Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Non Spoiler Review:
Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro's (Mama, Pan's Labyrinth) love letter to the giant monster (or kaiju) genre. It's a big budget, dazzling spectacle that features a near future when a rift beneath the ocean allows incredible city-destroying beasts to ravage the Pacific coasts. In response, humanity has banded together to create equally formidable robots (or jaegers) with human pilots to meet the threat. Just when it looks like the tide might turn, the kaijus up the stakes. 

Charlie Hunnam stars as troubled jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket, Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus) as the bombastic Marshal Stacker Pentecost, and Rinko Kikuchi as his protegĂ© Mako Mori. I'm a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy, so seeing Charlie Hunnam in another role was a nice change of pace. He's joined by fellow Sons alumnus and fan favorite Ron Perlman as the black marketeer Hannibal Chau. Mori has a great screen presence, as well. Idris Elba is formidable as the marshal, if not a wee bit over the top. And I was surprised to find none other than True Blood's Warlow (Robert Kazinsky) among the cast. However the kaijus and their mechanical rivals are the real stars, all of which have personalities of their own. A lot of love went into their creation, and they bear del Toro's unique creature style. 

Plenty of care went into the world building and back story, with news footage highlighting the history of the kaiju incursions and details such as a black market for kaiju parts, and other side-effects of the attacks like kaiju lice or excrement contaminating neighbourhoods. Of course, with current CGI, the battles are suitably grand. I've read interviews with del Toro that he specifically ensured the streets were people free so as not to distract from the battles themselves. That doesn't mean the movie is devoid of deaths, but the primary focus is on the battling titans.

A story like this could have easily descended into cheesy territory, but Pacific Rim mostly avoids that pitfall. Sure, the characters fit particular genre types and there's nothing new or exciting there, but the humans really aren't the stars—the monsters and robots are—and I realize this was a conscious decision. Once you accept the basic premise offered at the start you can sit back and enjoy the show.

That's not to say Pacific Rim couldn't have been better had it dealt with its subject matter a little more seriously. Plot holes abound—the behaviour of the military and the United Nations representatives make no sense, people continue to live in coastal cities after 20 years of attacks, and the level of constant destruction would have bankrupted nations—but those are del Toro's choices. In that respect he's still made an enjoyable film without taking it to a higher level.

I found the ending reminiscent of Independence Day, but it was executed far more successfully. The film concludes on a satisfying note. Though I've heard rumours del Toro would like to do a sequel, it's really unnecessary and Pacific Rim serves as a nice standalone film if it comes to that.

I got plenty of fluffy enjoyment out of this one. But I'm sure if you're not an avid lover of this particular sci fi niche (with happy memories of Godzilla and Gorgo from childhood) it won't be for you and may come across as silly. It is definitely a feast for the eyes and one of those movies that requires multiple viewings on blu-ray to slow down the action and pick out the level of detail. I'll definitely be revisiting this one a few times.

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