Pacific Rim Review
By Bret Dorman
Every year there manages to be a movie so big that I hype myself up to the point of automatic initial disappointment. I’m not talking The Avengers or Man of Steel. As excited as I was for those movies, those were obvious excitements for different reasons. I’m talking about personal movie tastes to the utmost extreme. And since I don’t watch trailers, most of the hype just comes in the form of me building this perfect movie in my head. One year away and the movie is a vague masterpiece. Six months away and I upgrade it to a scene-by-scene masterpiece. One month away I build it up to a second-by-second masterpiece. And a day away from its release and I’ve concocted this weird frame-by-frame masterpiece that the movie, through no fault of its own, now has to live up to.
Pacific Rim does not match that expectation. It is not a frame-by-frame masterpiece. But as far as Mech Vs Monster movies go, it is an incredible love letter that builds on the genre, all while fulfilling normal mainstream standards that never break the mold.
The Story: Portal opens underwater. Monsters come out of portal and destroy cities. Humans build giant mechs to fight monsters. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is an ex-Mech pilot with a troubled past. Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is a newbie pilot with a troubled past. Together they must mind-meld and co-pilot a mech to fight for mankind! Also, crushed Kaiju bones go for about $500 on the black market.
A lot of this review will probably come across as me defensively trying to convince someone Pacific Rim really is good. Maybe it is because I myself am still in shell shock of what I just saw. Not that the movie is THAT good. I don’t want to build up the hype anymore than I already did to myself. I also don’t want to defend the movie on the “Giant Monsters Vs Giant Robots you guys!” level.
Obviously the biggest problem with kaiju movies is the people. I grew up on a healthy diet of Godzilla & Company. Mostly, humans run around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to solve some scenario usually involving aliens. Meanwhile, Godzilla gets the crap beaten out of him, then musters up his inner monster and shows that baddie why he is THE KING OF ALL MONSTERS! Booya! The issue though, is that if you’re not already buying into Godzilla, you have no reason to root for him and no idea why he’s “the good guy.” So Travis Beacham and Guillermo Del Toro had to figure out not how to tell a story that involved humans and monsters, but how to integrate the two. Enter: The Mechs. Now I’ve dabbled in Anime (never Neon Genesis Evangelion though) and for the most part the mech genre is very heavily on the politics. So how do we make the humans involved while addressing the monster issue without getting overly political? Solution: People mind meld into mechs, share the same past, memories, and thoughts while co-piloting these giant metal monsters to fight the alien warriors. Keep it in the military, keep the drama intimate, and keep the battle scenes coming!
The humans in Pacific Rim have character, but they seem to lack personalities. All of the characters are by the book. They fit neatly into the normal slots a movie like this has. Raleigh has made a mistake in the past, so he doubts himself. Mako is inexperienced and wants to prove she can defend the world. Their commander, Stacker Pentecost, is all business. Idris Elba brings a certain gravitas and one scene in particular where he chews out Raleigh showcases his badassery. The other co-pilots are barely featured, with the exception of the Australian duo, who are typical tough guys. Two scientists play a crucial side role. They are the most ridiculous in nature, since they are scientists. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman bicker back and forth while trying to solve the “Kaiju Wormhole Problem.” Day is more rock ‘n’ roll while Gorman is your socially awkward mathematician. Ron Pearlman makes an entrance that provides some confident quirkiness. Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi are the main characters, which means they are allowed to be a bit “bland” since their work is in propelling the story and doing the heavy-lifting when it comes to the emotional arcs. But there’s no reason why the other actors couldn’t go a bit overboard and chew the scenery in slightly different ways.
How can someone both “chew up the scenery” while still taking their role seriously enough to not be winking at the camera or going to far? Here’s a sample of Ben Affleck in Smokin’ Aces:
His character is slimy and greasy, while being a bit smooth and in control of the dialogue. Sure his accent is a bit hard to place, but as a movie ‘character’ it works wonderfully. This is how we (I) imagine people talk in MovieLand. His character may be a small part of that movie’s bigger ensemble, but he feels unique in the world of Smokin’ Aces beyond just his nationality (or region-ality). All the actors perform well in Pacific Rim and the movie could have been much worse off. I feel the actors have the skill, their calibration is just a bit off (or too “on” if “on” is “safe”).
When it comes to the Kaiju, Pacific Rim runs on the less is more principle. Every Kaiju has a codename and distinct personality/fighting style. Since they aren’t real characters, but merely giant boss battles, the importance is all in the character design. Not only does each one look cool, you can feel the weight as they lumber around, causing mass amounts of destruction. Unlike most modern action blockbusters, Pac Rim is specifically dealing with the end of the world and its roots come from a series of films that allow for giant battles in big cities as people run away in terror.
The battles themselves feel like a “best of” highlight reel that is constantly concerned with one-upping itself. The fights are short and sweet. Kaiju movies and Mech Anime do have a tradition for overly long and awesome battles, where the fights are full of their own ebbs and flows. Here, there’s the standard showing off for a minute or two, bad guy beats crap out of good guy, but good guy wins due to last minute surprise tactic. The good ol’ days of rubber suits are gone and replaced by tight, heavily pre-planned well choreographed CGI-battles. I understand how some people might feel this is video game-esque, but there’s more control here. And I understand how CGI can turn some people off, but I see no difference between this being a style vs men in rubber suits and model towns vs standard animation. One isn’t necessarily better than the other.
Ultimately, where Pacific Rim shines that no other movie this summer can out do, is the small details in the world building. Some Actioners want to set their characters in the real world and then try to sell you on the outrageous set pieces. Unlike Oblivion, a movie I did praise for its small world building, it’s nice to see a movie where you could open up any door and continue walking through and explore. Instead of fitting crazy set pieces into the real world, Pacific Rim tries to fit real humans into a crazy ass world of monsters and mayhem. The reasoning is solid, to give us something to attach to during the action, but like with Hellboy II, I think this movie could have benefited from crazy characters enhancing the action, not grounding it. Hellboy II showed that sometimes the most human characters don’t have to be human. I’m not saying Pacific Rim should have ignored the human element, but it could have been buried a bit deeper in its core instead of left on the surface.
In Conclusion, Pacific Rim plays like a perfect movie. It is fun. It has funny moments. It has flaws, yes, but they are balanced in just the right ways so that the highlights are more enjoyable. I guess in my own personal uber-hyping up of the movie, I was expecting this giant brawl-fest to end all brawl-fests. While Pac Rim doesn’t have anything wrong with its action, I still feel it lacked in the “where will we go from here” factor. I think more movies do need to look to the spirit and execution of this one. I think this movie has everything I could want from a great blockbuster. I just really am looking forward to how this movie could launch us into a world where this is just the beginning of some truly remarkable Kaiju-Mech movies.
Final Grade: A
Don’t forget you can ‘like’ us on FaceBook to stay informed to everything cinemaPUNCH does. Feedback or Questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org