Review: ‘Pacific Rim' puts the fun back in blockbusters
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.
The best thing “Pacific Rim” has going for it is not easily quantified. It's not the incredible visual imagination shown by director Guillermo del Toro, the excellent performances from most of the cast or the action sequences that will leave your jaw on the floor of the theater. Rather, the best thing about “Pacific Rim” is its sense of fun, a feeling that has been sorely lacking for entirely too long among blockbusters.
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day
This conscious effort at establishing a lighter tone begins with the movie's story. To wit: An inter-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean has allowed giant monsters called Kaiju to start ravaging coastal cities. The world sets aside its grudges to build giant robots called Jaegers (from the German word for “hunter”) to fight the Kaiju. These Jaegers require two pilots to operate, and the pilots' minds are linked when they're in the Jaeger.
After a brief opening narration, we meet Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), who work together as Jaeger pilots. On a relatively routine mission, a Kaiju kills Yancy, leaving Raleigh devastated and unwilling to continue piloting a Jaeger. A few years later, Raleigh is recruited by his former boss Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba of “The Wire” fame) to help on one last mission to try to seal the dimensional rift.
If this sounds like goofy science fiction kids dream up ... well it is. This is a movie that embraces its nature as an exercise in fantasy; it doesn't hide what it is by trying to be unnecessarily grim (“Man of Steel”) or by employing ironic detachment to distance itself from its origins (“Star Trek Into Darkness”). Credit for this has to go in large part to del Toro, who presents the material in a straightforward manner while not forgetting the innate appeal of watching skyscraper-size behemoths slug it out for the fate of the world.
That's not to say that people who just want to see a better version of “Transformers” won't get their money's worth. The monsters are the stuff of Lovecraftian nightmares (demonstrating del Toro's renowned skill at creature effects), while the Jaegers have deceptively simple industrial frameworks that belie a formidable physical presence. You can really feel the impact as metal meets flesh during the battle sequences, and because del Toro doesn't employ the frenetic camera work and split-second cuts of Michael Bay, you can always clearly see what's going on.
While the fight scenes would be enough to merit a recommendation on their own, they're not all that “Pacific Rim” offers. The narrative, while borrowing heavily from “Top Gun,” works well enough to keep the proceedings moving and offers some surprises along the way. The movie also has a great cast of secondary characters. Elba lends real gravitas and pathos to the “gruff commander” role as Pentecost, while Charlie Day and Burn Gorman excel as two bickering scientists researching the Kaiju.
The true stars, though, are Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a trainee who becomes Raleigh's partner, and Ron Perlman as a black market dealer in Kaiju remains. Playing the survivor of a Kaiju attack who's out for revenge, Kikuchi has to balance physical toughness with emotional fragility, and she steps up at every moment (you'll wish she was the center of the story). Perlman, however, completely subjugates the screen as Hannibal Chau; he's amoral, violent and greedy to a fault, but he's such a charismatic presence that you can't help but fall under his sway. It's no wonder del Toro brought Perlman back after working with him on the “Hellboy” movies.
The movie does have a couple minor faults. Hunnam is a little bland as a protagonist, and the movie teases at some social commentary that doesn't really go anywhere. But overall, “Pacific Rim” is an exemplar of everything a blockbuster should be: Audacious, original and most of all, FUN.
For more of Rob Ryan's takes on movies, see his blog at projections.blogs.gainesville.com.