**** (out of 5)
July 12, 2013
Charlie Hunnam as RALEIGH BECKET
Idris Elba as STACKER PENTECOST
Rinko Kikuchi as MAKO MORI
Charlie Day as DR. NEWTON GEISZLER
Burn Gorman as GOTTLIEB
Max Martini as HERC HANSEN
Robert Kazinsky as CHUCK HANSEN
Clifton Collins Jr. as TENDO CHOI
Ron Perlman as HANNIBAL CHAU
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
“Pacific Rim” is the latest attempt by Hollywood to bring a Kaiju movie to a mainstream audience, and it does a hell of a job at it.
“What’s a Kaiju movie?” you might ask. Well, you already know about Kaiju movies. Everyone knows about Kaiju movies, even if they aren’t aware they know what a Kaiju movie is. In short, they’re the giant monster movies we are most familiar with in Japanese cinema, featuring creatures like Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra and Rodan. They often feature massive metropolitan destruction and epic battles between beasts and/or robots of some form, like Ultraman or Mechagodzilla.
While most people are familiar with these films, the fan base in the West is relatively small (though very passionate). Even though Toho has made some pretty impressive modern Godzilla and Gamera films, they haven’t clicked over here in North America.
Guillermo del Toro is out to change that, and he’s doing so with “Pacific Rim.”
Following the pattern of giant monsters versus robots, and even using the term “Kaiju” repeatedly in the film to identify the massive beasts, “Pacific Rim” tells the story of an alien invasion. An interdimensional rift has opened near the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Giant creatures emerge periodically and attack the coastal cities, causing massive damage and death to tens of thousands. The human race fights back by building giant robots known as Jaegers to battle the Kaiju face-to-face. However, when the Jaeger program begins to be dismantled in favor of a protective wall, the remaining machines are gathered to protect cities from the latest onslaught of attacks.
There is more to the film than this, but for someone like me, I was sold with giant robots fighting giant monsters.
It’s not that this kind of film hasn’t been done before. Movies like the “Transformers” series, “Real Steel” and even movies like 2005’s “King Kong” and 1998’s “Godzilla” hint at this level of filmmaking. However, there’s a special touch that del Toro brings to “Pacific Rim.” His epic battle sequences and amazing special effects wrapped around glorious action make me forgive all the other faults of the movie.
In this sense, “Pacific Rim” isn’t a vacuous film, but the meat of the movie isn’t in character and plot. The overall story is pretty simple, serving only to propel the film from epic battle to epic battle. The characters aren’t bad – ranging from the interesting (e.g., Idris Elba as a military commander who has Jaeger experience) to the mundane (e.g., Charlie Hunnam as the troubled ex-pilot making a comeback) and from the forced (e.g., Rinko Kikuchi as the man-with-breasts token female seeking revenge) to the deliciously ludicrous (e.g., Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as dueling comic relief scientists studying the monsters). The acting is decent for about half the cast, and the other half (Hunnam and Kikuchi, specifically) performs at the level of a stereotypical Kaiju movie.
Still, I can forgive all that, and in doing so, I probably sound like some thick lunkhead who is whipped into a Baygasm frenzy over the latest “Transformers” movie. The difference, I feel, is that del Toro is a superior filmmaker to someone like Bay. He revels in the effects and action, but he keeps himself grounded in the reality of the story. Del Toro’s not filming a beer commercial; he’s making epic action art.
If you’ve seen enough of del Toro’s movies, you’ll recognize his touch, including the innovative creature design and the off-kilter comic relief (with Day and Gorman reminiscent of Seth MacFarlane’s turn as Johann Krauss in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”). The movie is quintessential del Toro, which makes it less mainstream but higher quality.
Still, getting back to its brilliant battles. Here’s where the twelve-year-old boy inside of me lit up. I had a blast watching it, and I recommend seeing it on as large of a screen as possible. It’s also worth seeing in 3D if you have that option.
It might be because I’ve been only mildly impressed with movies this summer, or it might be because the movie is really this much fun, but “Pacific Rim” is one of the few movies I’ve seen in recent months that actually did not let me down in some small way.
Dark and gritty, yet uplifting and triumphant, “Pacific Rim” is easily one of my favorite films of summer 2013.