Mark Reviews Movies

Pacific Rim


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Zazinsky, Max Martini, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language)

Running Time: 2:11

Release Date: 7/12/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 11, 2013

The old Kaiju ("strange beast" or "giant monster," as the term is translated here) movies are likely the ones that are most responsible for getting me into movies. I'm neither embarrassed nor ashamed to admit that fact. Dated as they might seem today, with grown men in rubber suits stomping around models of cities as a cast of anonymous extras scream and run or stand in place to get stomped upon, as a kid, there was something genuinely awe-inspiring about the creatures and their massive scale. Even more striking, though, was the sense of fear—imagining what it would be like if one of those monsters showed up in the sleepy little suburb where I lived.

Pacific Rim features a shot that perfectly captures those dueling sentiments of paralyzing awe and dread. We don't see the monster—in this case, a giant crab-like thing that's slowly dragging its hulking frame through the streets of Tokyo—in the shot. Instead, director Guillermo del Toto holds the camera on the face of a young girl—alone in the metropolis without anyone to guide or protect her—who has run into an alley after the behemoth spots her. She turns away from the growling thing, covers her ears, closes her eyes, and weeps.

She lives, of course, thanks to an equally humungous mechanized war machine. The moment, though, isn't about the massive fight between the Jaeger (the "hunter" robot) and the Kaiju—a battle that is only suggested with a swirling cloud of dust behind the girl. It's about her reaction.

The scene keeps us aligned with the human toll of this invasion of Kaiju from another dimension through a portal that opens in a fissure between two tectonic plates at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Usually in such movies, the monsters are the stars, and the humans are either anonymous casualties or, if they're lucky, passive observers who survive to watch the monsters some more and talk about their origins or argue over the best way to stop the beasts from their reign of terror. The stories of the characters here aren't extensive, but they do remind us that in the midst of all the mayhem there are losses.

Take Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), the movie's central hero. After a condensed but information-filled prologue that explains the history of the Kaiju's attack on Earth (including the requisite shots of giant footprints and a spectacular sequence of a monster tearing through the Golden Gate Bridge), the story shifts ahead seven years into the war to the year 2020 (Yes, you're doing that math correctly). Raleigh and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) are two of the most effective Jaeger pilots in the world, but over the course of this fight with a monster codenamed "Knifehead," Yancy is killed, leaving Raleigh a broken shell of a man.

The key to piloting a Jaeger is a process called "drifting," which allows two people to simultaneously connect their brains to the machine, meaning that each operator is in the other's mind. Five years after his brother's death, Raleigh is still carrying the burden of the loss, and the Kaiju are attacking more frequently with heavier losses. His former boss Stacker (Idris Elba), marshal of the Jaeger force, recruits Raleigh for humanity's final stand (Especially necessary after a ridiculously ineffective wall). His new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is also holding a lot of emotional baggage—the deaths of her entire family (The aftermath is the context of that scene mentioned at the beginning, which also establishes a fairly touching surrogate father-daughter relationship between her and Stacker)—so the two bond quite quickly (Oddly, everyone is concerned that Mako's drive for revenge will hinder her while never bringing up Raleigh's).

All of this touchy-feely stuff is a pleasant and unexpected surprise, but del Toro, who also co-wrote the screenplay Travis Beacham, is far more concerned with the non-human elements of the story, namely the massive robots and monsters. The results are mixed.

On the one hand, the giants have a sense of mass (It takes time for every blow, tumble, and throw, and the impacts are punishing); on the other, there's no sense of scale to these things. The special effects are convincing, despite the fact that most of the movie's battles take place at night and in the rain—a setting that is typically a way to cheat for weak effects. The murky and wet backgrounds, though, become repetitive. The monsters are varied (All of them are based on fish or amphibians, and a lot of them resemble other monstrous antagonists of the rubber-suit monsters of old), but they all share a drab color scheme of neon blue highlights on hulking gray bodies.

Del Toro does these creations and the action involving them no favors by shooting so much of them in virtual close-up (It's especially a chore to follow the movie's climactic match on the ocean floor with three monsters that look identical). Too often the clashes become a cacophony of blurry motion (3-D is no help) and thunderous noise (accompanied by Ramin Djawadi's brassy score). Pacific Rim may have reawakened my younger self with its giddily nostalgic array of monster-movie sensibilities, but the younger me was also clamoring to actually be able to see and make sense of this spectacle.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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