NOW THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT!
Not since Hellboy 2: The Golden Army has Guillermo Del Toro stepped onto the scene as a director. In the years since his last directorial feature, credits for Del Toro have been reserved as a producer for various horror films and Dreamworks projects, as well as screenwriting credits like The Hobbit. Needless to say, everyone was excited for the Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone director to sit back into the director’s chair, and with Pacific Rim, his unabashedly giddy love letter to anime and Kaiju media, we finally got our wish. As light and breezy as it is huge and exhilarating, Pacific Rim is enough to make you feel like a kid at Christmas.
The first fifteen minutes establishes the world and rules of the film very well. Deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, a portal has opened that releases Kaijus, giant inter-dimensional beasts that have attacked earth’s major cities. In light of these events, the world’s governments rallied together to create Jaegers, giant mecha fighters built to defeat the beasts, and require two synchronized pilots to control the machines. Over time, humanity has learned to survive the apocalyptic settings, but the Kaijus have only gotten larger over time, and Jaegers are destroyed faster than they’re built. With the Kaiju situation only getting worse, Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba), with the help of a former Jaeger pilot (Charlie Hunnam), and a young woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who eventually serves as his co-pilot, hatches a plan to neutralize the threat once and for all.
A very lighthearted and anti-cynical romp throughout, Pacific Rim takes a while to get into, but once it has its hold, it never lets go. Much of the film’s well delivered exposition is gotten out of the way quickly, and it never overbears the viewer with too many details. Once this universe is established, we eventually get to the task of developing character, and much like Del Toro’s anime influences, these characters are a nice throwback to classic archetypes. Everything is here, from the secretive and tough captains, to the bumbling comic relief characters, here as scientists Newt and Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), the former of which has very humorous scenes with a gruff black market dealer (Ron Perlman) who specializes in selling Kaiju body parts. There may be a certain stigma from some viewers of this movie, who may write them off as little more than cliché. However, I really don’t understand how being cliché is automatically considered a BAD thing. You can use clichés and archetypes and still have them work. It just depends on how the filmmaker executes them, and Del Toro handles these elements with plenty of charm and finesse to spare.
Of course, the real reason that Pacific Rim is worth watching is because of the simple fact that… IT’S. A. BLAST! This movie is so in tune with my inner child, it even has GLaDOS as the Jaeger’s AI. It’s enough to make you feel like a ten year old, but it doesn’t resort to insulting the audience. The movie is huge, it’s funny, and even though you have to do some waiting for the big action sequences, the cast and the storytelling are so rock solid that you don’t mind the waits. The film’s first action sequence takes place in the first fifteen minutes, and the next big Jaeger/Kaiju battle takes about an hour before starting, but this movie makes the payoff TOTALLY worth it. Stepping into Del Toro’s enthusiastic imagination, it’s like watching the action figures in your toy chest fully realized as giant monsters, and seeing them duke it out in the streets of huge cities. Del Toro understands that complete investment is required to fully enjoy these scenes, and this is a huge part of why the action in Pacific Rim works so well. Not only are they smartly paced, they’re simply pleasing to the eye and ear. As an exercise in technical design, this movie gets points for both quantity, and quality. Everything from the staggering effects work supervised by John Knoll, the stunning photography of Guillermo Navarro, and the slick editing by John Gilroy and Peter Amundsen, to Scott Martin Gershin and Tim Walston’s sound design and Ramin Djawadi’s rockin’ orchestral score is all crafted to perfection.
This is the definition of a great summer blockbuster. In an age where audiences are often bombarded with sequels and reboots, it’s nice to see a summer flick with some originality to it. Let’s just hope the wait for Del Toro’s next project won’t be too long.
****1/2 / *****