Despite all of the giant creatures, mammoth sized robots, and city crushing showdowns seen in its trailers, I wouldn’t allow myself to get too excited about “Pacific Rim”. I mean even with the much beloved director Guillermo del Toro in charge I still found ample reasons to be skeptical. I mean we are talking about giant monsters versus giant robots right? Yet I knew I would be seeing it. My 11 year old son was all onboard and my deep affection for those great sci-fi creature features of the 1950’s kept the film in the back of my mind.
Lets be honest, “Pacific Rim” is based on a pretty absurd concept. It’s also loaded with all of the ingredients for a ridiculous and corny picture. But the big surprise is that Guillermo del Toro is completely aware of it from the start. He embraces it, mocks it, and plays with it. That’s a huge reason that “Pacific Rim” is such a fun ride.
Storywise there’s really nothing here that you haven’t seen before. The script pulls parts from everything from “Independence Day” to “Top Gun” and it employs a number of the summer popcorn movie cliches that we see every year. Many of the characters are carbon copied from other films and their stories play out exactly as you would expect. It’s big and loud and there isn’t an ounce of subtlety anywhere in the movie.
But now that I have that stuff out of the way let me tell you why “Pacific Rim” is such a good film. I mentioned how del Torro plays with this familiar material. He makes this his own sandbox and builds a wildly entertaining experience regardless of it familiarity. His love for those wonderful big monster pictures is evident in this story of skyscraper sized creatures from beneath the Pacific Ocean. After major cities from around the globe fall to the devastating beasts known as Kaiju (a Japanese word meaning “strange creature”), the world comes together to create a line of defense. That defense is in the form of Jaegers, huge robots manned by two pilots connected via something akin to a Vulcan mind meld.
Idris Elba, an actor I really like, plays Stacker Pentecost (don’t you love that name?). He’s the commanding officer of the operation. Charlie Hunnan plays the risk-taking Raleigh who’s called back into service after a past tragedy. Rinko Kikuchi plays a very capable potential pilot whose shrouded in mystery. We even get Ron Perlman, a del Toro favorite, as a slimy black market seller of creature parts. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds but Perlman has a blast with it. There are also several other good characters sprinkled throughout the story who are surprisingly well fleshed out and a lot of fun.
Contrary to what you may think, this isn’t just a constant barrage of beast versus machine combat. Del Toro spends a lot of time unwrapping these characters which was surprisingly effective. In fact the entire middle portion of the movie gets away from the action and spends its time setting up relationships and building its characters. Most of the time this worked but honestly the movie did spin its wheels a little here. I felt it took a tad to much time away from the Jaegers and I was pretty happy when they were back in the picture. But I don’t want to downplay what he does with the characters. They are so much more well-rounded that I would imagine.
Still, the real meat and potatoes of “Pacific Rim” are the robots, monsters, and the enormous action set pieces surrounding them. And let me just say they look spectacular. The geek boy in me was giddy with pleasure whenever del Toro’s creations took center stage. The near flawless CGI is really something to behold. Clearly there is a ton of it, sometimes with full sequences of nothing put computer generated effects. But it looks so amazing and del Toro’s imagination shown in his creations is loads of fun. And even as preposterous as the whole thing was, I had absolutely no problem buying into all.
So what can I say? “Pacific Rim” really surprised me. Just like many others, I feared this could be just another of those mind-numbing “Transformers” films. Boy was I wrong. It’s good science fiction and it’s good storytelling. More importantly to me it’s a wonderful hearken back to an old genre of movies that I’m still crazy about. The 1950’s sci-fi creature features are movies that many modern moviegoers aren’t familiar with. Personally I love them and “Pacific Rim” shows me del Toro does too. Hats off to him.