An orgy of special effects and colossal fun, Pacific Rim is director Guillermo del Toro’s super-sized homage to Godzilla and other kaiju (Japanese for “strange beast”) films, as titanic alien creatures battle humanity’s arsenal of giant mechanical men with the fate of the world in balance.
Buildings are leveled and bridges destroyed. Cars and jets crushed. Ships tossed around like toys. And that’s before the opening credits.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro. A Warner Brothers release, playing at Cinemark Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons, and Woodland Mall. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout and brief language.
Running time: 131 minutes.
Critic’s Rating ★★★★
Raleigh Becket .......... Charlie Hunnam
Stacker Pentecost .......... Idris Elba
Mako Mori .......... Rinko Kikuchi
Del Toro doesn’t waste time getting to the good stuff, as opening narration by the film’s main protagonist Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) gets us quickly up to speed: aliens from another dimension created a portal from their world to ours in the Pacific Rim, and are pushing through mega behemoths to obliterate humanity. Mankind responded to the threat with towering giants of its own: jaegers (German for hunter), armed super robots controlled by two human pilots (one for each hemisphere of the body) neurologically linked to the machine and to each other.
The jaegers were our salvation and their pilots became rock stars to a weary population desperate for good news amid the global devastation.
But our success against the kaiju was shortlived, as the monsters evolved into bigger, faster, and smarter weapons of mass destruction, thinning the jaeger ranks and leaving world leaders desperate for a new strategy.
Stacker, the officer in charge of the jaeger project, refuses to mothball the metal titans, convinced the armored defenders represent humanity’s best hope.
In need of a veteran pilot for a daring mission to permanently end the kaiju threat, Stacker tracks down Raleigh, an elite jaeger who dropped out of service and disappeared after the death of his copilot brother during a fierce kaiju battle. Raleigh is working construction on gigantic walls designed to keep the kaiju out of major cities, but which thus far have proven ineffective. Stacker convinces the wayward hero to return, but finding another pilot to join him isn’t as easy.
The new recruits are a sorry bunch, but their qualified trainer Mako (Rinko Kikuchim, an Oscar nominee for Babel) wants to fight the kaiju, and Raleigh wants her as his copilot. But she is forbidden by Stacker to join the jaegers for reasons which, of course, are later revealed.
Also part of the team are a hotheaded ace pilot named Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), who thinks Raleigh is a quitter, and the bickering duo of biologist Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and mathematician Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) — each of whom is working on a means to stop the increasing kaiju invasion while determined that the other is wrong.
Day and Gorman are the film’s comic relief, along with Ron Perlman (the titular horned hero in del Toro’s Hellboy films) as a sleazy entrepreneur profiting off pieces of dead kaiju sold on the Hong Kong black market.
It’s all silly stuff with saving-the-world speeches, dialogue about overcoming personal adversity, and cardboard characters with a backstory so that we feel emotionally connected to them. Depending on one’s fondness for kaiju movies, these cartoonish elements of the script by Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans) and del Toro represent significant underdevelopment or should be taken as sly nods to a genre of films remembered for men in monster suits and not for the actors.
A valid question is this: In a movie about giant gladiators wreaking havoc in their life-and-death battles, do nuances in plot, character development, and dialogue really matter? This is a movie about summer escapism. It’s about extreme at almost every point. As the film’s own tagline suggests, “Go Big or Go Extinct.”
And so del Toro does, crafting an experience built for the big screen. And the bigger the better — this is IMAX and 3-D recommended — to fully appreciate the immense scale of the production and the fantastic visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic, the company’s best work in years.
The slow-motion CGI death matches and destruction sequences are kaiju porn to fanboys, but the battles aren’t so frenetic that they’re difficult to process. And there is just enough monster mayhem (sea beasts, lunging beasts, even a flying beast) to maintain audience enthusiasm, even during the film’s mid-act pause from the destruction for human interaction and character arcs, no doubt a necessity to help curb the budget.
The knock on Pacific Rim is that it’s a movie made for fanboys. So what if it is? In May, 1998, we had to suffer through a Godzilla debacle made for the masses that appealed to no one. (Let’s hope they get it right for next year’s reboot.)
Pacific Rim is the Godzilla movie that should have been.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.