Monsters and Metals
From the first time I saw the trailer of ‘Pacific Rim”, I’d been filled with anticipation to see the whole movie. But this anticipation was also tinged with apprehension. What if it sucked? The downward spiral that the ‘Transformers’ franchise has become haunts me, you see. The third film, in particular, was so tech-heavy it forgot to have heart–or even just a semblance of it. Fortunately, Guillermo Del Toro–who delighted me with ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the Hellboy movies–approached this movie with a humanist’s mind and heart. Of course, there is no shortage of thrilling battles between giant robots and monsters; but the important thing is that the human element was not neglected.
Well, not that much. The film is set in a future world that has been almost entirely decimated by kaiju–giant beasts that emerged from a breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that connects our world to another dimension. After several cities (Manila is mentioned) are laid to waste, several nations (including Australia, China, Russia, and the US) pooled resources to build giant robots (jaegers) that will fight the monsters. However, the giant robots require human operators. Two human operators, in fact, whose minds are welded together in a bond called ‘The Drift’. Early versions of the robots, operated singly, led to disastrous results for the pilots. Being a jaeger pilot is much riskier than being an astronaut so when they survive, they are treated like rock stars.
The plot is pretty straight-forward, and often formulaic. Like any self-respecting action adventure film, it opens with a big action sequence that also sets up the back story/ motivation of the main character. There is an upward progression of the action set-pieces, which later becomes responsible for the demise of a major character–the one who always dies to provide the impetus for the main character to act heroically. It ends on a positive note–affirming life and hope in the midst of the chaos and destruction. To expect more is to do so at your own risk. Guillermo Del Toro is a virtuoso in balancing and juggling the many elements of this movie. But with too many balls in the air, we can forgive him for dropping a few.
I’d like to point out that this doesn’t diminish the visual power and beauty of this film that makde it compelling to watch. In terms of grandeur and scale, ‘Pacific Rim’ fulfills the promise that the trailer of the 1998 ‘Godzilla’ made. The monsters, while paying homage to giant monsters of the past, looked unique and genuinely dangerous. Each is glorious to behold. And in spite of their colossal sizes, they moved nimbly but looked as if they were affected by their environment (like water and rain) and vice versa. The robots also moved as machines would–with motions that didn’t violate the laws of Physics. They moved as if they really weighed a lot, so unlike that robots from ‘Transformers’. Kudos to the CGI teams that created and rendered these visual tricks.
And did I say that the battle scenes were thrilling? It wasn’t hard to cheer for the robots when they fought, especially because these scenes were marvelously edited so that in the midst of all the metal-crunching action, you never forget the humans operating the jaegers. The action escalated in each kaiju attack, both in terms of the fighters and the damage to the environment. Hong Kong’s destruction was delightfully saturated in colors.
In this type of movie, it is easy for actors to get swallowed up by the scenery. Fortunately for them, the script of Del Toro and Travis Beacham gave them a bit more meat to chew. Idris Elba, who I last saw in ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Thor’, was a commanding presence in the film, driving the film’s plot to its glorious conclusion.
Charlie Hunnam, who reminds me of Heath Ledger if not for his buff body, played his character with effortless ease. He is intransigent in one moment and sensitive in the next, as he tries to move on from the trauma of his brother’s death. This trauma is compounded by the fact that when his brother died, their minds were connected so he literally ‘died’ with his brother.
He has an undeniable chemistry with his partner, played by Rinko Kikuchi (Babel). Unlike many Japanese actresses I know, Ms Kikuchi has a very expressive face that conveys her emotions matter-of-factly. Which is fine because amid the noisy proceedings in the film, there is no room for so much subtlety.
Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky also excelled as the father and son jaeger pilots who never feared making noble sacrifices. Rob Kazinsky can also be seen as the current big baddie in ‘True Blood’, where he looks hotter–not sure why.
I remember Max Martini from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ many years ago. Well, I’d always been fond of guys with flared nostrils and a steely, weather-beaten demeanor.
Every Guillermo Del Toro film–no matter how grim–carries his brand of off-kilter humor. In this film, it is provided by Charlie Day–who gave new meaning to the word ‘mad scientist’ and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, who played the black market broker of kaiju body parts and organs. In my opinion, he had the best character name (Hannibal Chau), the best costume, and the best death sequence. Well, almost-death sequence, I should say. Just make sure to stay for the equally colossal end-credits.
‘Pacific Rim’ is not perfect, but it’s perfectly watchable many times over because it’s entertaining and compelling to watch. This could be Guillermo Del Toro’s biggest movie to date, and I’m so glad to know that his unique vision was not diluted by its epic and immense scale. My inner geek is relieved, and rejoicing.
Posted on July 14, 2013, in review and tagged Charlie Hunnam, film, Godzilla, Guillermo Del Toro, Hellboy, Idris Elba, Max Martini, Pacific Rim, Pan's Labyrinth, Rinko Kikuchi, Rob Kazinsky, Ron Perlman, Transformers. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.