I have been looking forward to Pacific Rim ever since the film was first noised around a year ago. When the news broke that Guillermo Del Toro was directing and wrote the story the excitement level went up a notch. Why you might ask?
First, I am a fan of Kaiju (Giant beast/monster) films going back to the seminal Japanese film Gojira in 1954. Sadly the genre has been badly underserved in recent years, with the only efforts in it being in anime style (and bad efforts at that). So the prospect of a new take on them perked up the interest.
Second, Guillermo Del Toro has a reputation for imaginative films. Granted sometimes he lets his imagination get the better of him and the resulting film is murky (Don’t be Afraid of the Dark) but he also has created some excellent films (Hellboy II: The Golden Army). He is known for films featuring intricate clockwork type mechanisms and bizarre monsters frequently from fairy tale type backgrounds.
So with the background, let’s take a look at Pacific Rim.
To summarize the film at a high level, it is about the struggle to defend humanity from an onslaught over several years of creatures called Kaiju in the film (yes they are actually called Kaiju). In desperation as normal defense methods prove fruitless, enormous combat robots called Jaegers (Hunters in German) are built to combat the creatures. The film focuses in on two Jaeger pilots and on the end of the war with the Jaeger corps down to its last strength.
So, after all that does it work? I say yes it does. Here are some of the reasons I liked it.
1.It actually has a humanity about it. This is typical for Del Toro and in such a large, epic story I questioned if he could bring it off and he did. The Jaeger pilots feel like real people and the fleeing masses in the cities under attack are also handled well, giving a real feeling of mass panic. Which lead to point #2…
2.The city attacks are VERY well executed. They really feel like a city is being torn apart with people trying to just hide and survive. This is an area where (for example) the Transformers movies failed miserably. Those movies made cities under attack feel like a soulless video game not a real place under devastating attack.
3.Ron Perlman did a GREAT turn in a supporting role as a sort of “smuggler”. Likewise most of the cast managed to inhabit their characters well. And most important, no one stunk the place up.
4.The Jaegers actually have personalities too, which is difficult to do for a machine. Their personalities don’t come from them talking or other such but rather how they are used in combat. For example, one of the Jaegers emphasizes speed and agility and has three arms all with sharp bladed weapons. Meanwhile another one is basically a battering ram. The “star” Jaeger is an older, refitted machine called Gipsy Danger. The way it fights and looks bring it across like a grizzled tough old warrior – it fits beautifully.
5.Like the Jaegers the Kaiju have personalities. Even better they adapt to the Jaegers over the course of the film. These factors make the fights much better – when a Kaiju goes down or a Jaeger goes down it actually has some impact. That is another area the Transformers films failed in – seeing a bot in those get destroyed had no impact.
6.The film does a good job at not having unexplained plot elements. For example, the reason Jaegers need two crew is cleverly explained. Along the same lines, we learn a lot about WHY the Kaiju act like they do and so on. And the film stays consistent with its own internal logic and setting.
For example, the two Jaeger pilots are joined together in a “neural handshake” while controlling the machine. It is explained that this interface was needed to give the Jaeger a fast enough reaction time and also that the resulting neural load was too much for one person – hence the two people joined. What is even cooler – and typical Del Toro – is that he uses this basic plot point in more than one place in the film to great effect.
7.This film does a superb job at correctly setting TONE. The lighthearted moments are properly setup in every way even down to the musical score (which by the way is great). Likewise the epic battle scenes are setup with momentus visuals and music that is a sort of throwback to the Ifubuke scores in the 1954 Gojira – the correct tone is set. Why is tone important? Simply put, inappropriate tone or wild fluctuations in it at wrong times can take the viewer right out of the film. Ask Bay and the Transformers gang – they made getting the tone wrong a trademark.
I know at this point it sounds like I think the movie is literally perfect. Well, there are a couple of places where to me it could have been better. For example, in a way the sound is almost too loud at times and got a touch thunderous. Also, there are more characters (both human and Jaeger) than the movie can adequately service in its running time. As a result, some characters get well developed and others are pretty much ignored. For example, it would have been nice to know a bit more about the Chinese and Russian Jaeger pilot teams. But these are minor gripes.
At the start of this review I called Pacific Rim “a love letter to Kaiju film fans”. That is because at its heart, this is a true Kaiju film in the Ishiro Honda “Gojira” tradition. The “feel” is right and it truly respects its source material (unlike the American Godzilla film some years back). And with that it is still pretty original – kind of a fusion of “Destroy all Monsters” with elements of Neon Genesis. I really enjoyed it – I hope you do also.