I’ve spoken on the subject of sleeper hits before, or rather films that appear to be flops before they hit theaters but suddenly become massive successes. Even though the film I’ll be looking at today doesn’t technically fit into that description, as it was beat out it’s opening weekend by Grown Ups 2, it had all the makings of flipping the tables on the blockbuster season. But where did this film go wrong? Was it just luck of the draw, or was this film robbed of its chance to shine in the sun?
Let’s take a look at latest Guillermo del Toro project, Pacific Rim.
Pacific Rim is about the near future, where monsters labelled Kaijus come through a portal in the Pacific’s rim (get it?) and destroy cities. In retaliation, they make giant robots called Jaegers. However, the strain of piloting the massive machines was too much for a single person, so they set up a two-person system. But slowly the Kaiju get stronger and appear with more frequency, causing Jaegers to break down and their pilots to be killed.
In a last ditch attempt to close the portal, the four remaining Jaegers are called in to try and close the portal forever even after previous attempts have failed. They get retired pilot Raleigh Becket, who stopped fighting after his brother was killed in combat, to take up the mantle of the Jaeger once more, and from there, the story unfolds as humanity fights its final battle for survival. In this review there will be no spoilers because I truly believe that this is a film worth seeing, so you’ll have to find out what happens the hard way, or read the Wikipedia page.
One of the things that I love the best about this film is the character of Mako Mori. Often these sci-fi action films on the Hollywood epic scale have walking sex objects or women simply milling around in the background. That’s not to say they didn’t have interesting character moments or well written dialogue but women have never been the main focus like their male counterparts, and certainly not treated like people first and eye candy second. This film has turned that around with this character.
Mako is brilliant, a strong fighter, and has a complex past. She’s never paraded around like a sex object – no one treats her like just a love interest or an object of lust. She’s respected for her intelligence and no one objects to her becoming a pilot based on the fact that she’s a woman, but still remains feminine. In fact, her gender is never brought up in either a negative or a positive. The fact that she is a capable, intelligent, emotionally complex woman of color who is front and center for the majority of the film shows how seriously this movie takes its characters and how it isn’t buying into the same ridiculous portrayal of women that has dominated the silver screen for way too long.
This film seems to take a lot of inspiration from other popular sources, like the various Gundam series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and, some have argued, Attack on Titan. Though I haven’t found that any of these theories have been confirmed or denied by either the director or co-screen writer, it is pretty obvious that some of the film was inspired by the Japanese films of old and even some 1970s and 1980s American films. People often complain about how the Russian and Chinese teams come off as stereotypical caricatures but that’s what I remember from the classic action films of the day. That’s not to say this device works well within the film, but it as something I recognized as something reminiscent of those older films, and I really did enjoy the small touches of genre cliches here and there.
If you expect to go into this film that is full of world building and have dialogue stuffed to the brim with exposition, you may or may not be pleasantly surprised. This film doesn’t waste time with long discourses on why the world is the way it is, because for the most part they leave it up to the audience to figure out or just accept. Why would people build houses around Kaiju bones? What is Kaiju-blue and what are the side effects on humans? Why would people want to buy Kaiju parts, or ever view them as so harmless we make them into mascots? These are all questions that are never answered, and if you can live with that, then you’ll have no problem enjoying the film to the fullest – it certainly didn’t deter me. Some can find that this world with so many questions come of as too confusing and not well defined enough to be plausible and thus detract from their enjoyment.
In terms of acting, I’m not going to say that this film has performances that would rival, say, Citizen Kane. There are good performances in the movie, such as Rinko Kikuchi as Mako, Charlie Day as Kaiju-crazy Dr. Newton Geiszler and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, the head of the Jaeger operation. Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh is pretty good, though his moping just makes him come as the emotional jaded badass, which is fine but just isn’t as interesting. Ron Perlman, as black market dealer Hannibal Chau, and Robert Kazinsky as Chuck Hansen, an Australian Jaeger pilot, are the most wooden of the cast mostly because their parts are flat and uninteresting. However, in my opinion, none of the performances take away from the overall experience of the film, and the powerful screenwriting is more than enough to push this movie through.
This film looks glorious, and I wouldn’t expect any less from del Toro, the master of creative visuals. I went to see the film in 3D and it looked really good, but nothing would be lost if you saw it either in the IMAX or 2D, though I imagine the IMAX is amazing. The Jaegers are creatively designed, with different abilities and in different generations. The Kaiju are also incredibly diverse and look threatening and other-worldly, taking inspiration from aquatic and reptilian life to make them unique but also familiar. Del Toro turns away from the new standard of grim and dark looking worlds that have become popular in the wake of Nolan’s Batman series and takes us to one that’s brightly lit and full of color. In fact, the film achieves a gritty realism by not being dingy and grey, but by portraying the bleak and the colorful as co-existing in one world. This movie excels at drawing in its audience as soon as the first frame crosses the screen, and doesn’t let go until the very end.
There are not enough words in the English language to describe how good of a movie Pacific Rim is and how badly you need to put down the computer and get your butt to your local theater to enjoy a high quality film. I am giving it a five in spite of its minor flaws because it is an overall great film which brings the same action packed sci-fi fun I remembered from The Avengers. I stress that not everyone loved the film the way I did – some didn’t expect a monster vs. robot epic, some found there wasn’t enough human drama, and some just thought it fell short in terms of story, acting, etc. However, I still encourage you to see it because, in all likelihood, you will be singing its praises too.
– Great writing and plot.
– Spectacular visuals.
– Great world building.
– Performances are a mixed bag.
– Some questions remain unanswered.