Review: Pacific Rim

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Wow. Pacific Rim is the biggest, baddest, craziest summer movie I've ever seen. The film pulls from many conventional tropes of the action genre, yet still manages to create something fresh and new at the same time. A couple of shots in the film are so unique and amazing that you'll be hard pressed to remember if you've seen action filmed that way in the past. I laughed out loud at the sheer insanity of what I was seeing on the screen more than once, and 24 hours later all I want to do is see it again.

The universe director Gillermo Del Toro has created is rich and full of detail. It's the near future, and a portal between dimensions has mysteriously opened up on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Through the portal come giant monsters quickly dubbed "Kaiju" (Japanese for "strange beast") who set about destroying population centers as quickly and efficiently as possible. It takes humanity six destroyed cities, nearly a week and countless lives lost to take down this one beast. We clean up the destruction, mourn the dead, and move on. And then another one shows up. And another one. And very soon it becomes evident - these things will not stop coming. We need a new plan.

Worldwide humanity comes together, and with our shared resources and technology we develop a new weapon to fight the beast - Jaegers. Giant mechs developed and built for one reason and one reason only - to show these prehistoric bitches how we do things downtown. Eventually dozens of the machines are protecting every major nation on Earth, and doing a good job keeping the monsters at bay.

Until they aren't. See, the monsters just keep getting bigger, stronger, and tougher; even worse, they're coming out of the Breach in faster and faster intervals. And one day, being at the helm of a giant robot just isn't enough to get the job done.

Jaeger Gipsy Danger belongs to the US and is piloted by Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy Becket (Diego Klattenhoff.) They're stationed in Alaska when they get the call that a category 3 Kaiju is surfacing off the coastline, and we're off to the races. Jaegers need two pilots to work the damn things, something about the neural link to the equipment being too much for a single brain to handle. Jaeger pilots work in pairs, connected via a neural bridge that requires a strong connection to maintain. Break the link, and the giant robot goes dead. Naturally brothers have a strong connection, and these two guys are good at the piloting gig.

To say more would spoil the fun, but something happens in those frigid waters that changes the course of Raleigh's life. He retires from piloting and watches from the sidelines as more and more Jaegers and their pilots fall at the hands of increasingly evolved Kaiju. Raleigh sets about working on the next big idea to stop the monsters, a giant wall surrounding all major population centers. The united world governments hedge their bets on this plan paying off, but Idris Elba's Marshall Stacker Pentecost will have none of it. He knows that the giant machines are truly humanities last, best chance against the monsters and goes about recruiting the most seasoned of the Jaeger pilots lefts alive, including Raleigh, for one final mission that could turn the tide of the war.

Speaking of the Jaegers, these things are big. Weighty. The film does an excellent job conveying the massive scale of the robots and monsters in battle, and the effort it takes to make them throw a punch. Gears squeal, metal rumbles, monster flesh squishes and crinkles, all of it filmed in a way that makes you forget you're watching CGI. It's also important to note that screening I attended was in 3-D, and it was glorious. I'm not normally a fan of the technology but it's come a long way in the last few years, and it looked incredible during Pacific Rim. I honestly feel you'll be doing yourself a disservice by not seeing this in 3-D.

While all this crazy robot stuff is happening, there are also a couple of scientists running around whose roles are equally important to the campaign. Dr. Newt Geiszler, played by Charlie Day from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, has a radical plan to discover the Kaiju's true motivation, but it's so crazy no one believes it can be done. His part of the story involves finding some black market Kaiju parts in the seedy underbelly of China, and is hilarious. The scientists are the comedy relief of the movie, and do a good job keeping things light during all the destruction.

And what glorious destruction it is. Buildings crumple, whole blocks are leveled in a single exchange, and all of it captured in loving detail. There are many surprises to see regarding the Jaegers and their various armaments, but they're all a joy to witness and make physical sense in the world. Wait for one part in particular where a pilot says "We're out of weapons!" and the other pilot replies "No. We have one thing left." If what happens next doesn't make your inner 8 year old squeal with delight, you are not a true lover of Saturday morning cartoons and also you have no soul.

I'm curious, though, as to why we're still seeing monsters on film always masked by rain. I first remember seeing the technique in 1998's Godzilla, and I assumed that entire movie took place during a rainstorm to help the monster look more real and alive. A good chunk of Pacific Rim takes place either in the ocean or in the rain, and I can't help but wonder if filmmakers are still using the technique for the same reasons. Regardless, the fights are freaking awesome. In fact, they're so awesome that the final quarter of the movie is a bit of a letdown, as the action shifts to a more personal level. Also, the climax of the final effort is, well, it's REALLY REALLY similar to the climax of another famous summer blockbuster from the past. You'll know it when you see it.

The acting? A little less awesome, in some cases. I understand Charlie Hunnam is popular thanks to his work on Sons of Anarchy. I've never seen the show, but his role here is to be the cocky hero with sex appeal, and his delivery and mannerisms are a little wooden. He's not annoying however, just bland. Rinko Kikuchi's Jaeger pilot Mako Mori, however, can get a little cloying as the damsel in distress played in a very classic Japanese way. If big-eyed girls who titter and act bashful get on your nerves, you'll get tired of her in about ten seconds. Never is it too bad or too annoying however, and their charisma together seems genuine.

My favorite thing about the film is its portrayal of humanity as absolutely determined to see success. Too often, recent post-apocalyptic movies have featured large amounts of suffering and angst, and often either a negative or indeterminate conclusion. This movie says fuck that. This movie says people can do anything, no problem is insurmountable. Everyone you see on film is determined to beat this thing, to figure it out, to solve the problem and win the war, and it's damn refreshing. Leading the pack on that philosophy is Idris Elba, and he is the star of the show for me. His Marshall is tough, hardened, dangerous and committed to seeing victory. There's a moment in the movie when something he previously thought impossible is confirmed by one of the scientists, and he instantly adapts his thinking and plans to include this new information. It's refreshing to see a commander on-screen who's not portrayed as a traditionalist or a hard-liner who can't accept new paradigm shifts in the middle of the action. Stacker Pentecost (God I love the names in this flick) is not that man. He's human, he cares about his people, but he is a hard man who simply will not accept defeat. His personal costs are high, and portrayed so very nobly by Elba. I know sci-fi doesn't get much love from the Academy, but a best supporting actor nod needs to be in this man's future.

Pacific Rim is a 5 out of 5 for me, and a serious hats off and slow clap for Del Toro and company. The visuals are amazing, the acting is strong, but the message is the most important thing on display here. I can't wait to see what a new generation of movie fans does in 20 years with inspiration from this version of "Never retreat, never surrender!" Best movie of the summer, best action movie in YEARS (maybe even better than Avengers??) Cynics check your hate at the door, and get ready for an elbow-rocketing, plasma cannon-ing, monster-head squashing good time!