Pacific Rim – A Review

Take equal parts Inception, Real Steel and Godzilla. Add in dashes of Jurassic Park, Battleship and Iron Man, with a liberal sprinkling of Armageddon for good measure. Just for kicks, throw in two of the actors from Heather’s “hall pass” list (Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba). Pour the whole thing in a casserole and bake at 350 degrees. The resulting product will be a little messy and not necessarily healthy, but will be tasty enough going down that you are willing to overlook its flaws.

That dish is Pacific Rim.

Now you many remember that back in February that I predicted that Pacific Rim would be the biggest bomb of 2013. The results at the box office are yet to be seen of course, but I no longer think that will be the case (sorry The Lone Ranger – I think you’ve got that title wrapped up. Congrats?). I won’t say that my reasoning was flawed; on paper, Pacific Rim shouldn’t work at all. Giant robots fighting monsters does not sound like the plot of a good movie. That sounds like something that an eight year old boy would come up with. The previews only contributed to my skepticism. But I had overlooked the true secret weapon of this film – director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro. I have to believe that it was his sure force of will that gave Pacific Rim a heart and kept what the film in check. Pacific Rim could have easily gone off the rails in the hands of a more hackneyed director, but del Toro’s inherent fan boy quality means that he makes movies that he feels passionately about and that he wants to do right by. Pacific Rim in nowhere near the quality of del Toro’s fabulous Pan’s Labyrinth, but it has a film that is better than it has any right to be. It’s not great, but it’s surprisingly fun.

Now, to be honest, I couldn’t explain the full plot of Pacific Rim to you even if I wanted to; I didn’t always fully understand what I was watching or the details of the plan that was unfolding. The fight scenes are dark and chaotic. The assault is as much on your senses as it is on the combatants. Whenever I dip my toe in the world of fantasy or science fiction, I have to remember to kind of turn my oh-so logical and analytical brain off a bit and just accept that I’m watching worlds where almost anything is possible and that I’m probably not going to fully comprehend every detail of what I’m witnessing. There is a logic to these stories, just not the logic that I’m used to; I just need to take the information as they give it to me and focus on the big picture rather than getting confused in the minutiae. If you tell me that Earth is under constant attack by huge dinosaur-like monsters called Kaiju and that the best solution to combat this assault are giant robots (called Jaegers)  controlled by two humans that meld their minds to share consciousness and act like one, I’m just going to have to take your word for it.

Raleigh (Hunnam) is a former Jaeger pilot who watched his brother die. In the time since he left the program, global leaders have lost faith in the Jaeger program and have decided to reallocate their resources into other means of defense. Raleigh’s former Commander Pentecost (Elba) comes a-callin’, hoping to convince Raleigh to take part in one last gasp effort to defeat the Kaiju once and for all. Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is an ambitious potential pilot with whom Raleigh feels a connection; she has been forbidden, however, by the Commander to go into battle. Charlie Day plays a scientist who has a theory on how the Kaiju can be beaten and to also lend some (much needed) levity to the film.

I wasn’t too sure how I felt about Pacific Rim in the first twenty minutes or so; I was glad to see Hunnam and Elba (always am) but I wasn’t completely invested in the movie. However, del Toro fleshes these characters out just enough and injects a little warmth to make this rock-‘em, sock-‘em movie more nuanced than you would expect. I didn’t even realize that I had been drawn in until I was not only interested in what was going to happen next (really, when you start with this premise, the possibilities are endless), but I was slightly concerned as to the outcome for the characters. The credit for that goes to the actors (Elba in particular) and the choices made by the director. It dawned on me that I had been completely won over during one of the epic fight scenes when I noticed that I had an overwhelming urge to punch something. The battle royal between creature and machine had me riled up and ready to brawl. My adrenaline was pumping and if I could have I might have jumped into a Jaeger for a little throw down with a Kaiju. I was ready to rumble.

The characters in Pacific Rim aren’t as realized as I normally like and there is some dialogue that is a little questionable. Some are little more than broadly drawn caricatures or your typical stock movie character prototype.  The story lines went down some alleyways that were probably unnecessary or that could have been done better.  I have no idea what happened to one of the pilot teams, which is either bad storytelling or…….

HOLY CRAP – THE ROBOT HAS A GIANT SWORD. KILL THE KAIJU! KILL! KILL!

Wait. Where was I?

Ultimately, these problems didn’t matter. Sure, they prevent Pacific Rim from being a great movie; they probably even keep it from being a very good movie. But when my fist is balled up and I’m watching two giant behemoths brawl with the fate of the world on the line (and seeing Hunnam’s ripped physique), that doesn’t seem quite as important. This ain’t art, but sometimes you just want to watch Iron Man on steroids battle it out with Mothra and call it a night.

Some other thoughts:

  • Hey! It’s my pal Diego Klattenhoff (Mike from Homeland) as Hunnam’s ill-fated brother. Good to see him now that he’s not a season regular anymore. A surprising number of people have found my blog because of my comment that Klattenhoff sounds a lot like Brad Pitt, so I feel a kinship with him.
  • Though, as much as I like Diego, seems like a missed opportunity not to cast Travis Fimmel, no?
  • Sadly, Hunnam didn’t share any screen time with his Sons of Anarchy co-star Perlman. Probably for the best as I would have wondered how Clay and Jax got dragged into fighting monsters (my guess would be Tig).
  • If you watch a lot of TV like I do, a lot of the supporting cast will look very familiar. There are two Revenge alumni and an actor with a current story arc on True Blood.
  • I’m glad to see that the piloting of the Jaegars wasn’t just left to the boys; nice to know that in the future women get to mix it up too .
  • I couldn’t help it – every time they said Jaegar in Pacific Rim, I thought of this Dave Attell bit (NSFW):

 

  • I didn’t see this film in 3D or Imax and that may have been a mistake. I can’t even imagine how cool some of the battles must have looked.
  • I wouldn’t recommend seeing this film at the drive-in; it is so dark in some scenes that I think it would be near impossible to see what was happening.
  • Part of the reason I had trouble totally following what was going on were the voices of the actors – many of them spoke with an accent, which just isn’t my strong suit, and Hunnam was doing kind of  mumbling for parts of it. Not that if I had heard everything perfectly I would have totally grasped all the details, but it would have helped.
  • A random Idris Elba gif, just because I can:

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  • You know, my enjoyment of this film may have been greatly influenced by my childhood affection for this guy:

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Pacific Rim won’t win any awards; it’s kind of a lot of nonsense, in the tradition of classic movies like Godzilla. But del Toro’s enthusiasm for the subject matter and genre and the hard work of the cast prevent the film from becoming a joke. This is a true summer popcorn movie that isn’t trying to be more than it is. Pacific Rim won’t be my favorite movie of the summer, but it doesn’t have to be. When the bar is set at robots vs. monsters, the aim is to just have fun and on that count Pacific Rim delivers. I’m sure that generally men will enjoy this film more than women and fans of the genre will be more forgiving than others; regardless, you’ll find yourself surprisingly invested in Pacific Rim. You know it’s all ridiculous, but you just can’t help yourself. Now pardon me while I got to find some Kaiju to spar with.

Pacific Rim opens nationwide today.

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