Exciting adrenaline fueled action, mixed with breathtaking visuals and a simple, unassuming plot, Pacific Rim represents monsters versus mechas at its very finest. (7.5/10)
In a summer that I remember being strangely devoid of truly outstanding blockbusters, Pacific Rim emerged as the surprise favourite. It marks a return to the very origins of both the mecha and the big budget monster movies of old. It is a visual marvel, with an engaging enough story to keep the viewer invested but without ever truly challenging the audience in any real way. Nevertheless, it is a breath of fresh air. We’re at a point in time when Hollywood seems to think that every script warrants deep, conflicted characters and complicated plot lines but Pacific Rim offers a simplicity that sets it apart; what you see is what you get and since for the most part what you see is oversized robots beat the ever loving crap out of equally ridiculously sized monsters (and vice versa), what you get is a rather entertaining movie and an overall jolly good time.
It probably for the best that the monsters and mecha do so much of the movie’s dramatic heavy lifting, so to speak, since both the cast and the script are limited and it’s difficult to tell which is restricting the other more. The cast features a decidedly B-list bunch of half-knowns and fresh faces with names like Charlie Day and Idris Elba (STRINGER BELL!!!) belonging to the former and lead actors Charlie Hunnan and Rinko Kikuchi (who technically was in Babel but hasn’t been seen since) belonging to the later. It probably isn’t fair to judge the whole cast based on such a lackluster script but there are those whose performances are mediocre by any objective standard. Kikuchi’s efforts as Mako were almost cringe-worthy in how overacted and melodramatic they were and the lack of chemistry she had with Hunnan was especially damning considering how they were said to be ‘drift’ compatible. The movie’s tone shifts (rather successfully, I should add) between fast-paced, hard-hitting action to light-hearted comic moments which gave actors like Charlie Day and Ron Perlman chances to shine. If you’ve read my Horrible Bosses review, you’ll know that I’ve never been a big Charlie Day fan and his performance in Pacific Rim is the perfect example of the kind of gimmicky, typecast role he seems to play in all of his movies. He is always the hyperactive, allegedly loveable pipsqueak who is funny, good-natured but ultimately annoyingly grating. Ron Perlman, who may once have thought Hell-Boy was the weirdest character he would play, appears for a sum total of 10 minutes in the movie as a black monster organ smuggler from Brooklyn, living in Hong Kong, named after a Vietnamese restaurant with wicked grills and gold teeth. So much of his character is utterly, unequivocally ridiculous that I find myself completely unable to take him seriously – which is great because be serves (intentionally) as wonderful comic relief between some rather intense fight scenes. On a side note, Perlman and Day have significantly better chemistry between them than Hunnan and Kikuchi, which is almost tragic in how true it is. The rest of Pacific Rim’s cast is rather nondescript with Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky playing anti-hero (sorta) and supporting roles respectively as an Aussie father and son duo. Elba turns in a disappointingly average performance as Kikuchi’s adoptive father, hampered in part by some very dated stock action-flick clichés. Elba is probably the best of the main cast – Hunnan on the other hand plays a protagonist so bland, so vanilla, so BORING, that I had to spend a good deal of time online just looking for him and then double checking that it was indeed him and I’m still not totally convinced. He honestly seems like a generic Bollywood movie hero, albeit whiter though just as likely to burst into song and dance (don’t worry, he doesn’t). The writers seem to have forgotten that in order for a character to work on any level, the character needs to have some sort of flaw that he would ideally overcome during the course of the story or in the case of Hunnan’s character, some flaw at all. Seriously, he was brave, chivalrous and a man of action who made valiant attempts to be charismatic; all admirable qualities but they make for an extremely tedious protagonist. For a while it seemed like they were going to try and give his character some additional depth, but then they remembered the kind of movie they were trying to make.
This is usually the part of the review where I talk about the story itself but there isn’t a whole lot to discuss. It is solid with enough detail left in to give the apocalyptic setting some flavor but without detracting from the core narrative – that robots can beat the shit out of monsters and one does not simply fuck with humanity. Yet despite the way I lampoon the actors and the caricatures they play, the simplicity of the story and the familiarity of the various character roles helps the audience understand the setting and the core conflict that much faster and eliminates the need for multiple world building monologues. The movie excels at creating a real sense of impending doom throughout by creating a plausible scenario for stronger and stronger monsters entering the world in greater numbers making the threat of the planet being overrun by them actually plausible enough of the viewer to take the whole thing a little more seriously. Despite the simplicity of the story, the film’s ending is surprisingly satisfying, perhaps because its climax lies in the robot on monster slugfest ather than any real character driven development. Humor is a big part of the movie as well, despite being delivered by questionable agents; it keeps the mood light that the pressure is taken off the ending in delivering the movie’s primary entertainment value. The role of the scientists could just as easily have been interpreted seriously instead but it would have drastically changed the movie and not for the better.
The movie’s SFX is the true standout performer. There is an unflinching brutality to the way both the kaiju and the mecha were portrayed; whether by showing the kaiju being dismembered in real time or what I call mecha –gore: robots getting severely beat up and ‘leaking’ sparks, parts and generally going through system failure. (I’m an engineer by training, so it hurts to see OK?) Even the fight scenes don’t shy away from showing cities getting utterly ripped up by collateral damage as the man- and alien-made titans clash. Perhaps the biggest victory of the film was showcasing the scale of the kaiju and mecha by establishing the just how tiny the massive trucks appear in comparison to the giant robots or how big the kaiju are compared to people on the road.
In the end though, Pacific Rim is not a movie that will have you leaving the theatre with deep-seated questions about humanity and our purpose on this planet. In fact, your entire reaction to the movie will probably be better summarized as “Well, that was neat. Also, I need to use the bathroom.” It’s interesting that director Del Torro intended for Pacific Rim to be considerably lighter hearted than it ended up being; I feel that had the movie been originally envisioned as a ‘dark’ flick, it would be a great deal less successful. As it stands, the movie has a quirky juxtaposition of comically light elements (featuring the two scientists, for example) and the violently dark that keeps the movie in the sweet spot of the spectrum between boring action and disturbingly dark and serious. Round that balance out with an acceptably competent cast and amazing visuals and you have a movie that is sure to bring back the mecha and monster genre.
Charlie Hunnam -Rayleigh Becket
Diego Klattenhoff – Yancy Becket
Idris Elba – Stacker Pentecost
Rinko Kikuchi – Mako Mori
Charlie Day – Dr. Newton Geiszler
Burn Gorman – Gottlieb
Max Martini – Herc Hansen
Robert Kazinsky – Chuck Hansen
Ron Perlman – Hannibal Chau