After losing his chance to make The Hobbit, director Guillermo del Toro has at last got his hands on a Hollywood blockbuster with the 2013 monster science fiction film Pacific Rim. tentpole picture after impressing comic-book fans with a pair of Hellboy movies and the art-cinema circuit with Spanish-language film Pan's Labyrinth. Compared with del Toro's previous productions, which include the Hellboy movies and the critically acclaimed dark fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim is very mainstream.
The movie boils down to huge-scale effects involving giant robots and mammoth alien lizards fighting each other in an apocalyptic face-off. Though this may sound quite derivative, in many ways this movie actually has a lot going for it: a huge budget, top notch special effects, some decent characters, a couple of ok plot contrivances, and an ingenious director who injects fun while always maintaining the movie's forward momentum. All of this combines to make Pacific Rim better than its genre alone would suggest.
A breathless prologue introduces us to the context: Godzilla-type creatures, named "Kaiju", emerge from the ocean at increasingly frequent intervals to ravage major cities. These attacks kill many millions before humanity devises a weapons programme which calls for the construction of equally massive robots, called "Jaegers" (German for hunter), piloted by a pair of humans using a sketchily envisioned type of mind-meld, known as "The Drift", which creates a total mental exchange between the two pilots. The operation of the intricately-conceived Jagers receives a lot of attention; thanks to a masterful special-effects studio the audience can vividly feel every clank and punch despite their their entirely digital existence. The realisation of the initial, thunderous Kaiju/Jaeger battle is almost faultless, blending an appropriately staggering scale with the weighty solidity of the combatants.
This first Kaiju/Jaeger showdown, fought along the Alaska coast during a nocturnal hurricane, is intense, as star pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and his co-pilot and older brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) take on a fiersome adversary capable of biting through metal. This engagement concludes tragically with Yancy's death; Raleigh subsequently drops out of the Jaeger program. Desperation forces the program's macho commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), to again recruit Raleigh to co-pilot one of the four remaining Jaegers. Though Raliegh is reluctant to share his mind with someone other than his brother, he's eventually paired with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a beautiful Japanese candidate. Together this pair form the spearhead of the Jeager program's final push to save the world from smarter than anticipated monsters, and thereby prove that the program is humanity's only hope (instead of building huge coastal walls, apparently no one watched World War Z).
Along with the two key mad scientists, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, these characters are charged with carrying the film's dramatic power. Yet the lack of any real emotional depth or even a substantive plot leave the actors with very little to work with. In addition, though they are perhaps accomplished performers, certainly none of these actors are stars. This leaves the monsters and robots themselves as the real stars; the artifice completely eclipses the human input. Though this strategy can produce a satisfying movie, it also risks producing the souless, gratuitous movie that this genre has such a tendency to produce; at times Pacific Rim treads this line excessively.
However, for the most part del Toro's film feels lean and coherent while providing the impressive visual spectacle that such a big budget production should always provide. Keep your expectations modest and be sure to watch out for the crack at the Transformers franchise.
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