PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky & Ron Perlman
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Guillermo del Toro & Mary Parent
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
Music by Ramin Djawadi
Edited by Peter Amundson & John Gilroy

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The Blood-Bot rapidly approaches the unsuspecting Crip-Bot, and the age-old struggle continues to perpetuate itself.

   The big-budget summer blockbuster, as you’re probably well aware, has been a staple of American cinema for decades now. Designed to enthrall the senses of the casual moviegoer during the slow, hot & sticky months of the middle of the year, summer blockbusters as a rule typically feature extravagant amounts of style over any sort of substance. Obviously, the best summer blockbusters are the ones which manage to feature plenty of both – movies like The Matrix, or Jurassic Park, or The Dark Knight for example, offer enough action to wow the escapist thrill-seeker residing in all of us while simultaneously providing enough clever dramatic embellishments to stimulate the muscle up in our head-parts. Nowadays, the average summer blockbuster tips a liiiiittle bit too much in the “more thrills, less brains” side of the scale. Okay let’s be real here, a LOT too much. I mostly blame the Transformers movies for this disturbing trend, although to be completely fair, there’ve always been those summer films which err more to the dumb side – that’s just the way it goes. (Although I could definitely argue that it’s just gotten EXTREMELY out of hand in recent years.) But you gotta admit, older blockbuster films at least tried to tell a cinematically pleasing story, with semi-developed characters and rationally legible plots that focused on wit and charm instead of explosions and…explosions. They were movies which understood that it was important to not only excite the audience with super-cool movie wizardry, but to emotionally connect with us as well; to actually engage the casual movie-goer in the film, and be a part of its world.

   Pacific Rim, the new film from the truly talented and visionary director Guillermo del Toro, is a film which tries to reconnect the audience to the magic and spectacle only the best summer blockbusters can provide. And for the most part, it succeeds – particularly in the spectacle aspect of things. Del Toro specifically aims to recapture the kind of wonder a 10 year-old boy would experience when seeing a movie like Godzilla for the first time, essentially trying to turn everyone in the audience into a kid again. And dammit, I give him mad props for even attempting to create something which could be considered quaint in this modern age of cynical cash-grab cinema. With the love of old school creature features and classic action blockbusters in his heart, del Toro has crafted a film which truly demonstrates how epic summer blockbusters ought to be handled. HOWEVER – despite the truly wonderful and patented visual marvels del Toro cooks up in this flick, Pacific Rim unfortunately weighs a tad too heavy on the “style” side of the scale – leaving little substance to be had for anyone looking for something a bit deeper than the average action battle flick.

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Mako looks nervous to ask, but Raleigh, an experienced Jaeger pilot, already knows the answer: yes, you can in fact go in your suit.

   On one hand, Pacific Rim is a cinema lover’s dream come true. For one thing, it’s actually an original idea, not something adapted from a comic book or TV show or some other kind of pre-established intellectual property – HALLELUJAH!!!! It boasts some of the most incredible visuals you’ve EVER seen, truly stunning battle sequences which excite and dazzle, and much needed moments of levity and heart which modern movies like Man of Steel are sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, it begins to slip into standard boneheaded action movie territory. It features such wonderful tropes as underdeveloped characters, clichéd and stilted dialogue, average performances which border on being too grating to sit through – basically it falters with anything actually involving actual human beings delivering dialogue and trying to emote. This of course is a HUGE detriment to a film which is trying to conjure up some semblance of human community and connection while simultaneously trying to astound our senses. For this reason, I found Pacific Rim to be a little disappointing – especially coming from a director with a track record as estimable as del Toro’s.

   BUT, it’s not all bad! Truthfully, I had a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim. As a summer blockbuster, it is leaps and bounds more accomplished and repeat viewing-worthy than most of the dreck thrown up on theater screens these days. I was looking forward to this film quite a bit, and I’m just a little sad about the fact my expectations were slightly let down – but not so much that I wouldn’t recommend the film to anyone, or give it a terrible review. I guess I just expected more out of the man who gave us a film as nuanced and layered as Pan’s Labyrinth – a truly engaging cinematic dream. Pacific Rim features precisely 0 nuance and subtlety – it’s like being beaten over the head with a schmaltzy brick and being hazily entranced by the pretty stars you see. It’s pretty, but your brain doesn’t get much out of it. But of course, this brings up the argument (one I’m still having with myself, actually) about del Toro’s intentions with this flick – has he purposely created something short on brains and high on action to remind us how pointlessly fun action movies can be? Is this all part of his grand design? I’ll elaborate more on this intriguing notion in a little bit – but first, let’s talk about the story.

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Things got a lot more peaceful when they finally realized the kaiju just wanted someone to help with its really bad toothache.

   Pacific Rim is basically your standard otaku (basically the Japanese synonym for “geek”) film, a movie about giant monsters which utterly decimate large cityscapes, seemingly just for the fun of it. It’s also a mecha film, sporting the biggest and baddest robots this side of Voltron. Del Toro is himself an otaku for these genres of film, and decided to combine the two into the most ass-kickingest sci-fi smash ‘em up in cinema history. SWEET! In the not-so-distant future, an inter-dimensional portal has opened up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, out of which gigantic horrible creatures are ejected that level cities whole and kill tens of thousands of people easily. After being thoroughly ravaged enough times by these beasts, mankind decides to cut the bullshit and put aside their differences to construct a new weapon to wage war with these creatures, very appropriately referred to as kaijus (Japanese for “big ass motherfucking monsters”). These new weapons are equally gigantic robots known as Jaegers (German for “hunter”) which require two human pilots to operate. Apparently, the strain of being mentally linked to a gigantic robot suit is too much for one human to handle, so a duo of mentally-connected humans must share the load to effectively beat monster ass together. This mental connection process is known as “Drifting”. One you’ve Drifted with someone, you essentially know everything there is to know about them – their hopes, dreams, fears, secrets, memories, etc. The Jaeger project begins to turn the tide against the kaiju, and for a while humanity can once again rest easy knowing that we can finally assert ourselves against these inter-dimensional assholes. Over time, however, the kaiju begin to adapt and grow stronger against our defenses, and Jaegers start getting defeated left and right. Cue the entrance of our main character, Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy), a Jaeger operator alongside his brother Yancy. Together they pilot the Gipsy Danger, a pretty badass looking Jaeger that thwomps with the best of them. However, at the start of the film the Gipsy Danger is overpowered by a wily kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed in action. Raleigh manages to survive the encounter but is heavily traumatized by the ordeal (he was still mind-linked to his bro at the moment of his death…not pleasant), so he spends the next 5 years helping construct a “Wall of Hope” being built to keep the kaiju out. Since the Jaegers are no longer as effective at defending humanity as they once were, the powers that be decide to discontinue the program and send the last remaining Jaegers to defend the wall until its completion.

   In charge of the operation is Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), your standard tough-as-nails, no-nonsense type of commander dude. Pentecost coaxes Raleigh back into service, as one of the last remaining Jaegers is Raleigh’s old mecha Gipsy Danger, completely rebuilt and refurbished since his last time in the cockpit. Joining this ragtag defense group is Mako Mori (played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s second in command, and a quirky and eccentric kaiju-studying scientist named Dr. Newton Geizler (hilariously portrayed by Charlie Day, of TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, oddly enough). Mako wants to co-pilot one of the Jaegers but Pentecost won’t let her, and Geizler wants to try and Drift with a still-active kaiju brain but Pentecost won’t let him. (Pentecost is kind of a dick.) Mako and Raleigh quickly form a bond, and Raleigh pressures Pentecost to let her be his co-pilot. Meanwhile, Raleigh gets bullied by some asshole from another Jaeger crew and Geizler Drifts with a kaiju brain against Pentecost’s wishes. Then, some badass fights happen and the plot continues on in a fairly straightforward manner.

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The kaiju, seeing the Sydney Opera House, finally locates a suitable looking mate while the horrified crowd looks on.

   The #1 problem with Pacific Rim is that the plot basically exists as an excuse to showcase kickass kaiju/Jaeger fights, and nothing else. It chugs along at a nice pace, but there’s this hollow feeling to all the intermediate scenes between battle sequences. You sort of get the feeling that way too much emphasis was put on the battles, and not enough on the rest of the movie. Plus, there are a few glaring logical problems in the flick. Throughout the entire thing, I kept watching robots punching the kaijus to no avail, and I kept thinking to myself Man, why don’t they just give these robots a giant sword or something? A big weapon would deeefinitely help, and then at one critical point in a battle towards the end, they actually activated a sword in the Gipsy Danger and killed the kaiju they were fighting in one blow! I was just like “for real? You couldn’t have just slashed him to pieces with that giant sword 10 minutes ago?” And then after they do that, they continue to use the sword until the end of the movie. What is up with that? Oh and hey, let’s not forget about completely convenient plot developments, either. The relationship between Mako and Raleigh seems almost forced out of necessity to the plot – they meet each other and just happen to be instantaneous Drift mates. Curiously, Raleigh happens to be completely fluent in Japanese seemingly out of nowhere and can understand Mako when she first speaks it to Pentecost. This is a little out of place when you consider earlier in the film, Raleigh stated that he and his brother weren’t really great in school, or anything else for that matter – they’re just really good at fighting, so they were a perfect match for Jaeger piloting. Then suddenly Raleigh just seems to know Japanese for some reason. I dunno about you, but that just seems extraordinarily convenient and out of character to me. And characters suddenly being able to do things they logically shouldn’t is something that really shouldn’t be present in a film of this supposed caliber.

   The #2 problem with Pacific Rim is that all the characters are extremely one-dimensional. Raleigh is a strong-willed hero-type with a troubled past. Pentecost is a stern, hard-nosed leader who is stubborn and authoritative. Mako is a determined and qualified yet underestimated fighter who just wants a shot. Geizler is a weird, eccentric comedy relief character who knows exactly what must be done to defeat the kaiju. I wish I could go into more detail regarding these characters but that’s literally it – there’s nowhere else to develop these characters, no deeper connection to be had. They’re all just cardboard cutouts being wielded around to further along the plot until the action scenes arrive. By far the worst character in the entire film is Raleigh’s half-assed rival – he basically exists because the script needs an asshole dude to create a sense of conflict. In the first scene they meet, this bully (his name is Chuck and he’s played by Robert Kazinsky) basically says to Raleigh “I don’t like you. I think you’re dead weight. Stay out of my way, buddy!” for…no real reason whatsoever. This kind of half-hearted antagonism is supposed to create a sense of tension for our main character, but it’s so obliviously one-dimensional and forced that it almost feels banal. Later in the film, these two characters inevitably gain respect for each other and proceed to work together in the final mission…much to no one’s surprise. I read that del Toro did this to illustrate how even though humans can be fighting, arguing assholes, at the end of the day you might just have to go into battle with the very same asshole you were fighting with, and at that point your petty beef doesn’t have a point anymore. This is a very admirable theme to have and I appreciate him trying to pull it off, but quite frankly it’s so blunt, simple and predictable that it ends up feeling contrived.

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Every now and then they like to let the Jaegers go out for a nice, relaxing dip…fully supervised, of course, those things are pretty damn expensive.

   I’m disappointed with Pacific Rim because even though its special effects are wonderful and genuinely engaging, the human aspect of the story is severely lacking – and what’s worse, it’s trying to pass itself off as a human story. The reason this is so troubling is because I just know del Toro is a stronger storyteller than this, and this sort of problem just feels like it shouldn’t be there. I mean, I get the feeling this movie is actively trying to be a stronger, more engaging film than most of its contemporaries, yet it experiences much of the very same problems that plague them. This is sort of why I’m almost willing to give del Toro the benefit of the doubt and say that this one-dimensionality and hokey storytelling is actually what he was going for – like he is trying to sort of capture that cheesy, gung-ho feeling of adventure that a lot of older B-movies tend to have. I mean, let’s face it – this is a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a movie for 13-year-old boys, and little kids in general. Del Toro has explicitly stated that he wanted to introduce the kaiju/mecha genres to a new generation of children, and based on THAT level alone, Pacific Rim succeeds with flying colors. Despite the lack of enriching, developed characters, the movie is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. You won’t be able to believe your eyes when you watch the battles in this movie – they look incredible and pump the Action Receptors of your brain up to the maximum! Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, this movie isn’t really about deeper human connections – it’s about punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a silly and overblown premise, and the production values and performances are silly and overblown in return. So I guess under those stipulations, Pacific Rim is absolutely perfect – it hits the mindless action notes perfectly and with extreme style.

   Although, on the other hand, the movie goes out of its way to show these people making intimate connections and working together to overcome a horrifying obstacle. It’s trying to tell a human story. And when you start looking at the movie from the perspective of an adult moviegoer, not a little kid, it starts to fall apart at the seams a little bit. Sure, it’s a movie for little kids, but I mean…I was excited to see it, as I’m sure a lot of self-respecting adult moviegoers were. This movie is blunt, loud, and oversimplified – just like the vast majority of summer blockbusters coming out in 2013. In a way, Pacific Rim is falling right into the same pitfalls as the very blockbusters it’s trying to outdo – and that is a very real and contradictory problem for it. On a spectacle level, it’s unparalleled – but on a basic film level, it’s just not up to par with some of the more nuanced, detail-oriented action movies I’ve seen and loved in the past. This movie didn’t have to be underwritten or simplified – it could have been deep and resonant with rich characters and deeper themes that appeal to a mature audience. Instead, it’s got blunt, stiff dialogue that seems like it was written for people who aren’t able to understand what’s happening easily. It was just really hard for me to identify with the characters in this one – during the climax of the movie, I was honestly a little bit bored because I didn’t really care about any of the people, even though I knew what the stakes were. By that time I was so bogged down by the clichés and hokey writing that I didn’t even care if the humans would win (which I knew would happen, because duh). There’s a scene in this movie where Pentecost delivers a pre-battle speech, and it feels like it was ripped out of Independence Day so bad that after he delivers the highly quotable line “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” I turned to my friend Frances in the theater and whispered, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” It was just one of those moments that you’ve seen in countless movies before, and the movie is full of them. Clichés with a side of more clichés, if you will.

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Alright, did somebody set off a Jaeger bomb in here? (I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry I just had to. Oh God please forgive me.)

   Before I close up I just want to state that I didn’t dislike Pacific Rim in any major or debilitating way. In fact, you could say I enjoyed this movie a hell of a lot more than I disliked it – I was just disappointed by several aspects of its overall execution and I wanted to adequately express them with this review. I also loved several aspects of this movie, which I’ll go into now. For one, it somehow manages to be HUGELY entertaining despite its many script flaws. There were a few boring parts, but even during things that didn’t make sense I was still going along for the ride and anticipating where it was going next. Also, despite what I said about the characters, the writing and some of the performances, a few people in this flick shine and are worth mentioning favorably. Idris Elba handles his one-dimensional role quite eloquently, and imbues it with a proper authoritative sheen that is highly believable. He was definitely the right man for the job. Also, I particularly enjoyed Charlie Day’s performance as the eccentric Dr. Geizler – he was actually my favorite character in the whole film. Charlie Day’s just a really funny guy, and seeing him be funny and wild in this serious action flick was a nice break from all the melodrama happening everywhere. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but there was another scientist character played by Burn Gorman who was sort of the serious-toned foil to Day’s character, and the two of them had excellent comedic chemistry together. Out of all the humans in the movie, they were definitely the highlights. Del Toro regular Ron Perlman also makes an appearance as Hannibal Chau, a black marketer who sells kaiju body parts for various practical purposes…like curing erectile dysfunction, for instance. No, really. Perlman stood out as one of the more memorable characters of the film, even though he was handled a little shakily. He was still a lot of fun, though!

  There are a lot of things to appreciate in Pacific Rim. The action sequences are astounding, the tone of the movie is solid and enjoyable, and it’s a lot of fun at times. But at other times it can be a hokey, overly simplified cliché factory that makes it a little difficult to adequately connect with the characters on a true emotional level. It’s not a perfect movie in the slightest, but I will say that it is incredibly imaginative and filmed with 100% honest devotion by its director, Guillermo del Toro. If they work out the kinks in the armor and add a little bit of depth to the story and characters, I’d be very interested in checking out a sequel to this flick in the future. I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s looking to have a fun time at the movies, and also don’t mind a little dumb mixed in with their action. With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro at least attempts to valiantly remind us of the glory days of the Hollywood blockbuster, and just for that effort alone, I’m willing to give him and his entertaining yet flawed film some much deserved kudos. And shiiiit, at least it plays a hell of a lot better than Man of Steel. Yeeeesh!

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