Friday, July 12, 2013
MOVIE REVIEW: Pacific Rim
Normally I don't write movie reviews for the website. The focus of my posts has been and always will be anime. However, I do love film as much as I love anime, and Pacific Rim happens to be a special case where anime and movie fans definitely overlap. Pacific Rim has been hyped up as a love letter to mecha anime and kaiju films, so basically this film was made for people like me, but more importantly, in a summer full of cynical bloated blockbusters, Pacific Rim manages to be the most fun and hopeful.
The movie begins with a prologue explaining the origins of the Kaiju, giant monsters who have risen from a portal beneath the Pacific Ocean, and how they laid waste to the major coastal cities of the world. Humanity is able to kill some Kaiju, but it takes them days just to kill one Kaiju, and the Kaiju continue to appear. Unable to stop the Kaiju from coming and in desperate need of new weapons, the Jaeger Program is born, and what the Jaeger Program is is giant robots that kick ass. For awhile, that's exactly what happened; the Jaegers kicked Kaiju ass and became heroes, until the Kaiju started to get smarter. This is where our main character, Raleigh Beckett, comes in. He's one of the two pilots of the American Jaeger known as Gipsy Danger. Jaegers are so big and complex that they require two pilots to mind-meld in something called the Drift, which is basically like having your memories jump into a pool with someone else's memories. Raleigh's co-pilot is his brother Yancy; they're considered to be among the best Jaeger pilots, which makes it all the more shocking when a Kaiju manages to kill Yancy in combat. Raleigh manages to kill the Kaiju, but the loss of his brother while being in the Drift with him is enough to keep Raleigh from entering a Jaeger for five years.
This all happens in about fifteen minutes. All of the backstory on the world that we need to understand the story is told in a small yet effective amount of time, and on top of that we get the first of some of the coolest robot-monster fights to be shown on the big screen. When Raleigh is asked to join the Jaeger program for an assault on the Kaiju portal so as to end the Kaiju War, we understand his hesitation to get back in the game; he doesn't want to suffer that same experience of losing someone again. But rather than drag out the film by having him ponder whether to fight or not, he re-joins almost immediately. The film understands the point of urgency and pacing, and to never let the film be bogged down in moodiness for too long, but it allows its characters to have emotional moments and never skips over them. For as much as a spectacle as the film is, and that is the best part of this film, underneath the spectacle is heart and humanity which is just as important.
Pacific Rim has a culturally diverse cast, fitting the theme of "all of humanity vs monsters"; there's a team of Chinese triplets who pilot a three-armed Jaeger called the Crimson Typhoon, Russian pilots with a rusty tank-like Jaeger, and an asshole Australian and his dad who own an adorable bulldog. There's also Idris Elba who plays the stern yet cool commander of the whole operation and his assistant Mako Mori, who plays a key role in the final fight for humanity. We don't get to know all these characters all that well, but even characters with limited screentime manage to leave a good impression with their memorably distinct looks and personalities. The main characters are simple, but to the film's credit it's a good thing; the film isn't aiming for a complex character piece, but instead a story about all of humanity banding together to take down a threat that's bigger than them all. There is conflict among the human characters, mostly between Raleigh and the hotshot Australian pilot who sees him as dead weight, but at the end of the day it's not a movie about how humanity is flawed and awful, something very refreshing. The biggest problem with the human characters is that you want to know more about them, but if the biggest problem is wanting more, then Pacific Rim must be doing something right.
So the story is good, the themes are positive and uplifting, but the big question on everyone's mind is how are the giant robot fights? They're great. They're easy to follow. There's a real sense of impact behind every punch, every plasma cannon shot, and every sword slash. Most importantly, they're creative; the Kaiju have a certain uniformity to them to show that they're from the same world, but at the same time they're all unique and have different ways of attacking the Jaegers, making sure that not every fight is a simple beatdown, though the beatdowns are a hell of fun too. Fans of movies like Godzilla and Gamera are sure to notice homages to past creatures in the Kaiju and fans of mecha anime like Giant Robo and Evangelion will notice similar homages in the robots, but the film doesn't settle for homages; the creatures and robots are clearly their own things. Director Guillermo del Toro directly channels the past, but by channeling that past and infusing it with his own sense of fantasy he has created something distinctively new, something that will represent science fiction movies of the current decade and not the past. There are little surprising moments in the fight scenes that have been forever scarred into my mind because of how visceral and impactful they are, and a film that leave a distinct impression on you is a sign of quality.
I saw the film in IMAX 3D. The giant IMAX screen is definitely a good way to see a movie that is intended to be as big as possible, but I don't think the 3D improves the movie. There were moments when it looked a little blurry and moments when the water looked like it had extra depth, so I guess it balances out. If you're fine with 3D it's not a bad way to see it, but if you hate 3D you're not missing out on anything by seeing it in 2D.
So is Pacific Rim the giant robot film we've always wanted from Hollywood? Yes, but more importantly, it's a summer blockbuster that remembers what summer blockbusters can do, and that is inspire a great sense of thrill and imagination in its viewers, something that has been woefully lacking this summer (Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, I'm looking at you!). It recalls the days of the Harryhausen, the days when movies like Independence Day made it cool to enjoy dumb simple popcorn movies. The Independence Day comparison isn't a negative one at all; there is a place for movies like Pacific Rim, a place that lets kids and adults alike remember how fun movies can be. Sure, The Dark Knight was a really good movie, but it's time to let go of that and not force every summer blockbuster to be a cynical piece about how flawed and hopeless humanity is. It's time to let some light shine back into the cinema, and Pacific Rim is that light we've been craving.
Some quick notes:
- The score is full of great orchestral pieces that harken back to the Godzilla films.
- The scientist characters were a bit annoying at first, particularly the British professor stereotype, but they grew on me by the end.
- I wish Ron Perlman got more screentime.
- IMAX is giving out some nice posters to their viewers. The amount they have is limited, so if you want one go see the film ASAP.