REVIEW: Pacific Rim [2013]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 131 minutes | Release Date: July 12th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Guillermo del Toro
Writer(s): Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro / Travis Beacham (story)

“She’s starting to chase the rabbit”

After watching two spec scripts get sold and ultimately fall through, Clash of the Titans scribe Travis Beacham finally breaks into Hollywood with an original vision in Pacific Rim. A futuristic look at our world on the cusp of annihilation by the claws of an alien species entering our realm via a wormhole over an underwater rift in our Earth’s crust, his tale is as close to a live action anime as we’re likely to get—complete with kaiju and mecha warriors fighting to rule our planet. His treatment caught Guillermo del Toro’s eye after a previous collaboration on Killing on Carnival Row disintegrated in 2006. Agreeing to co-write the screenplay, the dark fantasy maestro officially signed on to direct the epic three days after his At the Mountains of Madness adaptation stalled.

Along with uncredited script doctoring from “Luther’s” Neil Cross and horror artists Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, Pacific Rim is an action adventure rooted in forgivable cinematic character tropes with the kind of monster movie excitement we haven’t seen in years. Despite all the clichés and creatures that can’t help but be compared to the likes of Japanese kaiju legend Godzilla, del Toro made it a point to create wholly new beings while still retaining the fervid appreciation for the genre he hoped to instill in a new generation. Using artistic inspiration from paintings, mythology, and real animals like the Komodo dragon and gorillas, the increasingly fierce beasts coming out of the water are not yesteryear’s concoctions of men in rubber suits. These aliens are authentically constructed like only del Toro’s unique sensibilities could provide.

But just as the kaijus work in fluid tandem with Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography, so too must the man-made weapons built to fight them. Labeled jaeger after the German word for “hunter”, these mechanical behemoths are carefully developed to mimic their origin country’s aesthetic. The American Mach 3 Gipsy Danger is infused by Art Deco design while the Russian Mach 4 Cherno Alpha bears resemblance to a T-series Russian tank—each one falling into steampunked hybrids of old-school look and newfound technological prowess. Operated by two pilots who join minds in a “drift” so as to offset the neurological stress connecting to a jaeger entails, these robots lumber through the ocean with their swords, missiles, and human will to meet the kaijus head-on so as to protect the millions of helpless innocents watching from the cities they protect.

The way Beacham, et al. introduce us to these colossal giants is something more big-budget blockbusters need to follow. Instead of wasting thirty or more minutes to explain the years of strife spent finding a way to combat the kaiju invaders, Pacific Rim begins with a brief voiceover narrated timeline montage of the early years. We watch Knifehead dismantle the Golden Gate Bridge with a quick glimpse before seeing a global war room decide to band resources together to find a solution. What first takes six days to kill with fighter jets and artillery becomes a man-to-beast brawl over in minutes once the mechs are developed. Standing guard as skyscraper-high sentries, however, easy tussles turn more violent once the kaijus evolve in size and strength. Mankind must follow suit, building bigger, badder robots to keep up.

The pertinent information is gleaned while the need to frontload all the science at once in way that makes it go in one ear and out the other is thankfully ignored. We viscerally understand the dire situation at hand without a chance for our brains to poke holes in the mythology. We feel the emotional turmoil and patriotic duty to our world—not country—necessary to continue bringing the fight to our invaders. And just when the exposition crescendos into the full-scale operational process of putting Gipsy Danger into the water with brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy Becket (Diego Klattenhoff), we’re clamoring for its computer-generated, physically enduring match with a tragic end. We comprehend the stakes, the cerebral drifting, and the scale through this one fight before the real plot even begins.

From here we travel five years into the future to the end of the jaeger era as the world shifts its focus towards a “life wall” to keep the kaijus at bay. Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba) takes it upon himself to privatize the program so he can keep the final four mechs online with their respective crews and take one last stab at throwing a nuclear bomb through the tunnel connecting our two worlds. Hunnam’s Raleigh is brought out of retirement, father and son team Herc (Max Martini) and Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky) partner old and new school sensibilities to pilot the biggest and fastest jaeger around, and young military specialist Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is given the chance to finally climb aboard the weapon she’s lived her life to be an expert on.

In the meantime, scientists Drs. Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) research a way to ensure success in crossing the dimensional bridge. Their rivalry is the basis for the film’s comic relief as well as some of the most interesting universe building sequences through the processes used to discover the truth about the kaijus’ origin. Through them comes black market monster flesh entrepreneur Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) to put us on the chaotic shore of Hong Kong while the jaegers spar with the increasingly elaborate creatures now arriving with acidic saliva and electromagnetic pulses. Cities are decimated—but don’t worry as the filmmakers ensure their PG-13 rating by getting all humans evacuated to underground bunkers first; surprises are found up both the jaeger’s and kaiju’s sleeves; and the large-scale wrestling bouts never bore.

These fisticuffs are Pacific Rim’s biggest draw as well as what makes it the summer’s best blockbuster yet, but don’t discount the plot entirely. The characters are definitely stereotypes whether the grieving hero, vengeful survivor, dying leader, or eccentric scientist, but the ways in which they interact helps give their roles and the film depth. We learn about the past through “drifted” memories, watch as unlikely warriors rise to the task of sacrificing themselves for the greater good, and feel completely engrossed in each battle whether inside the jaegers’ virtual reality heads or outside watching them in action. It’s a two-hour action-packed epic-scale war between man-made Gods and underworld monsters that packs a walloping punch while getting to the heart of proving how cinema still has the capacity to be unadulterated entertainment.

[1] Charlie Hunnam stars as Raleigh Antrobus and Rinko Kikuchi stars as Mako Mori in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Pacific Rim (2013)
[2] Rinko Kikuchi stars as Mako Mori and Idris Elba stars as Stacker Pentecost in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Pacific Rim (2013)
[3] Charlie Day stars as Dr. Newton Geiszler in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Pacific Rim (2013)

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