As I have mentioned more than a few times here and on Facebook, I was extremely excited about Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. I’m not a Kaiju freak on quite the same level as Professor Morté or Johnny Danger, but I have always loved Godzilla and been very interested in all of the various media depictions of the King of Monsters; as well as the many, many knock-offs and homages. Because let’s face it – watching giant monsters kick the crap out of one another in the middle of a sprawling, metropolitan area is awesome.
I had so much faith in this movie that I went ahead and bought CrimsonTyphoon and Knifehead the first time I found them on the shelves (and haven’t seen them since, which stinks because after reviewing them I decided I need Gipsy Danger, as well). Guillermo del Toro has never let me down. While some of his movies are certainly more low key than others – Cronos versus Blade 2, for instance – I have loved everything he’s done. If there was ever a man that was going to make the perfect giant robots versus giant monsters movie, it was del Toro.
I went in thinking the movie would show the initial assaults, the creation of the robots, the ensuing war, and the eventual success of humanity in repelling the monsters. It did show all of that, but in the opening fifteen minutes or so.
I’m going to start with the visual effects here because if those hadn’t worked the film wouldn’t have had a chance.
They worked. I thought that the Kaiju, Jaegers, cities, battles, and destruction looked fantastic. There wasn’t one moment in the whole movie where I was taken out of the narrative by anything that looked false. Well, that’s not entirely true – Ron Perlman’s shoes were pretty unbelievable. But everything from the outward appearance to the movement to the scale and weight of the creatures and robots felt very real and present. When Gipsy Danger grabbed one of the later Kaiju by its horn to hold its head in place so she could deliver a right hook – all of those movements had weight and impact. Nothing about the sequence looked fake or flimsy or too computerized. It was like watching Ivan Drago clobber Rocky Balboa.
The level of detail in the Kaiju and Jaegers was phenomenal. The monsters were all teeth and scales and claws, with every bit of their anatomy having bulk and muscle. The Jaegers looked like massive robot versions of Star Wars vehicles. They were covered in wear and weathering. None of them were shiny and new – they had all clearly been through some wars. Additionally, the design of the Jaegers makes sense. They aren’t just some thrown-together jumble of armor plates and gears and cool-looking stuff. You can see the functionality of each part.
The story was solid. There wasn’t anything fancy about it, but there didn’t need to be. We were all there to see giant robots fight giant monsters. There were a few clever devices - like the origin of the Kaiju and the way that the humans piloting the Jaegers had to interact. The latter in particular added a lot to the movie. It was a way of characterizing the humans and building relationships without having to have people stand around and talk a whole lot. There were a few pieces of subtext here and there – a comment against pollution and what I took as a suggestion of governments helping big corporations over helping citizens – but nothing so blatant or preachy that it overshadowed the action of the movie.
Idris Elba led a cast that was both fun and amazingly adept at representing what I took to be the anime stereotypes of lead characters. Elba played the grizzled veteran in charge with a secret vulnerability. He owned every scene he was in and absolutely radiated wisdom and authority.
Rinko Kikuchi was the most amazing live action anime girl I have ever seen. From her petite features to her haircut – complete with blue tips – to her voice; there was no denying what she was. But she wasn’t a giggling airhead – she was a strong character with a good backstory.
Charlie Hunnam did a great job as the strong, quiet guy. He lost his brother early in the movie and played the tragic angle quite well. There was always a sense of loss to his character, but it wasn’t mopey or weepy. Much more of a subdued thing.
Charlie Day and Burn Gorman handled the comic relief like champs. Their roles as competing scientists were some of the most memorable of the movie and I thoroughly enjoyed Day’s part of the plot. I was afraid he might be grating or out of place in such a high-stakes flick, but every scene he was in was a pleasant change of pace. Burn Gorman played the repressed, uptight nerd perfectly. You could just see his irritation for Day’s character seething under the surface.
Clifton Collins, Jr. was a supporting player and was tremendous – this felt like a real breakout role for this guy. The dude looked straight out of anime and was in some of the most powerful scenes of the whole film. He had the kind of presence where you know he’s a secondary character, but when he’s on screen you’re happy he’s there doing whatever it is he’s doing.
Ron Perlman… well, he was Ron Perlman. You just need to see the movie.
The rest of the cast all did their thing well. The other Jaeger pilots all had very stylized looks that totally worked for the anime vibe of the flick. The Australian father and son team were the only ones that got any sort of character development, and they had their own, easy-to-digest little subplot. It would be hilarious to find out that there were different cuts of Pacific Rim for different regions that featured the Russians and Chinese more. I’d actually like to see those cuts.
The music was powerful. The score really captured the anime/Kaiju battle feel. There were several points where I couldn’t help but think of music from the Godzilla movies. As well as the score fit the film, the best thing about it was the subtlety. Not once did the music become the star of the movie. It was always there as support and punctuation, if that makes any sense. Very often in modern movies the action on the screen seems to get drowned by some sort of awful modern rock soundtrack. That did not happen here.
I can’t wait to see Pacific Rim again. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to take the family tomorrow. I want Lil’ Troublemaker to see it very badly, but there is some bad language. It was pretty unnecessary – a couple of “shits”, some “Hells” and “damns”, and a “GD” or two. But I really think this is a movie that will amaze him and really be a standout experience of his young life. It just won’t be the same if the first time he sees it is at home. So we might just have to deal with some bad words; which he’s probably already heard from an older friend of his anyway. The point is that this is the first movie I’ve felt like this about. From beginning to end it is an exciting, unforgettable spectacle.
5 out of 5
Before I end, I want to address some of the criticisms I have read; many of which are couched as reasons that Despicable Me 2 and Grown-Ups 2 outperformed Pacific Rim at the box office this past weekend.
Like many online criticisms, from the tone of a few posts I read I got the feeling that the commenters hadn’t actually seen the movie and were making assumptions. One such post labeled Pacific Rim as formulaic. I have seen the word “formulaic” used as a pejorative over and over again and that doesn’t make a bit of sense to me. Yes, there is a formula. Everything is a formula. You take different elements and combine them. If you’re trying to say “derivative” then say that, because Pacific Rim is certainly derivative - but in the best possible way. I don’t think del Toro has done anything but be absolutely open about his love of monster movies and anime. And every second of Pacific Rim is about taking the very best elements from both of those things and creating an all-new experience.
Of course, I can’t actually explain why the above two movies did better. I took Lil’ Troublemaker to see Despicable Me 2 last week. I was actually more excited about that one than I was about Monsters University. I shouldn’t have been. Despicable Me 2 has plenty of laughs, but I found the story to be uninspired and so predictable I thought it had to be a swerve. It wasn’t. If the plot had been more clever the anticlimax of the reveal of the villain and his plans might still have been exciting. Instead, my reaction was to be utterly flummoxed that there was no more engaging story at hand than that the guy that seemed to be the bad guy was the bad guy. It was like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie when you already know the ending. I was so underwhelmed by Despicable Me 2 that I didn’t bother with a review.
I simply have no interest in Grown-Ups 2. I loved Adam Sandler when I was younger and I don’t have the Kevin James hate that many do, but I tried to watch the first Grown-Ups and felt like I was watching a pale imitation of the old Sandler. The whole thing just felt watered-down and lame.
As to why the American public chose those two movies over Pacific Rim; I’m just not sure. My best guess is that Rim’s Jaegers were just a bit too reminiscent of the robots in the much-derided failure Battleship and Michael Bay’s much-derided mega-blockbuster Transformers movies. The resemblance is bad on both counts because to be related to Battleship is just bad, but to be compared to Transformers but without a license isn’t much better.
I dunno, but I hope in the long run Pacific Rim does well. It’s not so much that I want a sequel. The ending provided a satisfying conclusion and while there is certainly the possibility for further installments (and I’d love to see them), Pacific Rim is a complete work. I was just hoping for a smashing success so that del Toro could be in position as one of those directors with carte blanche to do what they wanted. Because Hellboy 3 needs to happen already.