Saturday, July 13, 2013



It’s been a relatively disappointing season for blockbusters this year. So far at least. Iron Man was a bloated, incoherent mess that wasn't nearly as clever as it thought it was. Lone Ranger had good intentions and tried really hard to be fun but never quite got there. Man Of Steel was bleak, languid, humorless and wallowed in the 911 imagery like it was a “money shot.” Star Trek: Into Darkness seemed obligatory, tired and played out. Oblivion, well, that was just plain dumb. Yup, it was looking pretty bad for blockbusters this year. The critics have been circling this years summer movie fare like hungry sharks waiting for a bucket of chum(or at the very least, a sacrificial lamb they can point to when it’s time to trot out the usual series of “are summer blockbusters an endangered species?” articles). Yes, I was getting pretty tired of this years blockbuster offerings. And so it was that I went in to see Pacific Rim, fully prepared to be nonplussed and disappointed at best and angry at yet another disappointment at worst. Yet I found myself smiling in spite of my preconceived notions. Even laughed a few times and eventually, marveled at a series of spectacular battles between giant robots and giant monsters.

One of the many giant creatures that plague humanity in Pacific Rim
And that’s basically what Pacific Rim is about. Giant monsters vs. giant robots. A simple idea padded with humor, fun and a lot of heart. Giant monsters or “Kaiju”(think of a much more angry Cloverfield) have invaded earth through a fissure in the ocean floor and have done their darndest to destroy the world. The nations have put aside their differences and joined forces to build a bunch of giant robots or “Jaegers”(Iron Man meets Giant Robo meets Ultra Man) to destroy these creatures. The problem is that the creatures keep coming and each time they seem to get bigger and stronger and smarter. The Jaegers are controlled by a two person team of pilots who must join minds to operate the giant robots. Raleigh Becket(Charlie Hunnam) is a former Jaeger pilot whose career was ended after losing his co pilot in a battle with a Kaiju.

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi lead the "Jaeger" pilots in battle against the Kaiju in Pacific Rim
Stacker Pentecost(Idris “Luther” Elba) is the commander in charge of the Jaeger program which is about to be de-funded by the world governments who favor building a giant wall to ward off the Kaiju. Mako Mori(Rinko Kikuchi) is Pentecost's protégé who, as a little girl, was almost killed by a Kaiju and saved by Pentecost when the Jaeger program was still in its infancy and still had some dangerous kinks to work out. Then we have Charlie Day and Burn Gorman playing the comedy relief. Day and Gorman give us two types of “nutty professor.” Day is the young, green, nerdy scientist with the crazy ideas who thinks the Kaiju’s are cool. Gorman is the buttoned down tweed wearing Brit mathematician, certain that he’s right about everything. When the giant wall proves completely ineffectual, Pentecost pressures Raleigh to return to the Jaeger program for a last ditch effort to destroy the Kaiju. Raleigh’s new partner is Mako and both have demons and thoughts of revenge to overcome(or exploit) if they are to meld minds and control Raleigh’s old Jaeger, now restored and fully loaded.

Giant Robot battles a bad case of pink eye and inspires del Toro's monster film Pacific Rim
The film is clearly del Toro’s nostalgic tribute to all those old Japanese monster movies like Godzilla, Voyage Into Space and Gamera. The films characters are fairly one dimensional archetypes that seem pulled from all the endless sci-fi/fantasy anime films. Even things like Speed Racer came to mind. The battles between the Kaiju and Jaegers are straight out of Voyage Into Space aka Tokusatsu, aka Giant Robo, aka Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot. We even get a new version of Giant Robot’s “Atomic Punch”(although “rocket elbow” just doesn’t sound as catchy). But there are problems with the film. Talent like Elba, Ron Perlman(hilarious as the head of the Kaiju black market) and Kikuchi(who steals every scene she's in) make the bad actors stand out like sore thumbs. And there are some pretty bad actors in this. Luckily they aren’t called upon to do the heavy lifting here. That honor belongs to the epic Jaeger/Kaiju fist fights, the terrific special effects and del Toro’s unmistakable joy over the material which infuses the film with a sense of humor about itself and a big heart.

Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah just working some things out.  It's a monster thing.
Pacific Rim isn’t the greatest movie ever made. It’s not even the best mindless summer blockbuster ever made. But unlike most of the big budget blockbusters we’ve gotten so far this year, Pacific Rim is one that I might actually go back and see a second time because it‘s just fun. It’s a sappy, silly film with elements of Starship Troopers and Real Steel and Transformers and it’s not nearly as inventive or as imaginative as del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  Still, it’s an entertaining, popcorn crunching, monster/robot slugfest with a sense of humor and in a summer filled with blockbusters devoid of humor or heart, Pacific Rim makes for a nice change of pace.

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