Review: Del Toro's 'Pacific Rim' is Awesome, and That's All It Needs
by Jeremy Kirk
July 12, 2013
You have to admire Guillermo del Toro. The man has turned his love for monsters into a career crafting some of the most fun (Hellboy) and most personally poignant (Pan's Labyrinth) films to come along. His latest, Pacific Rim, is a little flimsy on the poignant side, which leaves plenty of room for fun. They need a lot of room. These monsters are huge. The drama in Pacific Rim leaves something to be desired, but the spectacle and sheer power that resonates from giant, otherworldly monsters doing battle with giant, mechanical monsters blows your mind. It's one of the reasons why the word "awesome" was invented.
But Pacific Rim isn't about the attack from those enormous monsters, the Kaiju, who rise up from some, strange, dimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean. It's not even about mankind's downfall and eventual attack back with those behemoth robots, or Jaegers (pronounced like the awful liquor), under its control. From the beginning, del Toro spins his film the opposite direction from the expected, shows us all of that with news reports and Charlie Hunnam narration, and sets his film 12 years into the Kaiju War. It's like watching the third part of a trilogy without the benefit of sitting through the first two films.
To del Toro and co-writers Travis Beacham's (also story by) credit, we get caught up on most of the characters and events that factor into the big picture. Hunnam plays Raleigh Beckett, a pilot of one of the Jaegers, the Gipsy Danger, who gave up on the fight five years prior when his co-pilot/brother was killed. When he's called back into action for Earth's final stand against the monsters, Rinko Kikuchi plays his new, trainee co-pilot who has some personal (and emotional) scores to settle against the monsters. Idris Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, a Jaeger Sergeant General (or something like that) whose name might shout louder than any of the monsters in the actual film. And who cooler than Elba to play him?
It's light on the character, transparent thin in some cases. Even Beckett's emotional baggage about losing his brother seems to get swept aside once the real stars of the show make their appearance. You wouldn't expect anything but the biggest and most badass when it comes to Guillermo del Toro, and his amazing design team, creating skyscraper-tall monsters fighting one another. The designs on the Kaiju are as creepy as they are interesting, and you almost curse del Toro for shooting them in such darkness. But it goes with the movie's tone, so allow it.
The designs on the Jaeger's, however, are far more interesting. It's not just cool exterior molds and look of these mammoth robots, though they each do have plenty of that. Gipsy Danger's World War II-era paint job is a nice touch. The Jaegers require two pilots to control them, one to handle each side of the machine's suitably massive brain. This causes the two pilots to share memories, join as one mentally, and drive the robot as one individual. It's a very cool concept, and one that's almost convoluted enough to fit in with Pacific Rim's Japanese manga roots.
Once these mechanical creatures put fists to skulls with the enormous Kaiju, you completely understand why del Toro wanted to take on this project. You can almost imagine the man, much like a kid, playing with the imagery of the city-demolishing melees he now had in his control. It's very difficult not to get swept up in the excitement right along with him. The battles in Pacific Rim aren't aplenty, but what they lose in quantity, they make up for in creativity and complete awesomeness. They are nothing but fucking cool.
Yes, amidst all of this amazing action that puts shame to the very word "scope," the drama that's even trying to work itself out is miniscule. As good as Kikuchi and Hunnam are, they can't contend. The connection via Jaeger plays into the story and the drama, but no deeper connection is ever fleshed out, despite what the film ultimately shows us. Charlie Day as a scientist and Kaiju fanatic has some great interplay with Ron Perlman as a "businessman" who sells Kaiju parts on the black market. Pacific Rim is loaded with genuine entertainment, but watching Day and Perlman spar with dialogue may be as fun as anything else in the film.
But whether it's getting blown away by the visual and audible (these monsters pack some pretty mean punches) delight on constant display or the comedy working its way into the cracks the lackluster drama leaves, Pacific Rim has entertainment in droves. Guillermo del Toro remains a master of monsters, imagining worlds bigger than us then visualizing them for everyone to see. It's not the amount of times it pulls at your heartstrings when the movie at hand is something like Pacific Rim. It's the amount of times you mentally said "Holy shit" and let the grin shine from ear to ear. At that, Pacific Rim triumphs.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10