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Movie Review: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim
2013 was the year it all started: giant alien beasts known as the Kaiju emerged from a dimensional rift deep in the Pacific Ocean and began causing mayhem and destruction across the Earth. The nations of the world came together to fight this menace, pouring all of their resources into the construction of enormous robots dubbed Jaegers that were built for the singular purpose of fighting the Kaiju. This is the launching point for Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro's ludicrously indulgent geekgasm that opened last Friday.

Several years into the Kaiju War, the Jaeger Project has been dubbed too costly and too ineffective to continue, with resources being dumped into gigantic walls along the coasts instead, which predictably proves ineffective against the monster menace. Enter Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the head of the Jaeger Project who refuses to go down without a fight. He scrapes together whatever is left of his project, including a badly damaged former hotshot named Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and a young rookie named Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who turn out to be perfectly "drift-compatible" to pilot one of only four Jaegers left. Together with a motley crew of nutty scientists, international superstar Jaeger pilots, and a particularly memorable ops technician (Clifton Collins, Jr.), Stacker's team has one last, desperate chance to close the rift and prevent the end of the human race.

On paper, this is either a terrible idea or a Japanese anime. The dialogue is painfully bad at times; the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes at best; the plot is heavy-handed, unoriginal, predictable, and patently silly; and there isn't a single drop of cultural relevance or thematic poignancy. If it weren't for the stellar reputations behind the camera, it would be impossible to imagine how this ultra-violent, big budget script got the green light. But Guillermo del Toro has made a name for himself very quickly--especially among his core audience of unapologetic geeks--and has proven that he can turn a modest profit when he is given creative freedom. It is clear as you watch Pacific Rim why del Toro wanted to make it: he loves these kinds of guilty pleasure popcorn flicks.

Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba
Here we see Stacker Pentacost pointing at Mako Mori's abdomen for some reason
At least a third of the movie is devoted to effects-heavy fight scenes with the skyscraper-sized Jaegers battling equally enormous Kaiju in moonlit ocean vistas with an array of tricks that come directly from the imaginations of every small boy who has ever lived. Elbow-rocket-fueled punches, six-barreled chest cannons, plasma beams, a three-armed-spinning-blade whirlwind, and more can be found in the Jaeger toolkit. It's completely ridiculous, and yet deliciously awesome. The only real let-down is the unfairly brief climactic battle, but given all the build-up, I'm not sure anything would have been big enough to match expectations.

When the colossi are taking a break from the action, the story is mostly carried by Raleigh Becket, the wounded hero who finds that more people dislike him than trust his skill in battle. He has the respect of his leader and the crushy admiration of his young partner, but he has to deal with the sneers of the other Jaeger pilots, most notably the 80's teen movie villain Chuck Hansen, with whom he fights more than once. There are also the exploits of a pair of incredibly silly scientists, who eventually seek out the help of black market Kaiju organ dealer Hannibal Chau, played wonderfully by Del Toro favorite Ron Perlman. The cast is rounded out by The Unit star Max Martini, who plays a veteran Jaeger pilot with a thick Aussie accent.

Jaeger v Kaiju
All you really need to know, actually
Put simply, this is a very cheesy movie, but the good news is that it knows it. Del Toro manages to construct his homage in a way that feels genuinely unpretentious and without a hint of satire. It's a welcoming movie that doesn't poke fun at you for enjoying even the most whimsically nonsensical plot beats. No matter how terrible you think the movie should be, you can't help but love it. The score is full of over-the-top heroic anthems and an eclectic mix of world music and techno pop, all played with the volume cranked to the max, and it follows the same formula as the rest of the film: awful but perfect.

Where the real skill is displayed, however, is in the special and visual effects. The film feels like a live-action anime, but the effects work is incredible. The Jaegers and Kaiju are utterly believable and loaded with detail, lovingly rendered as they splash around by the shore or chew up coastal cities. Even though the vast majority of the movie was probably filmed in front of green screens, it doesn't feel like your typical CG-fest. The effects are comparable to Avatar--which is no small compliment--and I would argue that it's a better movie overall, because it doesn't try to be more than it is. I didn't see Pacific Rim in 3-D, but I imagine it's probably the best way to see it.

Charlie Hunnam and Charlie Day
Raleigh confers with Dr. Newton Geisler, one of the film's mad scientists
Granted, there are some downsides to all the awesomeness. There are a few bad sound edits--people yapping their jaws out of synch with the dialogue, for instance--and a lot of the dialogue is delivered with accents and quirks that are a bit too heavy to fully understand. There are also a few plot conveniences near the end that are a little too ludicrous to accept, but that's perfectly forgivable considering what the movie is. A large portion of the plot centers on the idea of "drifting," or sharing minds, but the logistics and consequences of this technology feel underexplored and a little contradictory. Additionally, there are a few places where it feels like the scenes have been trimmed just a tad too much--including scenes that might have fleshed out drifting a bit more--and Pentacost's "the apocalypse is canceled" speech, a highlight of the film's trailers, isn't nearly as stirring as it should be. Still, these are minor nitpicks that aren't likely to draw you out of the fun.

Del Toro has tapped into the collective unconscious of every 8-year-old boy, removed and concentrated all the unadulterated joy that comes from playing with action figures, and then thrown it onto the screen. It is a noisy, mindless, cliché-riddled cartoon of a film, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable cinematic experience this year. If there's any part of you that wants to see giant robots fighting giant monsters, you're in for a hell of a good time.

FINAL SCORE:

Guillermo del Toro has turned what should be an awful movie into an incredibly well-made and eminently entertaining thrill ride.


-e. magill 7/16/2013










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