For different reasons (former anime obsession, love of Japanese horror/monster films, an admiration for Guillermo del Toro’s stylistic choices as director) the movie I’ve most anticipated coming out this year is Pacific Rim. For those of you that aren’t geeks/nerds, or that don’t follow upcoming movies at all, Pacific Rim is about giant monsters coming out of a fissure in the Pacific ocean to destroy us, and the giant robots that mankind built to fight them. Giant robots fighting giant monsters. Got that?
I’m not going to give a summation of the movie, if you want to know what it’s about watch a trailer. Or, if you want a laugh, watch Conan O’Brien’s review of the trailer. Also, I should note that my review is spoiler free.
My expectations for this movie could not have been any higher. Having seen a buttload of mecha anime in my day, I couldn’t wait to see a big budget live action version on a huge screen. I wanted it to look spectacular, be a little fun, and have some heart. Those expectations, for the most part, were met.
Let’s start off with the story and characters, because to me, that’s the most important part. You can have a movie about giant robots battling giant monsters, but without a good plot and decent, fleshed-out characters, then it’s just a bunch of ‘Rawr! Stomp! Crush!’ followed by ‘Punch! Pound! Destroy!’ with perhaps a dash of ‘Hahaha, giant monster, I will kill you with my giant robot laser-gun-thingy!’. Er…you get the idea.
The plot is pretty much what you’d expect; giant monsters arrive, mankind is defenseless and has to build giant robots to defeat them (because our puny planes and tanks are no match for giant monsters, of course). Don’t go into it expecting Shakespeare and you’ll probably be fine. That’s not to say the plot is bland, but it’s predictable. The stakes continually become higher throughout the film, but they are essentially the same stakes. One thing that I did appreciate was that they started off the story after this invasion of Kaiju (the name for the giant alien beast in the film, taken from the Japanese meaning ‘strange beast’, it’s a genre of Japanese monster flicks that Pacific Rim pays an homage to) has been going on for a while. The world we are presented with is a world where people are used to entire cities being destroyed on a regular basis, and although this does unite the world (at least the countries around the pacific rim which are most effected the Kaiju) it doesn’t really change the basic nature of mankind. There’s still commercialism, profiteering, egotistical asshats, and generally idiotic government leaders.
Characters. Well, there are some in this film. Usually in these types of movies (big budget action flicks) characters are reduced to caricatures, in that they are more representative of a person than an actual person, with their own likes, dislikes, flaws, past history, etc. I’ve read some reviews where people have praised del Toro for the characters in the movie, but I think that, as with the plot, they’re fairly typical. There is an effort to give the main characters a back-story (Raleigh and Mako are the most fleshed out, but Stacker is well-written too) and I enjoyed them. The supporting characters are a little more one dimensional, with a few momentary exceptions. Perhaps it’s just me, but I didn’t fully connect with any of the characters; possibly because I was so excited about seeing the movie I just couldn’t get beyond that to get involved with it more than ‘OMG, Pacific Rim! I’m watching it!’ Maybe upon a second viewing I’ll feel differently. That isn’t to say that I was disappointed, just that the character development didn’t go beyond my expectations for this type of movie.
Now, on to the more ‘movie’ things. The sets and special effects were kick-ass, the look and the feel of the film was consistent throughout. One of the things I love del Toro for is his way to make a film have a certain tone to it simply by utilizing colors, lighting, set design and costume; he’s great at making all of that stuff come together. Cinematography was best in the quieter moments, during the action scenes everything was a blur. There were a few scenes in which I was in awe of; one being where you see the Jaeger (that’s what they call the giant robots, I kind of prefer the term ‘giant robot’ but that’s just me) coming from a distance and you just see the scale of the thing and think ‘oh shit, that’s a beautiful giant robot’ (or at least I did).
The acting was decent. I felt as if some people did a better job than others. I was particularly in awe of Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost; he wasn’t just connected to his character, he was his character. The main leads did a great job too; I loved Rinko Kikuchi, but sometimes felt like Charlie Hunnam could have brought a little more to it, but that could have been the writing more so than his acting. Charlie Day was hilarious (of course) even though his character was one of the more one dimensional characters in the movie (but at least his character wasn’t just window dressing and contributed to the plot).
Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It kept me engaged and met my unreasonably high expectations (of seeing awesome giant robots and awesome giant monsters). In short, if you’re looking for something with an intriguing plot and fantastic character development, you might not enjoy Pacific Rim. But if you want to see some giant robots kick some giant monster ass, this is the movie to see. And really, what’s better than giant robots kicking giant monster ass? Not much.