Review: Pacific Rim

Imagine a tank. Now imagine that tank is shaped like a human being. Now imagine that tank is as tall as a skyscraper, and it’s used to beat down giant monsters in the kind of fights that shake the streets, shatter buildings and use oceanliners as baseball bats. That is Pacific Rim, the ultimate ode to giant robots and monster movies of old. And considering my childhood love of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and my own desire to someday pilot a Megazord, I was definitely looking forward to Pacific Rim – and I was not disappointed.

Pacific Rim is the kind of summer spectacle movie that people should be lining up to see. It’s the kind of movie that demands a bigger IMAX screen, because the action is both huge and hugely entertaining. The human characters could have used a little more fleshing out, but the size and scope of the film do not disappoint.

Movie Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

Sadly, the Adam Sandler film Grown Ups 2 somehow captivated audiences more this past weekend than Pacific Rim. This is the world we live in. A crappy, crummy, by-the-numbers, lazy Sandler fart-joke-fest made more money than an original, high-octane movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters. Do I need to repeat that? Giant robots fighting giant monsters. In big, bombastic slugfests! It’s the Megazord fighting Godzilla! It’s every childhood joy of mine coming to fun, exciting life on the big screen. What more could humanity possibly want from its movies?

That little children around the world aren’t bugging their parents for Gipsy Danger toys right now is a crime against humanity.

Take it from a big geek like me, the robot/monster fights in Pacific Rim are exactly what we hoped they would be – though they almost all take place at night…in the rain…and while standing waist-deep in the water. I guess sometimes filmmakers have to do what they can to hide the CGI. But I won’t hold it against them. The fights are big, brutal and highly entertaining. And unlike Man of Steel, the CGI was not just a big mess of explosions and mindless destruction. These were unique, cool-looking beings, and their actions were easy to follow and understand. Pacific Rim is big CGI done right.

If only the human characters were as awesome as the giant, asskicking robots.

Join me after the jump for my full review of Pacific Rim. And beware, there will be some SPOILERS.

This may surprise you, but Pacific Rim is not based on any previously existing properties. It’s not based on a comic book or an old cartoon show. The general ideas have been done before, like the giant, piloted robots and giant evil monsters, but Pacific Rim and its world are the fresh creation of director Guillermo del Toro, most famous for Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, which I love. This is a great way to do a movie. It’s one creative vision hopefully free of studio intervention and fan demands. It’s just del Toro’s insane idea about giant robots, called Jaegers, fighting giant monsters, called Kaiju.

Though if this film were based in the real world, you know we’d call the giant monsters ‘godzillas’. It’s just human nature.

“Look out for that jumping godzilla!”

The story of Pacific Rim is pretty straight forward, and that’s not a bad thing. There are a bunch of giant monsters threatening the planet, so humanity built a bunch of giant robots to fight them. The details are a little more specific: In the depths of the Pacific Ocean, an interdimensional portal has opened and giant, skyscraper-sized monsters (called Kaiju) have started coming through. They rise up out of the ocean and lay waste to nearby cities, killing thousands. The nations of the world come together and start the Jaeger Program, an army of giant robots with human pilots to fight the monsters head-on. But because piloting a giant robot is pretty hard, scientists invent a way to mindmeld two people together (called ‘drifting’) so that they can pilot the Jaegers as one, and it’s a huge success. The Jaegers start kicking Kaiju butt, and the pilots become heroes the world over.

But that’s all backstory by the time the movie starts. Pacific Rim is actually about the end of the war between Jaeger and Kaiju. The monsters that keep coming through the portal are getting bigger and stronger, and the world is down to only a handful of Jaegers and pilots left to defend them. The world governments are ready to pull the plug, so Program Director Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) gathers up all of the Jaegers still in operation for one final mission to  destroy the interdimensional portal in the Pacific. To do this, he recruits a hot shot Jaeger pilot out of retirement, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), and teams him up with rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Meanwhile, staff scientist and Kaiju expert Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) may have cracked the secret to understanding the Kaiju and destroying the portal once and for all.

Or he may have cracked the secret to Kitten Mittens

First of all, I don’t know if any of you watch the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I’m a huge fan, and for me, Charlie Day cannot so easily escape his Charlie Kelly character. This Dr. Newton Geiszler has the same wacky mannerisms as his character on the show, so I just couldn’t separate them. It’s a shame, though, since Geiszler’s storyline is one of the coolest parts of the movie. I won’t spoil what it is that he does, but Geiszler uses the mythos created for the movie to uncover the Kaiju’s biggest secrets. It’s pretty cool…but he’s just Charlie Kelly playing pretend.

Also unfortunately, Newton Geiszler is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to characters with insanely cool names who just don’t amount to much on screen.

The human characters in Pacific Rim have little to no depth beyond their basic character profiles, and any development they go through in the film is very predictable. Of course Beckett is going to come out of retirement. And of course he and Mori are going to struggle at first to work together, but will come through as the perfect team in the end. And of course Beckett is a bland, white, male hero character. That’s what Hollywood is going to make. That Mako is Asian is fantastic, as is the fact that nobody really cares that she’s Asian or female. Beckett is more than happy to work with her. But I was kind of hoping that the hero team would be Mako and Elba, making the Asian woman and the black man the film’s heroes. That would have been something cool and unique.

The world needs heroes like these

Now don’t get me wrong, the characters were entertaining enough. They did their duty and filled their necessary roles. But a lot of them were woefully superfluous. The great Ron Perlman is criminally underused as black market shyster Hannibal Chau. He’s all style and no substance. Dr. Geiszler has a partner in science, Gottlieb, but he was completely superfluous to the film. Gottlieb’s big role in the climax should have been done by Perlman, but I’m not the director, so what do I know?

The other Jaeger pilots were also underused. Beckett and Mako are not the only pilots in the film. There’s an Australian father and son team, a trio of Chinese pilots and a pair of Russian badasses, but the latter two squads never amount to anything more than voiceless cameos in the background. They are some of the last, best defenders of planet Earth, members of an elite brotherhood that our heroes hope to join, but they never really do much. And they definitely don’t say anything. I understand the movie can only be so long, and clearly Pacific Rim has to focus on the main characters, but I wanted to see more of this world. I wanted to see the various Jaegers from the other countries. What was the Canadian Jaeger like? Or the Arabian Jaeger? Guillermo del Toro created a pretty cool world, but he spent all of his time focusing on the boring white American hero.

And his fancy Gizmoduck suit

So the characters aren’t particularly deep or memorable, with the possibly exception of Idris Elba, who pretty much owns every scene he’s in. He creates a believably strong character, though I’m sad to say that his “canceling the apocalypse” speech loses all of its power because it was played so often in the trailers. I just kept waiting for him to get to the line the moment he started the speech.

Speaking of which, there weren’t any real pulse-pounding moments in the movie. Nothing that made me want to jump out of my seat and cheer. Just generally exciting robot vs. monster action.

And that’s all that Pacific Rim ended up being. The human characters were not very deep, but they did what they needed to do and gave us a human angle to watch. Some of the characters were superfluous, but not damagingly so. Everyone handled their roles well. The real draw of the movie were the giant battles, which were very well done. The CGI was visually appealing, and it wasn’t just a blind mess of flash cuts and motion blur. I could tell what was happening and I could follow the action just fine. The monsters weren’t very visually interesting, but they were definitely monsters, and it was clearly a battle of organic beasts versus metal men.

A metaphor, perhaps, for our own dark robot apocalypse

Pacific Rim ended up being exactly what I thought it would be, and for that I’m glad. Personally, I would have enjoyed some deeper characterization, but that didn’t break the movie by any means. Pacific Rim was exciting and fun, which is exactly what you should want from a movie where giant robots lay the smackdown on giant monsters, with the fate of the world at stake.

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on July 17, 2013, in Movies, Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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