanity on the ropes with one last ditch effort from the Jaegers pilots to save humanity. Only 4 Jaegers remain to protect us, giving the several action sequences a higher sense of drama and import than any Transformers film.
The Kaiju war setting means many of the sillier (but kind of cool) sounding sci-fi phrases like “neural handshake” and “the drift” are played straight and taken seriously. Pacific Rim is a serious movie, but knows how to add the right amount of levity thanks to the casting of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as two scientist studying the Kaju and constantly bickering.
Out of context names like Raleigh Becket( Charlie Hunnam) Stacker Pentecost( Idris Elba) and Hannibal Chou (Ron Perlman); and code words like Kaiju, Jaeger, neural handshake, and the drift Pacific Rim sounds rather cheesy. I suppose they kind of are. The film doesn't think so. These are important things and people to it’s story and even if they aren’t the most explored concepts and characters there is just enough that it all is passable. It isn't quiet Star Wars level of archtypal casting. Leaving most characters to be more broad well costumed preformances that operate on a level of nerd love than memorable characters.There is a excellent line, likely the best delivery of the whole movie, from Pentecost where he explains that he is a fixed point for the people around him because they need that. Everyone and thing in this movie is exactly what is required of them for the story to function coherently and without excess.
Simplicity isn’t a bad thing. There are some many common or base stories throughout the world that are important they inevitably find themselves woven into just about every medium. Because they work. Pacific Rim’s plot is the barest necessity to get from point A-B. Not a bad thing it’s actually quite good. Simplicity means it doesn't get bogged down in headier subjects in order to lure in a more “sophisticated” crowd. Readings about the social and economics of the seemingly one nation government would have bogged everything down. For now del Toro just wants to show more Mecha fighting Kaiju.
As a disclaimer I saw this in 2D. However with my experience with 3D and the fact the majority of the fights take place at night when it is just constantly raining. It seems safe to assume the 3D would largely dull and blur the image. You do not want that. If 2D IMAX screenings exist that would likely be the best experience. if not save $5 and see it in 2D.
A film built around the boyish concept of giant mecha fighting giant monsters needs to deliver on that front. Simply put, it does. The longer fights are just knock down drag out brawls. Pro Wrestling matches mixed with the fight scenes from Peter Jackson’s King Kong, on an enormous scale. The smaller sequences have loving touches, showing a variety of Kaiju and the weaponry adorning the Jaegers. Those are the bits of reusable footage anime is built on. Rim doesn't overplay these weaponry reveals. They properly function as a sign that shit is about to get real.
Scale is what makes these fights. Which can be a bit hard to follow at times due to the setting. Rim’s money shots though are just awe inspiring and gleeful as thousands of pounds of flesh(?) and steel fly through the air and crush buildings. You try to not smile as a Jaeger commandeers an oil vessel, drags it along and then turns it into a Katana! The sequences where you witness a Kaiju make landfall in a major city are the times you truly get a sense of the scale. It’s a scale that dwarfs all of the Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay attempts.
Yes, this is a movie in which giant Mecha fight giant monsters. If you can’t get behind that well there is Grownups 2 and The Lone Ranger. With an earnestness and quality of execution that seems to be missing from many major blockbusters this summer, Pacific Rim reminds why people go to the movies still.
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