On Saturday, 13 July 2013, I met Josh C. at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10 for a morning matinee of Pacific Rim. The kaiju movie was entertaining, and even though it might not have the most original story of the year, it was a nice change from other franchise entries.
I’ve been a fan of giant monster movies since childhood, with the Japanese Godzilla and Gamera in their kid-friendly prime back in the 1970s. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the more serious allegories around the rubber-suited actors and remote-control vehicles tromping through meticulously detailed urban dioramas.
Plot: In Pacific Rim, huge aliens (kaiju) invade Earth through a dimensional rift in the seabed. Humanity builds giant robots (jaegers, or hunters) in response, but the nascent world government decides to shut the program down and instead spend resources on giant walls around vulnerable cities. Let the battles begin!
As with most monster movies, the kaiju represent the result of environmental destruction, and humanity must band together to remedy the situation. There are conspiracies, setbacks, and massive mayhem, but the heroes eventually realize what must be done….
Cast: All the archetypes of kaiju films (and their siblings in anime) are present: the hotshot pilot, the grizzled veteran, the cute but kickass girl, the mad scientists, and a few more sketchy characters needed to ultimately figure out the enemy’s motivations.
Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam plays Raleigh Becket, a onetime jaeger co-pilot who is brought back for a last stand against the kaiju. He’s a pretty straightforward hero, mentored by the charismatic Idris Elba (Thor) as Stacker Pentecost and partnered with the winsome Mako Mori as Rinko Kikuchi, who has also suffered personal loss.
More noteworthy are Charlie Day channeling J.J. Abrams as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman as Geiszler’s sparring partner Gottleib. Hellboy‘s Ron Perlman, no stranger to monsters or director Guillermo del Toro, nearly steals the movie as the flashy Hannibal Chau, a dealer in kaiju organs.
While there is some token character development, Pacific Rim rightly focuses on the monsters and robots. Each jaeger crew is a national stereotype (but without the jingoism of many U.S. action flicks), and there are few surprises but many thrills in the ensuing fights, both in and out of the jaegers.
Direction: Del Toro wears his love on his sleeve for the same movies I grew up on. He keeps a brisk pace to the action and avoids overindulging in romantic subplots or too much pseudoscience. Flashbacks provide exposition, and while older monster movies relied on long stretches of exposition, Pacific Rim doles out explanations throughout its runtime.
Del Toro also avoids the “found footage,” shaky-cam style that had become popular with The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Troll Hunter, allowing us to see full-body shots of the kaiju-jaeger battles, which were nicely choreographed. There are also some good human-scale duels.
Visual effects: Speaking of scale, while the monsters and robots are rendered with computer-generated imagery, they are more ponderous and distinguishable than in the recent Transformers flicks. The design of each kaiju resembles a real animal, and each jaeger design is unique. I can easily see toys or models based on these being popular.
Sure, there is massive urban destruction in Pacific Rim, but unlike Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, or Man of Steel, it’s a necessary part of this subgenre, and attempts are clearly made to evacuate affected areas in advance.
Musical score: The original Gojira still hasn’t been matched, but the soundtrack helped propel the action. Pacific Rim‘s action-filled opening and end credits (which I’d compare with those of Django Unchained) were also well done.
Ratings: I’d give Pacific Rim, which is rated PG-13 for violence and language, a B+, three and a half out of five stars, or an 8 out of 10. It was one of the most satisfying action movies of this year so far, and I’m glad that it wasn’t a sequel or a reboot.
I’d recommend Pacific Rim to any fan of kaiju, giant robots, or action-filled speculative fiction. We also saw several trailers, of which only the fantasy Seventh Son (not to be confused with the Orson Scott Card novels) looked interesting of those I hadn’t seen before. The next movie I hope to catch in the theater is the dystopian Elysium, and I look forward to the next iteration of Godzilla.