Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is the first movie in a very, very, very long time to make me break my cardinal rule of film going: Don’t get excited. There are movies that I want to see, movies I’m eager to see even, but I almost never get excited, it’s a one way ticket to disappointment. But this time…I couldn’t help it. It’s directed by Guillermo del Toro, the director of previously awesome movies like The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy, in addition to the flat out masterpiece that was Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s got a top notch cast and fantastic looking CGI. It’s also a movie about giant freaking robots fighting giant freaking monsters. So, I broke my own rule and got excited over this movie, which is typically tempting fate (looking at you X3) so I was both excited and nervous going in, as I imagine a lot of people here were.

So I’m here to tell you, I had no reason to fear being excited; Pacific Rim is a triumph of blockbuster filmmaking. Combining brutal brawls, epic disasters and competent (if not exactly exceptional) story-telling, Pacific Rim is not only instantly the best blockbuster of the year, but a high water-mark for big budget action movies overall.

The plot takes place a few years in the future. A rip has opened up on the ocean floor near Japan and giant ass creatures known as kaiju start coming through and tearing shit up. Since using conventional weapons is too costly and destructive to stop them, humanity builds giant robots to fight them, known as jaeger’s to fight them, which require two mind linked pilots to work them. But 12 years in; things are going badly. Kaiju are getting bigger, their attacks are getting more frequent and they’re losing jaeger’s faster than they can build them. As humanity puts it’s faith in a giant wall on their coasts (yeah, cause that worked so fucking well in Attack on Titan) and Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) is gathering his few remaining jaegers for a final stand. To that end he calls in a long retired pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) who lost his co-pilot and brother in battle to help him out.

For those of you who are only interested in seeing summer blockbusters for the action, I have good news; Name any recent action movie (especially giant robot movies) and I will explain to you how Pacific Rim’s action sequences are better. With perhaps one exception, all of the action scenes are huge scale brawls, huge robots engaging in increasingly brutal and epic fistfights with giant monsters. Notably, del Toro understands that in order for us to enjoy an action scene, we actually have to be able to see what’s going on, and so the camera is, for the most part, way back and steady, all the better for us to see what’s happening. The film’s big final action scene has basically not been in any of the trailers, and when you see it you’ll see why it was better to be surprised.

The CGI is top notch, easily some of the best of the year and one detail that I like about it is how both the jaegers and their kaiju opponents actually move like something that’s really big, rather than something small blown up to huge proportions, each move huge and lumbering, causing the earth to shake with each step. The jaegers are incredibly well designed, each reflecting their country of origin and being immediately distinguishable from one another. The really brilliant designs come from the kaiju though, each loosely based on a real life creature with interesting additions and weapons that make them ridiculously cool and unique.

The storytelling is perhaps not going to be winning any Oscars any time soon, but it’s definitely well put together enough for a summer blockbuster. The main plot, devoted to humanity’s last ditch effort to close off the portal that the kaiju are coming through, doesn’t actually get as much screentime as a variety of subplots, the biggest one being Raliegh’s attempt to learn about his new co-pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi, one of the better female characters in a blockbuster this year). The most fun however is undoubtably Dr. Newton’s (Charlie Day) attempts to find a working kaiju brain, which is awesome because it includes Ron Pearlman.

The script is extremely good for a summer blockbuster which is to say not exceptional, but good enough. I think it succeeds, despite it’s occasionally simple characters and setup, because of 2 things. 1, all of the actors commit to the material completely (especially Idris Elba) and 2, that the movie understands that simple doesn’t mean stupid. Yes, the characters can run on the stock side of things, but they work, because they let their actions and the actors flesh them out.

It’s this approach, the deliberately simple and the show-don’t-tell approach, that give this film a good portion of its energy. Minor details like cities and buildings built out of kaiju bones are shown in the background, with the understanding that we’ll get it without being told, and the deliberate simplicity keeps the film tight and fast moving, with none of the tiresome attempt at mystery or bloat that most blockbusters come frontloaded with. Even the character work, which usually gets shoved off to the side in movies like this, is in the forefront in this movie, as the two-pilot system means that the characters have to get their issues out of the way so they can more effectively fight giant monsters.

Pacific Rim is a movie I’ve been looking forward to all year and given how crowded my midnight showing was, I think I’m not the only one. And multiple times throughout every single fight the crowd roared and applauded, not even applauding entire fights, but individual punches and blows. And unusually, I was applauding and cheering along with them. Bottom line, Pacific Rim is one of the best pure fun blockbusters of all time, and easily the best action movie of the year thus far. Unless you are physically allergic to blockbusters, you owe it to yourself to go out and see this.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks that people need to shut up about how they think this looks like Evangelion.

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