07.10.2013: Pacific Rim Review

Pacific Rim's Jaeger "Gipsy Danger" stomps across movie screens everywhere July 12.

Pacific Rim’s Jaeger “Gipsy Danger” stomps across movie screens everywhere July 12.

4½ out of 5 stars
A spoiler-free Review by Kyle Yount

In Guillermo Del Toro’s newest scifi action film, Pacific Rim, the world is plagued by gigantic monsters called Kaiju that are appearing through an interdimensional portal at the bottom of the sea. Humanity must combat these creatures, so equally giant mechs are developed. Two human pilots are connected through a mind-meld to control these giant mechs (Jaegers). But the kaiju begin to adapt their attacks and the Jaegers are no longer able to protect their countries’ populations. Deeming the Jaeger program an unreliable form of defense, the governments of the world funnel their money into a new project nicknamed The Wall. When the wall proves ineffective in Australia, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) takes all remaining Jaegers to Hong Kong’s Shatterdome, a hanger and headquarters for the last of these giant robots. But why has Stacker brought these titans to the closest base to the rift and how does he plan on stopping these monsters that threaten man’s very existence?

Promotional poster given away at New York Comic Con in 2012.

Promotional poster given away at New York Comic Con in 2012.

When I heard about Legendary Pictures’ purchase of Pacific Rim in 2010, all we knew was that Guillermo Del Toro was attached to direct. It was the following year when rumors began to surface about the premise for the film: monsters vs robots. My attention was held. It wasn’t until we saw the 2011 teaser poster that these robots’ scale was truly understood. Tiny human pilots standing on the shoulder of a massive Mazinger Z-sized mech? That meant Godzilla-sized monsters. To reiterate and add some “math” to this review: Guillermo Del Toro + giant robots + giant monsters = I’m sold. Really, that’s all there was to it. I knew I was going to see the film and almost definitely in the theater, but I wanted to see more.

Thank goodness Legendary Pictures has a thorough history of marketing their geeky films to geeks like myself. Every piece of marketing I saw for this film made me more and more excited to finally see it. Their viral marketing campaign released a number of Jaeger schematics and propaganda signage online. But when the “Official Main Trailer” was posted, I figured I’d seen enough, afraid that any further videos would start to spoil the film for me (yes, I’m one of those people that would rather go into a flick knowing just about nothing). There were a slew of materials that I pretty much ignored (featurettes, books, TV Spots, etc). The marketing continues with Odd City Entertainment releasing limited edition Pacific Rim prints from various artists leading up to the films release.

I really have enjoyed Del Toro’s filmography. I was first introduced to him in 1997’s Mimic followed by Blade II in 2002. But it wasn’t until Hellboy that I took a closer look at Del Toro. I sought out his earlier films, The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Cronos (1993). I feel that his biggest strength is his imagination, both Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy II’s Troll Market seem like he just cracked open his brain and poured his ideas out directly onto the celluloid. They were beautiful and I loved them despite their problems.

It’s very obvious that Pacific Rim is a love letter to some obvious inspirations: Japan’s Godzilla and other kaiju films, Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor), Go Nagai’s Super Robots and (I’m sure) the anime power-house Evangelion. The fact that this film calls upon these as muses speaks to the fondness that Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham have for those properties. By the same token, Pacific Rim is absolutely set in its own universe. That world is dense, thoroughly envisioned and we only get a glimpse of it. The Jaeger program, the Kaiju, the pilots, the underworld – there are Star Wars levels of depth to this and it’s quite amazing.

The Pan Pacific Defense Corps Ensignia.

The Pan Pacific Defense Corps Ensignia.

The plot is a simple one, mankind is being threatened by a force bent on wiping out everything and the world bands together to push that threat back to the void. The story is nice and easy on the brain so you can relate to the characters and enjoy the visual ride. One note I would like to make: any details of the story that were shared in the teasers, TV Spots and trailers were primarily utilized in the first act (and most of it within the first five minutes of the film), so there is a lot to take in.

The characters aren’t overly written and they stick to their archetypes. Our main characters are Jaeger pilots Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori (played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi), Jaeger program director Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), research scientists Newton Geiszler and Gottleib (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman). Each actor makes their role believable and although some of the dialogue seems a bit forced, they each seem perfectly cast for their parts. Even the supporting cast steps up to the plate and does a great job. And of course it would be a sin for me to not mention Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau – one of his funniest roles in Del Toros’ or in any film I’ve seen him.

The movie moves along at a brisk pace, but a lot of time is spent during the Jaeger vs Kaiju fight scenes. These fights are amazing and brutal – kaiju rip through buildings, Jaegers continue pummeling the creatures despite taking major damage and you get to see it! Del Toro made the right decision to pull the camera back so that the audience absolutely gets a wide view of the action. I’ve seen so many people equate this to Michael Bay’s Transformers series and the similarity ends with the Jaegers. Bay’s Autobots and Decepticons have tiny little parts that are constantly moving, but Del Toro’s Jaegers are big, hulking machines made with big, hulking parts and their movements mimic their human pilots’. They are wonderfully stylized and, yet, still cohesively identified. Not only do they look powerful enough to take down giant monsters, they execute that beautifully. The only issue I had with the fight sequences is that a majority of the battles either take place at night (sometimes in the rain) or underwater. With the time and effort spent by ILM on the CGI effects for these monsters, I just wish the script called for more day scenes.

Images like these were shared via social media websites like Tumblr  & Facebook.

Images like these were shared via social media websites like Tumblr & Facebook.

Even though Pacific Rim was filmed in 2D, it was converted into RealD’s 3D and I was dreading it. I despise the advent of 3D being forced on anyone and was a little annoyed when we were handed the glasses. The last converted film I saw in 3D was Green Lantern and it was pointless. I still believe 3D should only be used as a gimmick for kids movies and horror flicks. I was pleasantly surprised that the 3D conversion was used primarily for the environments and was, for the most part, unnoticeable. Don’t fret if your theater isn’t showing Pacific Rim in 2D, unless you have a condition that prevents you from watching 3D films.

The soundtrack to the film was written and performed by Ramin Djawadi who is most recently known for his extreme ear-worm, the Game Of Thrones theme (and soundtrack). At times, I felt Djawadi’s score was desperately trying to fit into the Pacific Rim universe with a modicum of success. Perhaps Djawadi could have spent some time studying the soundtracks of Akira Ifukube and assigned individual themes to each Jaeger and Kaiju. Overall however, I have enjoyed the soundtrack since watching the film and believe it has some repeat playability. The highlight of the film’s score involves the Russian Jaeger, Cherno Alpha.

Schematics for China's Jaeger, Crimson Typhoon.

Schematics for China’s Jaeger, Crimson Typhoon.

So where does that all leave us? Is Pacific Rim the ultimate experience for big things beating the hell out of each other? I’m happy to relay that the end result is an absolute thrill-ride of a summer film and quite possibly the best new movie I have seen in a long, long time. As a hardcore fan of the kaiju genre, this is the movie I have been waiting for and wanting Hollywood to make. I am so glad that Legendary Pictures put enough faith into the creative team to make this masterpiece. If you love Godzilla movies I really, really believe you will have a fantastic time watching this tale unfold and be impressed with the herculean effort put forth by this team of visionaries.

It saddens me to have to say this, but there are overthinkers and people who have won’t be able to enjoy this film; being able to suspend your disbelief is a necessary skill for Pacific Rim. If you are the kind of person that cannot believe that humanity would build giant robots to combat giant monsters, this movie isn’t for you. This is a movie is for people who love to explore new worlds, moviegoers who have no issue believing that man can tap into another’s brain and audiences that thrill at the sight of a 250 foot tall robot smashing a massive monster in the face with an oil tanker! I am absolutely planning on seeing Pacific Rim again in the theater with the largest screen possible.


Click on this gigantic banner for Pacific Rim