Pacific Rim

Warner brothers/Legendary Pictures

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro 

Reviewed by Anthony C. Francis

Pacific Rim is a big summer “tent pole” movie directed by perhaps the finest current genre director working today, the great Guillermo Del Toro. It is a huge film full of ideas and massive spectacle and, while weak in many parts, gives us a cinematic thrill ride that hackmeister supreme Michael Bay could never dream of achieving.

The film tells the story of the Kaiju, the Japanese word for giant monster, who are coming from beneath the earth to destroy mankind. Years before, the military and their scientists invented the Jaeger program to fight the monsters. Jaeger is the German word for hunter.

Thinking the monsters were all but destroyed, mankind went back to normal, but now the monsters are returning in greater force and ability. They are back to complete the destruction of mankind. The Jager program is reinstated and the battles begin.

Frankly, there isn’t much to the story. Sure, there are some dramatic issues with a couple of the lead characters but we aren’t here to see Shakespeare dramatics.

Charlie Hunnam from television’s fine drama Sons of Anarchy is the lead character, Raleigh Beckett. He plays a pilot who lost his brother in the first war with the Kaiju and has now retreated to a life of seclusion working construction on a wall being built to keep the monsters out. He gives a good enough performance, but uses the same mannerisms as he does on his television show. His role is a bit of Top Gun’s Maverick mixed with every other lone hero asked to save the world in movies.

Beckett is paired up with new pilot Mako Mori, played with conviction by Rinko Kikuchi. Her character has a good backstory that earns the only real dramatic points for the film. She is desperately trying to become an ace pilot to seek revenge on the Kaiju for a tragedy in her childhood.

Idris Elba, one of our finest character actors in films and television, plays the leader of the resistance, Stacker Pentecost. He is a battle weary man who is reluctant to put someone he cares deeply for in harm’s way, but knows it is the only chance to win. Elba gives a macho and straightforward performance without slipping into parody.

The other performance that I really enjoyed is Del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman. He has a small but fun role as a black market dealer who sells Kaiju parts to the highest bidder. He has to deal with a scientist, played by the extremely annoying Charlie Day, who wants to buy parts of a brain to try and connect with it and look for a key to the Kaiju’s weaknesses.

The idea for the Jager program is really original and inventive. Two pilots join their thought processes called “the drift” and feed them into the mind of the robot so they can pilot them effectively. It is a neat idea that is based on current technology being tried out by the military.

One aspect of Guillermo Del Toro’s directing style that I have always enjoyed has been his artistic set design. The images in his films are striking and darkly beautiful and Pacific Rim does not disappoint. The film is soaked in dark greys that are populated by neon reds, blues, pinks, and purples. It is a mixture of Blade Runner and the old Japanese monster movies to which this film pays loving homage… and there is rain, lots of rain. Even when the battle rages at sea it is always raining.  I loved the look of this film, and the rain enhanced the aura Del Toro created.

The big downside to Pacific Rim is the screenplay. The idea is fantastic but the dialogue and dramatics are undercooked, clichéd to a fault, and downright silly at times. “We’re cancelling the apocalypse!” is a fine example. Beckett lost his brother in a battle with the monsters and has never mentally recovered. Do you think he will put his pain aside and become the hero?

Mori wants the chance to show her skills as a pilot. Do you think that she will be allowed to fight and who do you think she will be paired with?

Pentecost struggles to find the courage to lead his crews into battle while dealing with his own mortality. Do you think he will give the troops a “rah-rah” speech before the final battle?

I am all for cliché in films, especially films that are built upon macho bravado. The films of John Ford, John Milius, and Walter Hill are some of my faves and they wear their machismo like a badge. However, they fill their scripts with the right balance of artistic flourish. Guillermo Del Toro usually does the same but here he simply goes for cheap cliché and concentrates more on the spectacle… but what a spectacle it is.

I saw the film in IMAX and that is the way to see it! It is a wonder to watch. The battle sequences are fantastic and simply astounding to behold. Del Toro uses his camera wisely as we watch these literal giants go toe to toe over cities and in oceans.

Monsters and machines are fighting in blowing rains in oceans and cities with lights flashing and shining and buildings crumbling to dust all around them, yet our director allows us to be able to make out every moment without confusion. Michael Bay has 2 robots fighting in the desert in the sunlight with nothing else around and we can’t make heads or tails of who is winning or what the hell is going on. This artistry sets Del Toro apart from most filmmakers working in genre film.

Pacific Rim is not a perfect film and there are moments where its flaws threaten to overtake our enjoyment. However, when the robots and monsters do their battle it is spectacular. I haven’t had that much fun at a big summer film in a long time.

The film is not finding the audience that it deserves. In a time where the Transformers films are making billions, Pacific Rim deserves to be a hit.

So forget the silly dramatics of the screenplay. Grab a big bucket of popcorn, get comfortable in your seat, and enjoy the fun and spectacle that is Pacific Rim.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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