Release: Thursday, July 11, 2013
This has been the year for apocalyptic-themed movies. I wonder why that is? Something about us wandering around in “extra time” now since the end of the world was, according to the Mayans, last December. As our reward, we get an army of gigantic Iron Giant-esque robots, operated by highly skilled and rigorously trained pilots who will face danger at every turn as they take on humanity’s biggest threat: death at the hands of Kaiju (Japanese for “monsters”).
Pacific Rim is director Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and boy, is it full to the brim with special effects; so much so, that we more often than not overlook the fact that all of this chaos and fighting and sacrifice is for the good of mankind — and this is done quite accidentally, too. But what of humanity are we really supposed to latch onto with the Travis Beacham-penned script? Throwaway lines, the cliches and metaphors and cheesy one-liners are (occasionally) painfully placed throughout this film, and at times bring the excitement down a notch or two. Unspectacular acting from a relatively unknown cast is less of a problem than it is a byproduct of the cast being what it is. The biggest name has got to be Ron Perlman, as the ridiculous but humorous Hannibal Chau. He’s ultimately a side story that does have its place, but this winds up being more memorable than most of the leads.
Before I go too far with the nit-picking, it should be said that this is a very capable action film with some of the most capable CGI/special effects we’ve experienced since Transformers tore up the block. However, the refusal to deliver more than just the convenient alignment of every single possible miracle at all the right moments threatens to undermine del Toro’s efforts to stun the audience.
What we’re left with is a big chunk of shiny metal on our hands, which at first is nice, but then gets a little heavy and we would sooner drop it than carry it for another minute.
Raleigh Becker (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy are out on a patrol in the ocean to ward off an incoming Kaiju when they disobey direct orders to not waste time on a single fishing boat that happens to be falling as the latest victim to these behemoth predators. In the process of saving the doomed boat, the gigantic robot they use to combat the monsters — known as a Jaeger — suffers extensive damage, as do the two pilots operating it. When it’s all over, Raleigh must start over again.
He seeks employment in the construction industry, and because the division of “homeland security” he once worked for has since been declared an ineffective method of providing safety, he assumes that’s a thing of the past. That’s until a predictable albeit necessary visit from his former employer, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), puts Raleigh back where he belongs — as a pilot of a new Jaeger bot (the codename for which I have since forgotten). The old American one he piloted, which undergoes cosmetic surgery for re-use later, is named ‘Gypsy Danger.’ Yeah, go figure.
Pacific Rim dances in circles around themes of respect, courage and redemption, though it never really tackles these things head-on. Rather, it spends almost half the time convincing us via special effects and deafening explosions that the human race is pretty screwed. That our last hope for survival hinges on the chemistry between Raleigh and a new pilot, named Mako (Rinko Kikuchi). Well, message heard concerning the likelihood of our extinction. After several extended destruction sequences, even the massive Jaegers prove to be inadequate in killing off an endless supply of monsters. With good acting and a compelling storyline taking a backseat to the dramatic action (this is where the massive budget clearly was dedicated), its easy and even acceptable for us to drop our concerns for our species at the door and sit back and watch cities being leveled. If you thought Man of Steel had a ridiculous action sequence, here’s your gut-check.
In returning to the cast itself, it’s not terrible acting that’s on display — not by any stretch. Elba is convincingly stern as the Marshal over all other pilots. He has control and no one can or even wants to try and intervene there. The main leads of Raleigh and Mako, though, are pretty disposable. It’s Always Sunny‘s Charlie Day makes another giddy appearance as a brilliant scientist obsessed with finding out more about our 300-foot-tall attackers. For the most part he is funny, but his welcome becomes worn out with an insistence to yell every single line he has been given. Give this guy some time to warm up to the big screen though; I think one day he’ll be a class act.
Other than that, Perlman, as previously mentioned, is probably the best character here. He’s a greedy profiteer from the research gathered on the exotic beasts that have been slain. Backed with a physically intimidating presence, there is absolutely no way one can really take his last name (Chau) seriously in this film! But you can’t hate on the guy. He provides some good laughs, and the interactions he and the mad scientist Newton (Day) have are some of the actual snippets we get of honest human interaction.
The ostensible “plot” we are handed boils down to a last-ditch effort made by a dwindling supply of American, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Australian Jaegers. My hopes were that we’d be provided something actually profound on the subject of massive loss of life, of near-certain annihilation of our kind. Though they weren’t lived up to, there’s quite a lot of fun to be had in this film. The humans indeed stage an epic battle against the Kaiju in the water and on land. Also, in alternate dimensions. Yeah, del Toro indeed goes there.
The film’s direction is a little clumsy and raucous, but it’s an action film that does not fail in any way in delivering the visuals, the drama and the grand scale that we may have otherwise been missing so far this summer — or even this year. There are absolutely stunning visuals to cherish, and the overall experience is a decent one. Nothing profound. Mankind lives to see another day, even if it is the only logical result of an ultimately contrived journey that, in an attempt to explore deeper elements, winds up getting put together with nuts, bolts and hi-tech gizmos — as opposed to emotion and carefully-written scripture.
Perhaps it needs to be seen a second time for the “neural handshake” to actually be effective.
Recommendation: Pacific Rim is most everything you’d want in a CGI spectacular: exciting action, arresting visuals, big. . . things. (I still can’t get over how much these Jaegers resemble the more simplistic design of the animated The Iron Giant.) If you’re coming for the easy ride where the only challenge is sitting through a series of long action sequences, this is your flick.
Running Time: 131 mins.
Quoted: “Today. At the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them! Today, we are CANCELING the apocalypse!”
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