Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim (2013)

Wow. Did I really just see this movie in theaters? A summer blockbuster that's not a sequel, not a remake, and not an adaptation, with a plot that is basically the fantasy of every adolescent boy and "inner child" who was raised on anime, monster movies, and Saturday morning cartoons. It's got Voltron rocket-punching Godzilla in the face, a heroine who pretty much is Rei Ayanami in live-action form (if you don't get that reference, here would be a good place to start), and a director, Guillermo Del Toro, who is beloved by his online fanbase but not particularly well-known outside of it, and it was given a $180 million budget and a prime summer release date by Warner Bros. Many have been asking the studio "what were you thinking?" Me? Having just gotten back from this film last night, I'm asking my family if they wanna go see this with me again, because this movie was awesome.

The plot? Giant monsters called kaiju (a term that should be familiar to anyone who's seen Japanese monster movies) start emerging from a trans-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and lay waste to coastal cities like San Francisco, Manila, and Tokyo. Normal armies are able to defeat them, but only at an astounding cost, and since nuking the kaiju so close to major cities is out of the question, humanity builds a new type of weapon: jaegers (German for "hunter"), giant mecha robots bristling with advanced weaponry that only they can carry and use with their enormous bodies and power plants. The jaegers mop the floor with the kaiju for a time, but eventually, the kaiju start adapting, taking down more and more of the expensive jaegers in combat. It's now 2025, and humanity is back on the ropes with only four jaegers left, and devoting more of its energy to building a massive "Wall of Life" along the Pacific coast to keep the kaiju out -- but when the wall's efficacy is called into question, and the jaegers' efficacy reinforced, by an attack on Sydney, the head of the jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), makes one last desperate attempt to end the kaiju menace for good.

If the otherwise-wretched Transformers films did one good thing, it's show that "normal" moviegoers are willing to go out in droves to see giant mecha robots beating the snot out of bad guys -- and I cannot stress this enough, this is a movie about giant mecha robots fighting Godzilla-style monsters -- which is probably the only reason this film got made in the first place. And on that front, thank the heavens it did, because the action scenes here run circles around nearly every action film I've seen this year, and had me wiping drool from my shirt out of sheer awe at how outstanding they were. This film's tagline has been "Go big or go extinct," and boy does it ever go big. Even two days after I saw this movie (I should've had this review up yesterday; damn you broken internet), I still had this film's wild and beautiful action scenes as clear in my mind as the view of the Indian River from the top of the Pineda Causeway on a bright, sunny day. Guillermo Del Toro was living out the dream of his inner 14-year-old boy here, not only bringing his monsters and robots to vivid life but proceeding to go completely nuts with the battle scenes. The CGI-heavy action looked astounding here, especially in comparison to similarly-budgeted duds like World War Z and The Lone Ranger, and there is a ton of it to go around, with three epic fight scenes and glimpses of many more. If I had a single complaint about this film, it's that the part between the opening fight scene in Alaska and the big battle in Hong Kong, with multiple kaiju and jaegers swinging giant ships like Joe DiMaggio at bat and slamming each other through skyscrapers, didn't have enough of that glorious, glorious action.

But even then, the mid-section of this film was still a blast to watch thanks to some surprisingly solid character dynamics. I shouldn't really be using the word "surprising," given that Guillermo Del Toro would never have become the geek icon he is if he were just another mindless action director, but I still feel that the trailers didn't do enough to really focus on the character interactions that this film depends on in order to work the way that it did. This film's genius with its characters is in how the jaegers must be piloted by two people in a mental link called "the Drift" in order to bear the mental strain of being plugged into them, with the two pilots having to have a degree of mental compatibility for this to work; this commonly produces sibling, father/son, and husband/wife teams who know each other personally. So one of the main stories here, about veteran jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) getting to know his rookie co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), feels weightier than the token romances that so often infest these kinds of blockbusters without having any real bearing on the plot. The characters that Hunnam and Kikuchi play are largely archetypes that should be familiar to fans of, respectively, American action movies and Japanese animation, the former being the all-American military man of a thousand gung-ho summer blockbusters and the latter being the waifish young woman with a troubled past of a thousand giant robot anime. The investment comes less from the characters themselves and more from how they interact with each other's backgrounds, eccentricities, and secrets, especially when their minds merge in the Drift. This was a very inspired move, helped by Hunnam and Kikuchi's solid performances that seem to be deliberately evocative of the cartoons that Del Toro was trying to make a live-action version of here.

The rest of the cast also stands out. Idris Elba plays the head of the jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (now that's a name for you), a man who serves as a father figure for Mako and has a deeper relationship with her than it seems. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman serve as the comic relief here, playing a pair of scientists studying the kaiju who may be more than a step over the line between "eccentric" and "crazy". Whenever they showed up, I knew I was guaranteed to laugh. Last, but certainly not least, there was Ron Perlman (the star of Del Toro's Hellboy films) as the black-market kaiju parts dealer Hannibal Chau. Perlman's Chau was not only a larger-than-life figure who had some of this film's best moments outside of the kaiju fights, he was a perfect example of how this film's approach to world-building blows many comparable sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy movies out of the water. We don't need a long explanation about how powder from ground-up kaiju bones is used as a male enhancement drug, or about the intricacies of the illegal trade of kaiju parts; we just need to see a sleazeball offering all of that stuff for sale in a Hong Kong slum. Show us, don't throw a wall of exposition at us.

Score: 5 out of 5

If you're sick of recycled properties being churned out every summer, then Guillermo Del Toro has made the film for you. If you're sick of "darker and grittier" summer blockbusters and want to have fun at the movies again, then Del Toro has made the film for you. If you want to see an absolutely wicked action movie that has both epic fight scenes with stunning special effects and a real story to it that exists for more than just to drive the action, then Del Toro has made the film for you. This is, hands-down, in my Top Three of 2013 next to Spring Breakers and This Is the End. Go out to your nearest theater and see it. Right. Now.

No comments:

Post a Comment