Pacific Rim | Guillermo del Toro | July 12, 2013
Who doesn’t love a good giant monster movie? Actually, I can probably think of some people who don’t, but that’s beside the point. I was never really one for the Godzilla series; actually, I’ve never seen the original movies (yes, I know, blasphemy and all). I blame the 1997 film, and a lack of desire to see if the local library system has said movies (which it more than likely does). But when I heard that Guillermo del Toro would be directing a kaiju tribute/homage film with equally giant mechs, I was totally on board and immediately giddy at the prospect of eventually seeing such a film. It should also be noted that I was once, like many, into Power Rangers, and am slightly familiar with the growing popularity of mechs in anime and geek culture. Disclaimers and confessions aside and diving right in, Pacific Rim is a film for genre fans by genre fans and brings a hell of a lot of spectacle to the table, along with some familiar yet welcomed character tropes.
If you’re in need of a little refreshing (which you probably are, as it has been over a month since the film hit theaters domestically), Pacific Rim follows Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), a washed-up Jaeger (a.k.a. the giant mech program) pilot, is brought back in the final days of the Jaeger program by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to attempt to close the Breach between our world and the world that the Kaiju (the monsters) have been coming over from for seven years. Raleigh is joined by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s adopted daughter and a skilled fighter, among others.
In terms of spectacle, Pacific Rim is simply glorious, both in terms of practical and CG. The set design looks battle-scarred, yet functional. As for the stars of the picture, they are a sight to behold. The Kaiju are all CG (with the exception of some Kaiju corpses), but they’re damn good CG, at that. The same thing goes for the Jaegers. No matter how much I wished they were practical, I was still blown away by all the intricate cogs, mechanisms, joints, etc., that make up the Jaegers, or the parts we could see, anyway. I could also wax rhapsodical about the naturalistic lighting during the Jaeger-Kaiju fight sequences and how oddly gorgeous the robots and monsters look partially lit up by the lights of Hong Kong, but we’ve got other things to move on to.
The tropes, however, are all around. There’s the opening montage of news and found footage recapping the early years of the war. It may seem like the easiest way to telegraph prior events and get the audience up to speed rather than throw them straight into the middle of a Jaeger-Kaiju battle to figure things out for themselves. The B-action movie lines (i.e., “Take these flare guns and do something stupid!”) are on the campy side, but they certainly provide for laughs, especially when paired with the on-screen action. As for the characters, they’re all familiar. You’ve got the geeky and plucky scientist who is willing to take risks at personal harm (Charlie Day), his stuck-up and brainy co-worker (Burn Gorman), the black market shyster (Ron Perlman), the hot shot pilot (Rob Kazinsky), and many others, including the already mentioned cast members. And it helps that you’ve got the recognizable Clifton Collins Jr. in a supporting capacity and Ellen McLain as the voice of the Jaeger AI. Nothing beats having GLaDOS (or something near to GLaDOS) as your AI’s voice, unless you’re willing to consider HAL 9000.
But while the film flaunts these strengths, it also has its weaknesses, namely the tropes and a lack of del Toro’s signature flair. Even though the tropes are on the familiar side or are a twist on what would be expected of them, the fact that they’re tropes reduces the impact and originality of the characters. For such an original film – yet one that exists as an homage to the giant monster genre – to rely on such tropes, it takes away from the overall originality of the concept. As for the creatures, they lack what most theater-goers have come to expect from del Toro in recent years: practical effects. Sure, the Kaiju parasites may induce some squeamishness, but they’re minuscule compared to the stature of the Kaiju and Jaegers. The Kaiju may have a tinge of del Toro’s practical creature designs that we’ve come to recognize from the Hellboy films and Pan’s Labyrinth, but nothing can top the horror of seeing The Pale Man, The Faun, or the Angel of Death, among others – but that could be attributed to Doug Jones, the man under the makeup and animatronics in some of del Toro’s recent features.
All in all, Pacific Rim is, for fans of mech-centric geekery and kaiju films, a smorgasbord of delight, and a fun yet wild ride for those who aren’t as well-versed in the world of mechs and kaiju.