+Awesome fight scenes
+Great special effects
+Above average character development
+Mostly good acting
-Some weak plot elements
-In many ways conventional
-Bland main character
Other films by Guillermo del Toro: Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman
Genre: Science Fiction, Giant Monster, Mecha
There's many reasons why someone would go see Pacific Rim; whether it be fans of Guillermo del Toro, fans of the cast, etc. But the biggest reason, I think we can all admit, to why we went to watch Pacific Rim, is to see giant mechs fights giant monsters. And if that's the case then I think it's hard to argue that Pacific Rim didn't satisfy.
The story is fairly straight-forward: through a portal in the sea giant monsters from another dimension come out and attack cities, killing millions. Humanity, in response to this new threat, combine their resources and create a new weapon to combat the kaijus: giant mechs, called Jaegers, that require two pilots. Awesome fighting ensues.
The plot isn't of much substance. Last month's Monsters University followed a less conventional plot progression. But that's not quite the appeal of Pacific Rim. The appeal is, mostly, getting to see giant mechs fights giant monsters. Of course when it comes to giant monsters Pacific Rim is following a long line of Japanese kaiju eiga like the Godzilla and Gamera series, and it's also following the recent resurgence of Giant Monster films like Cloverfield, The Host, The Troll Hunter, Super 8, et al. And when it comes to mecha Pacific Rim finds obvious inspiration from anime series like Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo, Mazinger Z, Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and countless others along with various tokusatsu shows. But one realizes that when it comes to live-action mecha films there is a severe shortage. Sure there were efforts here and there like Gunhed or Robot Jox, and even Michael Bay's Transformers can loosely fit the bill, but there's never really been an all out true mecha film shot in live-action yet in the vain of anime. Which is why when Pacific Rim came along not only Giant Monster fans took notice, but Mecha fans as well. And fans like me can only hope that Pacific Rim, along with next year's Godzilla reboot, ushers in a new generation of mecha and kaiju films.
If anyone had the balls to not only make one of the first big mecha films but to combine it with kaiju eiga as well it surely has to be Guillermo del Toro. He's a director that has shown passion in every project he has worked on and just from listening to him talk about Pacific Rim for a few minutes it would be hard to disagree with him being both knowledgeable and appreciative of the genres he is paying homage to. It's hard to imagine a Godzilla fan or a Gundam fan not being satisfied with this film.
While the concept is genius, the film follows countless plot and character conventions. Our main character here, played by Charlie Hunnam, is so absolutely bland, generic, and even unlikable that it actually hurts the film quite a bit. On top of that you have your standard progression and conflicts and dramatic moments. There's a romantic sub-plot that is hardly present enough to be considered a sub-plot, which is a good thing. It's very brief and it's actually done fairly well in that it's much subtler than many other films with romantic sub-plots. The rival pilots sub-plot, which seemed both unnecessary and randomly resolved. And, perhaps most disappointing, there is your seen-it-a-thousand-times-before Hollywood ending that leaves us with little to think about after the film. The idea of having a single Jaeger require two pilots that have to be perfectly compatible and able to go into each others' minds does add an interesting twist to the story and to the way the characters develop but I felt it missed some potential. But this film has other elements which are strong enough that it can survive with a lackluster plot.
This film is absolutely beautiful. Not necessarily beautiful in, let's say, a Tarkovsky or Kubrick sort of way, or even in a Pan's Labyrinth-The Devil's Backbone del Toro sort of way. It's beautiful in a very epic grandeur sort of way. The special effects, a combination of practical and CGI though the actual monsters and mechs are much more the latter, are some of the best of all-time. At no point does it look like it was generated in a computer. The CGI looks real, it looks detailed, it looks impressive, and, above all, it is blended well with everything else. Giant shiny mechs fighting giant monsters rising out of the ocean has a great stylistic potential and del Toro definitely realized it.
The fight scenes are thrilling. I've been a fan of Giant Monster films my entire life and I can easily say that I never thought I'd get to see something like this. It's stunning. And perhaps the best part of the fight scenes is that del Toro wisely chose to let the camera sit back and show us the fights from a wide shot, rather than a series of dizzying close-ups like so many modern action films utilize. The director allows us to see all the action in frame and only a few times did I feel the close-ups were somewhat convoluted. The editing is definitely great and compliments the action well. Somewhat disappointing, and something that everyone seems to be commenting on, is that pretty much all the fight scenes take place at night while it's raining or deep in the ocean. I do admit it would have been nice to see some more varied time of days during the fights, but here's the thing: giant mechs look extremely cool when they're dark and wet. Just saying.
I do wish that there was some more focus put on other countries' Jaegers. Clearly each country's mech had a unique design and I wish they were explored more. The film mostly focuses on America's Gipsy Danger, and we also get to see a bit of the British Striker Eureka, the Russian Cherno Alpha, the Japanese Coyote Tango, and China's Crimson Typhoon. I just wish there was a bit more focus placed on the latter Jaegers, or even on some of the Jaegers who weren't featured in the film at all. Which brings me to my next point...
Great concept and average plot aside, Pacific Rim hosts a massive and intriguing universe with the potential for nearly limitless additions to its world and lore. Just look at some of the awesome Jaegers that we didn't really get to see in the film: Tacit Ronin, Matador Fury, Shaolin Rogue, Vulcan Specter, and more. All these are official Jaegers that are in the Pacific Rim universe, but just haven't gotten the chance to have their story told yet. Another thing that could easily be elaborated is the alien dimension which the kaijus spawn from. In the film we find out that the monsters are actually being grown and harvested by aliens who desire to take over the world. This motive is a little boring, but the mystery of the alien world and the aliens themselves is very interesting and something that would be great to see in further detail. Pacific Rim certainly has a fascinating universe surrounding it, one that has potential to challenge the depths of something like the Star Wars universe.
And that's not even mentioning the smaller details that were included. Things like showing how there were religious cults formed around the kaijus, or how there were "Kaiju Groupies", or how an entire black market formed because of these monsters. That's superb attention to detail and a fine example of world-building.
The cast was varied, both in ethnicity and in talent. Charlie Hunnam, who plays the bland main character, is honestly, to me, not a very good actor. I haven't seen much of his other work but him and his character were likely the biggest disappointment of the film. Idris Elba steals the show here, both in performance and in character. His character , the commanding officer, has the most depth out of everyone (which makes sense being that he's the most experienced there) and this allows Elba to give emotion, intensity, and passion in his performance. Rinko Kikuchi, a Japanese actress, also does a very good job here. She plays the co-pilot of Hunman's character; her performance is interesting: you can tell just in her demeanor that she has a history to her and perhaps even a bit of trauma. She conveys simultaneous feelings of weakness and strength masterfully. It's nice to see a female with such a large role who is not a blatant sex symbol but is instead intelligent, in control, and easily one of the most psychologically deep characters of the entire film. And she's a non-American actor in a Hollywood movie to boot! Of course I can't forget the enjoyable cameos by Ron Perlman as the unforgettable Hannibal Chau, black marketer of kaiju body parts, or the scientist duo of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, all whom bring some well crafted comic relief to the film. The chemistry between Day and Gorman is good, and it's nice to see that these supporting "comic-relief" characters actually hold some weight in the plot rather than just being there to be there.
The score by Ramin Djawadi is sufficient. I think he could have taken a bit more inspiration from Akira Ifukube, but then again didn't he pretty much achieve the same thing? After watching a Godzilla movie you'll find yourself chanting the Godzilla Theme, and I can pretty much guarantee when you're through with Pacific Rim you'll find this little number stuck in your head.
I think proof that this film goes beyond typical big budget fare is one key scene. That scene is none other than the flashback scene where a young Mako (Kikuchi) is alone in an alleyway crying while a giant monster lurks around the corner. This scene not only holds psychological merit and tells us a lot about the character and the effect that these Kaiju have had on the populace (similar to how Ishiro Honda used a crying mother gripping her children before being killed in Gojira), but it's also probably the most intense scene in the entire film. And when a scene with a scared little girl crying is the most intense scene in a film filled with giant monsters fighting giant mechs I think it serves as clear indication that there is some good filmmaking at work.
It's a kaiju eiga-mecha epic. Some of the best action ever filmed and one of the best action films, one of the best Giant Monster films, one of the best mecha films, and perhaps even one of the best science fiction films of all-time. This is definitely one you want to see in the theater, preferably in IMAX or RPX, and I can definitely recommend the 3D as well. The type of people who think they'll like this film know who they are, and I'm telling you that this is worth seeing. It's not the most intelligent movie of all time, but it's arguably the most enjoyable.