Pacific Rim review

Tonight’s main event, Gipsy Danger vs. Leatherback.

With a production budget believed to be close to $200 million, Pacific Rim comes across as an expensive worldwide wrestling event, in 3D no less (post-converted). Co-written by Travis Beacham and directed by Guillermo del Toro; as a homage to monster movies, del Toro cites inspirations such as the original Godzilla and anime such as Tetsujin 28. However, he also notes his love for Mexican wrestling. The participants in Pacific Rim are robots and monsters, but they also have eccentric names and signature moves, with those piloting the robots being celebrated and appearing on TV shows.

Legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from a dimensional portal beneath the Pacific Ocean. How no one spotted this portal to begin with is anyone’s guess. With the Kaiju spreading wanton destruction and taking the lives of millions around the globe, humanity fights back, setting up the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC), building Jaegers, giant robots controlled simultaneously by two pilots working together.

Piloting Gipsy Danger, the US based Jaeger, is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his older brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff). However, after Raleigh loses his brother during a battle with a Kaiju, he retires. The year is now 2025 and with the Kaiju getting bigger and smarter, humanity is losing the war. After the governments shift their funding from the PPDC to build large scale walls, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) recruits as many Jaeger pilots to a resistance base in Hong Kong, including bringing Raleigh back after finding him living as a construction worker. Teaming him up with rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Stacker tells them his plan for one final assault that could destroy the portal.

Wowing audiences with visual effects is becoming more and more difficult these days. What have we not seen before? Thankfully we’re a long way from men in rubber suits. With the help of ILM, del Toro has created some utterly crazy sights here. It may be early but Pacific Rim is a dead cert for winning the Oscar for visual effects next year. The sight of a Jaeger and Kaiju battling amidst the neon-lit landscape of Hong Kong is undeniably gorgeous. Seeing Gipsy Danger dragging a ship across the street like a fallen hero, only to then thwack Otachi repeatedly across the face with it… it does look very cool.

Often the sight of CG characters having a scrap in live action films has failed to connect with me, largely because of the lack of any human element involved. In Pacific Rim del Toro makes sure you don’t forget it, constantly cutting back to the pilots of the Jaegers, reminding us of their emotional involvement in the battle and the lives at risk. So when a Jaeger does strike a Kaiju with a killer blow, you almost want to throw your fist in the air in joy… but you don’t because you might upset the person sat behind you. Pacific Rim also takes the time to have a little fun and show off its sense of humour amid the action – with a Jaeger searching for a pulse and two pilots voluntarily doing “something really stupid.”

The film promotes different nations coming together to help each other and adds to the idea of teamwork by scripting the decision to have the Jaegers controlled by two people instead of just one. The pilots are connected via a mental fusion known as the Drift, allowing them to enter each other’s minds so that they can be more in sync when controlling a Jaeger. “The deeper the bond, the better you fight,” says Raleigh. It allows for the characters to know more about their co-pilot, which in turn keeps the human element at the forefront of the film.

Raleigh Becket is the typical American hero played by Charlie Hunnam. Suffering loss and putting the needs of others before his own, he slots right into it and narrates for the audience. Rinko Kikuchi finally lands a choice blockbuster part as Mako Mori. Adapt at showcasing vulnerability (a bad memory comes to the surface when she first ‘Drifts’ with Raleigh), she also proves that she’s just as capable of kicking-ass alongside her male co-stars. Authority figure Stacker Pentecost is played by Idris Elba, mostly calm and respectful of his crew (he bows before Mako). We hardly see him in combat, but Elba’s commanding presence is enough to signal that you don’t want to mess with him. Also del Toro’s regular cohort Ron Perlman gets to be his usual bad-ass, scene stealing self, as black market Kaiju parts dealer Hannibal Chau.

For its stereotypical research scientists, it seems that del Toro couldn’t decide on whether to go for the smartly dressed physicist or the bespectacled biologist, so they’re both included as comic relief. Charlie Day plays the black tie, Kaiju fanatic, Newton Geiszler; a bit like a cooler Rick Moranis type, updated for the new millennium and sporting tattoos. Upon entering Hannibal’s lair, he’s like a collector in awe of another collector, even using the words “mint condition.” Burn Gorman plays his work partner Herman Gottlieb, who bizarrely still uses a chalkboard in 2025.

If you haven’t already gathered from the (mostly) stereotypical characters, Pacific Rim is following a plot template we’ve experienced many times before. Borrowing a lot of gung-ho, boys-own heroics from Independence Day, Transformers, Aliens, and Top Gun, there are also clear references to the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Voltron. Hell, some scenes even manage to evoke memories of SNK’s King of the Monsters series. The film suffers from a case of predictability, for you know exactly how it’s going to play out and wait for certain moments to happen.

There’s the expected rivalry between Raleigh and fellow pilot Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), going through the break-up, fisticuffs and make-up routine that guys do. After the threat of Kaiju in Hong Kong we know full well that Gipsy Danger is going to join the fight. Then there’s the conclusion, which does admittedly look fantastic, but is very by the book. Plus there’s the usual action blockbuster shot of a control room full of extras looking like they’re busy doing something important, when really only about four of them are actually doing any real work (it’s no secret).

One could argue that for del Toro, maybe the stereotypical characters and expected plot tropes merely allow the film to be the ideal homage to the Kaiju monster movies that inspired him. Unfortunately the drawback to this is the lack of any real surprise.

For anyone that spent their childhood playing with action figures and monster toys, this is the kind of film you’ve been waiting for. As for the child that is currently playing with action figures and monsters, they’ll probably proclaim Pacific Rim to be the best thing they’ve ever seen. The film even alludes to the expected merchandise to follow, with the opening featuring Jaeger toys. By taking what we know and pushing it to the extreme Pacific Rim stands as an overly sugar coated cliché, but it’s one where the style is just as much a part of the substance. I guess that makes it… the giant fizzy cola bottle of summer blockbusters?

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