July 12, 2013
United States (English, Japanese, Cantonese)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by del Toro & Travis Beacham
Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is the heavily rendered result of so much that has come before it. It's a unifying effort (onscreen and off) capable of locking jaws and expanding ocular cavities. In a nutshell, motion pictures may have just reached a new level of astoundment.
Pacific Rim blew the speakers, screen and roof off the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where I was lucky enough to catch the latest monster movie from Guillermo del Toro last evening. This is del Toro's eighth feature film, most of which have featured fantastical and frightening creatures, both those who go bump in the night and in many cases those who go bump back. The two giants invited to the ball are the Kaiju and the Jaeger. The film begins with a definition of each (noting their respective Japanese and German origins) as they are literally translated: Kaiju = strange beast, Jaeger = hunter.
Five minutes in we're knee-deep in an ocean of exposition. Science-fiction films all over this year are completely unapologetic with this. Oblivion, After Earth, and Europa Report all blasted us from the get-go. It works well here with the combination of cinematic highlights and news footage (both real and fabricated) set to the committed tough-guy-act narration courtesy of Charlie Hunnam who plays Raleigh Becket. Raleigh and his brother co-pilot one of the Jaeger, a skyscraper-sized mechanical robot (mecha) that the nations of the world have joined forces to build. These are our single greatest defense against a race of beasts that have emerged from a portal deep in the Pacific Ocean, the Kaiju. Their ferocity and agileness make the original Godzilla look like an grandma with a walker in comparison. This is just a small sample of the explanations that will be hurled your way. For the un-indoctrinated I imagine it will feel akin to drinking from a fire hose. Don't get too caught up in the brush, all you need to know is the robots are trying to keep the dragon at bay. All this foundation is laid so that ten minutes in we're watching the Becket brothers take on a Kaiju in the middle of the Pacific. Both monsters are massive enough that they're knee-deep in the ocean. It is as spectacular as that sounds.
Pacific Rim is very much two movies in one. There's the corridor striding and control room standing that we've seen over the years in similar subject matter. The going-ons between Becket and his commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) at bases in Alaska, and later in Hong Kong, are where the preparations are made and laid. Rinko Kikuchi (from Babel and The Brothers Bloom) is introduced as Stacker's assistant, and not a moment too soon as her character is the only adorable thing to be found in this otherwise manly world melded together from technology and fantasy. Kikuchi plays Mako Mori (are you loving these names yet?), a top of her class cadet in the Kaiju Wars and she is placed opposite Becket to nobody's surprise.
A couple scientists (played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) fill in the caricatured roster. They're as over-the-top bumbling brainiacs as Elba and the rest are testosterone-toting macho macho men. It's far easier to handle than the drama on display in what we put up with as kids, but still feels like a necessary character-constructing grind we need to get through before we can watch more mecha on kaiju action. Oh, and the littlest of moments in the largest of fights payoff remarkably well. You'll remember those after with a fond grin. As much as I wished the entire two hours were non-stop mega action I think my ears needed the breaks. (Though thankfully not my eyes as it is all visualized clearly and, thank the hair of Guillermo's toes, from an acceptable distance!) As blunt and simple as the relationship between Raleigh and Mako appears, they have enough chemistry to spark a human connection that we can actually root for in the face of an impending doomsday. Idris Elba is a father figure to both and further adds fuel to that relationship. We are occasionally offered glimpses inside character's minds; Mako's backstory is instantly an iconic and incredible memory that is used to carefully triangulate the aforementioned bonds.
We've heard cases of "Avatar Blues." God knows I've experienced some "Shire Deprivation." Well, we're going to have a whole new case of something to diagnose for Pacific Rim. It's the kind of show I want to wake up early every Saturday morning and behold, sitting before the TV in my undies, cradling a bowl of Cap'n Crunch cereal. It's the love-child of Ishirō Honda's timeless Gojira and the lumbering leviathans that Ray Harryhausen brought to life in a number of pictures. It's perfect that the film is dedicated to these two masters of the medium. Infuse decades-worth of manga and anime and you'll get even closer to what this is. The result is any boy's feverish wet dream, a world of colossal robots that must do battle with what is essentially a species of highly evolved dinosaurs for the fate of our race. It's the stuff that daydreams and nightmares are made of. Pacific Rim is so gargantuan-ly awesome that I'm having a hard time thinking of anything more ridiculously radical. This is a instant Kaiju classic for the genre's history books folks. My very being gyrates at the prospects of it in IMAX 3D (the LACMA is not equipped with such ammunition). If any of this sounds up your alley, do your inner child a terrific favor and seek out Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim this weekend! Hats off to this vision and the troops upon troops of visual effects soldiers that brought it all to life.
"In order to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own."
- Raleigh Becket
CONTENT: intense sci-fi action throughout and some language