Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite current directors. I still need to catch up with some of his earlier work as Pacific Rim is the third del Toro film I have seen with the others being Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy.
Pacific Rim is a great summer movie and I wish that more blockbusters could be like it since it's a fun ride that knows what it is without ever getting cheesy or stupid. The film is about giant monsters that come to Earth from an interdimensional portal located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. These monsters, dubbed Kaiju, (as a throwback to the Japanese giant creature feature films such as Godzilla) begin attacking major cities. Humanity responds by building Jaegers, giant robot machines controlled by human pilots, to fight the Kaiju. The Jaegers are successful at first but eventually most are destroyed by the Kaiju which are increasing in size and number. The Jaeger project is discontinued, but the remaining Jaegers and their pilots must band together in a last ditch effort planned by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to save Earth from the Kaiju. Our main character is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a former Jaeger pilot who retired after the death of his brother and co-pilot but returns in order to end the war between the humans and the Kaiju.

I liked the characters in Pacfic Rim. Sure, their arcs may not be the best ever, but this is a big action movie with a decent amount of characters not a one man character study. The characterizations are fine for what is required in a film like this and are done better than those in many of its peers. For example, the Raleigh/Mako relationship was well written and felt organic, especially compared to the forced, afterthought relationships in other blockbusters like Thor or Transformers. Mako is not just the requisite love interest but a three dimensional character. Idris Elba puts his great acting chops to good use and his character has an interesting backstory. I also enjoyed the scientists (who felt right out of a 50s sci-fi flick) who had important stuff to do that fit in with the main story. The main mission for the scientists (one of whom is played by Charlie Day from the TV Show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is go to Hong Kong to find a Kaiju brain. In order to do so they must first go through black market dealer Hannibal Chau (played by Ron Perlman who steals every scene he is in). While in Hong Kong a Kaiju attacks so we get to see the battle from the perspective of the scientists and Chau, as well as from our protagonists in Gipsy Danger who are fighting the beast. Both the plot and characters were more involved than many people expected when they heard the movie was about robots fighting aliens.

Pacfic Rim does a good job of world building and summarizing the backstory of the Kaiju attacks in the opening scenes. However, the title screen came up surprisingly late and took me out of the film a bit since I was already into it and just assumed we weren't getting opening credits. Other than that I thought the movie was well paced and just as long as it needed to be.
The humans from other countries don't get to do much. I understand this from a storytelling perspective since it would mean more characters we would have to get to know better, but I was hoping to see the Chinese Jaeger (Crimson Typhoon) with three arms that piloted by triplets get more fighting time.
Our main character, Raleigh, was fine but could've stood out a little more. Also, the Australian pilots are a father and son team but they looked fairly close in age so I thought they were brothers at first. I looked it up and the actor (Max Martini) who played Herc Hansen was only 14 years older than the man (Robert Kazinsky) playing his son. It might've been more interesting to cast an older actor in his late 50s or early 60s as Herc to mix things up a bit anyway.

The Kaiju wall and Kaiju categories (1-5) show how the humans mistakenly considered the monsters to be merely animals or acts of nature. We find out later that there is more motivation to the Kaiju than simply being rampaging beasts, which I thought was an interesting development.
The use of colors in the movie is spectacular. Whether it is the neon lit streets of Hong Kong, the cool blue Kaiju blood, the shiny Jaegars, or the jars containing Kaiju organs in Hannibal Chau's hideout, Pacific Rim is feast for the eyes.
The concept of the Drift is another neat idea the movie has going for it. Each Jaeger needs to be controlled by two pilots through the Drift, a mind meld of sorts in which memories and emotions are shared. This means that pilots need to have a high level of compatibility in order to control the Jaegars, which sort of reminded me of ice skating pairs. The comradery (and at times competitiveness) between the pilots also called to mind old war movies, with Jaegers being the substitute for fighter aircraft.
The Hong Kong battle sequence was awesome and my favorite part of the movie. I found this scene even better than the final battle, which may be a bit of a problem since that is supposed to be the climax. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with that (swapping the scenes wouldn't have worked at all) so I just chalked it up as Iron Man 2 syndrome where the best or biggest action scene isn't near the end of the movie.

It's clear that a lot of thought and effort was put into it Pacific Rim. The productions values and special effects are both excellent, with the detailed textures of the Kaiju bodies being particularly impressive. Pacific Rim had a big budget but every dollar of it is seen on screen and well spent. The great visuals are assisted by an awesome guitar heavy score from Ramin Djawadi, who also did the soundtrack for Iron Man.
Del Toro really cared not just about making a good movie, but about paying respect to the Kaiju and giant robot movies that he loves. Pacific Rim has homages and references to other films and TV shows but they are done in a way that is never distracting, like in the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies. I haven't seen much of what Pacific Rim is paying tribute to, but didn't need to either. I noticed some references to Alien and Aliens such as a character named Newt, Kaiju acid blood, and the way the crew went inside the Kaiju to collect samples was similar to how the crew of the Nostromo investigated the derelict space ship in Alien. Was the pregnant Kaiju a callback to Godzilla '98?!

Although Pacific Rim did great at the international box office, especially in China, it underperformed domestically. The movie had several things going against it since it features no big name stars and the current film climate favors franchises. The fact that some people associated it as a Transformers knock-off from the poster and trailers didn't help. Pacific Rim received good reviews from critics and got positive word of mouth from audiences so it may get more popular in the U.S as time goes on. Del Toro says he is working on a script for a sequel with his Pacific Rim co-writer Travis Beacham so we'll have to wait and see if it gets the green-light. I loved Pacific Rim but feel it stands alone and don't need a sequel. Of course I would still watch one as long as del Toro is involved.
I first saw Pacific Rim when it came out it theaters then watched it again after it was released on Blu-ray. It held up well the second time around which is always the sign of a good movie.

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