Movie Review: Pacific Rim

The manmade robot Jaeger in “Pacific Rim”

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Let’s face it: We can’t exactly hope for something completely new in the action/adventure/sci-fi genre. Given the decades of movies portraying alien take-overs, giant monsters and apocalyptic mano-a-mano scenarios in which humans snatch Earth away from the dripping maws of invading species at the last minute, all we can hope for is a wild and riveting diversion. And as we watch, if we can’t help noticing references from such previous films as The Abyss, Alien, Avatar, Independence Day, Iron Man, Transformers, etc., well, that can be part of the fun as well.

And does Pacific Rim ultimately entertain? Particularly since the director is none other than the brilliant Guillermo del Toro who, with his 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth, introduced some of the most fantastical creatures this side of H.P. Lovecraft?

Happily, the movie does indeed offer thrilling escapist entertainment. It may have its flaws but, given this summer’s cinematic elephant graveyard of Flaccid Origin Story this, and Desiccated Sequel #6 that, Pacific Rim stands twenty-five stories tall above the rest.

Speaking of twenty-five stories, this is the supposed height of the manmade robot Jaegers, the human pushback to the assault of the Kaiju (gigantic sea beasts who, due to a breach in the Pacific Ocean, are rising from their underworld empire, employing all manner of the customary smash and pillage). The filmmakers have crafted a panoply of oversized lizards, crustaceans and insects — think a smorgasbord of multi-eyed creatures in the mode of Godzilla, Kraken, Rodan and Stegosaurus – rising from the Neptunian bowels, spewing acidic blue goo out of multiple cavities. And just as monsters often do, the Kaiju have every intention of wiping out mankind and taking over the planet. In this, the first quarter of the twenty-first century, the war’s been waging for twelve years … and the good guys are losing.

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l to r: Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba), Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam)

Leading the war-turned-gritty-resistance is the commanding Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba). Severely depleted in both man and machine, with humanity’s end approaching fast, Pentacost reaches out to onetime Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who gave up operating the robots five years earlier after the death of his co-pilot brother. A plot point sets up the fact that due to the complexity and size of the robots, the Jaeger has to be driven by two brains rather than one. In order for that to succeed, the pilots have to be in perfect mind-sync; hence, blood relations are the most successful at co-piloting, i.e., siblings, fathers/sons, etc. It’s a smart conceit, bowing to the concept that just as nations have to lay down arms and work together to effect a solution, so do the pilots themselves.

Screenwriters Travis Beacham and del Toro have devised some marvelous new language bowing to the pilots’ mental sync, such as “the Neural Handshake” and “the Drift” (in which each pilot’s brain has to accept the other’s thoughts, memories and emotions) and “Chasing the Rabbit,” referring to an often deadly situation when a pilot’s mind freezes on a memory that he/she is unable to shake off while operating the Jaeger.

As clever as these terms may be, the script founders with an overly-long voiceover at the top, as well as fairly simple characters and situations. While such accomplished actors as Elba can infuse a role with great authority – his rallying speeches to his troops are almost Shakespearean in tone, reminiscent of Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach”  – other actors don’t come off as well. Hunnam’s supposedly heroic Becket, a seeming firebrand in the early scenes, turns into an overly earnest, surprisingly vapid character who never quite shakes off the lethargy.

But the film suffers most due to its mishandled over-the-top comedy as filtered through the science nerd duo of Charlie Day’s Newt and Burn Gorman’s Gottlieb. Both characters are purported geniuses (one promoting biology, the other raw statistics) … yet with their ham-fisted tics and strained vocal mannerisms, they seem to have just wandered in from a substandard Adam Sandler comedy. The tone is not just wrong; it sidelines the film altogether. That said, pointing to experienced professionalism, Ron Perlman as the sardonic billionaire black market trader Hannibal Chau perfectly balances the drama, playing for both laughs and menace.

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(l to r) Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)

Shot using a RED Epic camera (del Toro’s first foray into digital), the look is spectacular. Per the production notes, the filmmakers chose low lighting during the fight scenes to create imposing silhouettes. Industrial Light & Magic was brought in to collaborate on the monsters and robots, as well as the battle scenes and green-screen backdrops of such urban skylines as San Francisco, Hong Kong and Sydney. The depiction of the pilots’ physicality when strapped into the Jaegers, their every move a manifestation of the robot’s actions, is extremely well done. Additionally, the set pieces are arresting, be it Chau’s opulent lair, or the HQ of the Shatterdome, a once well-polished base of operations descended into rust and decay, reflecting the hopelessness of humanity’s impending doom.

But back to the bright side: Though we may have seen bits of this and that in previous sci-fi adventures, the ingredients haven’t ever been steeped together quite like this particular briny bouillabaisse.

Soup’s on … enjoy.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Jäger-meisters: 3.5

Release date: July 12, 2013
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by: Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Burn Gorman, Diego Klattenhoff
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 131 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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