Like the titular destroyers of its genre namesake, the monster movie is slowly creeping forth to make its grand comeback, after an apparent fall from grace.
Following the likes of the ill-received Hollywood Godzilla movie in 1998 (they’re trying again with a reboot next year), and the mixed reception directed at Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong, the monster movie hasn’t exactly been a hot commodity these days. Some cult creature features have succeeded here and there, but not in ages has a grand, big budget mainstream monster movie blockbuster stormed onto the scene with real fanfare and hype.
Then, Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth director, Guillermo del Toro made Pacific Rim.
To call this movie ‘massive’ is truly a monster-sized understatement! Pacific Rim stands as one of the most ambitious blockbusters of the Summer, even in the face of similarly huge offerings like Man of Steel and Star Trek into Darkness. Not only is the movie entirely original and not based on any prior source material (a sad rarity in most Hollywood blockbusters these days), but it’s also heavily inspired by the likes of Japanese ‘mecha anime’, creating a monsters-vs.-mechs blockbuster unlike anything that has ever been attempted in mainstream moviemaking before!
It’s a small miracle that this movie turned a profit at all, frankly! While it wasn’t a huge moneymaker for Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures by any stretch, Pacific Rim still garnered plenty of hype and healthy attention from both moviegoers and the media. If nothing else, it’s one of the top effects-driven showcases of the Summer lineup, and it successfully forges a new way for geek audiences to own Hollywood!
But the question remains, is it any good?
I caught an IMAX 3D screening of Pacific Rim just recently, going all out to get the most out of all of the destruction and large-scale monster/mech mash-ups that I was promised. I have to admit, even Man of Steel only barely equals the amount of raw environmental carnage that takes place over the course of this movie! If you like to watch entire cityscapes get destroyed in true spectacular monster movie fashion, then you will definitely enjoy this!
Seeing as the special effects are a big draw, I will say here and now that they are definitely amazing! What Guillermo del Toro has realized on screen here is genuinely incredible, given the fact that the fighting forces are hundreds of feet tall and almost span the width of entire city blocks! Both the immersion and the sheer action spectacle captured in Pacific Rim will leave your jaw on the floor. This movie could very well take the lofty honour of having the best special effects of the Summer movie lineup!
To this end, I have to say that IMAX 3D is definitely the best way to watch the movie if that’s an option for you. Even in a standard digital 3D cut, Pacific Rim’s 3D effects are excellent, and a welcome improvement over the lacklustre 3D cuts of Iron Man 3, Star Trek into Darkness and Man of Steel! Scenes of torrential rainfall appear to bombard the audience as buildings and landmasses explode around them, while gargantuan beasties gnash and lunge directly at their eyes. I have to admit, this is some of the best 3D I’ve seen all year! You’re definitely not getting the full effect if you just watch the movie flat!
Even if you normally dislike 3D, a 3D ticket is a must for anyone with that option, and the same goes doubly true for the IMAX 3D cut! The IMAX elements are actually realized extraordinarily well, with deafening power behind each hit and weapon blast, and a very noticeable added sense of scale given to the entire movie. It’s expensive, but for Pacific Rim, the bigger you go, the more fun you’ll have watching these massive forces duke it out!
I could rave about the mind-blowing special effects all day, but let’s switch gears for a bit. What about the human actors that have to be a focus too? After all, we can’t just have an entire movie about monsters and mechs beating the hell out of each other, can we? There has to be some sense of pacing and relief.
To this end, our lead characters are Raleigh Beckett and Mako Mori, played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, respectively. Both are lesser-known actors, even though Hunnam has enjoyed a lengthy stint on TV’s Sons of Anarchy, but they play appealing leads with great chemistry. Raleigh is a has-been ace mech pilot trying to cope with being unable to save his brother from a Kaiju, the movie’s name for the giant beasts that attack our world. Mako is a skilled and capable pilot, but is traumatized by a childhood Kaiju attack. Yes, as you can imagine, they overcome their mutual traumas through each other’s strengths and kick ass in their mech together.
Oh, that’s right. The mechs, called Jaegers (after the German word for ‘Hunter’), have to be piloted by two people. This is because they require an intense connection to the human nervous system that is too much for one person alone. The two pilots must be ‘linked’, allowing them to share memories, feelings and pretty well their entire souls, forcing them to work in complete unison to pilot a Jaeger successfully. This is the device that is used to explore Raleigh and Mako overcoming their demons as they fight the actual monsters banging on humanity’s door.
Of course, there are some bigger names in the movie as well. Idris Elba is an incredible highlight as commanding officer, Pentecost. Elba is already an incredible badass in just about everything he’s in, but he’s truly at the top of his game here, playing a vulnerable, but courageous and motivational leader that owns many of the best lines in the entire movie! His much-marketed speech before the movie’s climactic underwater Kaiju battle is perhaps one of the best snippets of dialogue written for any movie in all of 2013 so far!
Likewise, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman provide an entertaining comedic double act as rival scientists, Newton Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb. Their squabbling and fast-paced choral speaking always prevents proceedings from becoming too heavy. This is necessary, as Pacific Rim is not a movie made to be a heavy drama. It’s made to be a damn great time at the movies, and Guillermo del Toro was clear about wanting a movie that was just straight-up entertaining and not needlessly dark, which it definitely succeeds at in spades!
Guillermo del Toro regular, Ron Perlman also has a part in the movie as a Kaiju organ trafficker, though his screentime is sadly limited. It would have been nice to see more of him, even if he is a fun character while he lasts!
Lastly, for you gamers reading this, yes, Portal’s Ellen McClain is in the movie, and yes, she is voicing an A.I. Yes, this is meant to be a wink to Portal’s highly beloved homicidal A.I. antagonist, GLaDOS. Guillermo del Toro is a very proud gamer, which he’s admitted many times, and has gone on record to claim that he’s an especially huge Portal fan, particularly after playing through the Portal 2 co-op campaign with his daughter. In response, he went directly to Valve and got their permission to cast McClain’s voice and use the same GLaDOS filter for it, albeit toned down so as not to be too distracting.
Don’t get too excited here. She’s not homicidal, she’s not cake-obsessed and she’s not a source of comedy. She’s a pretty typical A.I., if I’m being honest, simply repeating the commands she’s issued, as well as giving the status of a Jaeger’s condition. Still, it’s a very cute Easter Egg that really illustrates how much Guillermo del Toro loves video games, even if only gamers will recognize it.
I have to admit that my girlfriend got pretty confused at how much I geeked out at simply hearing the A.I. speak, and I had to explain why it was a big deal afterward. That’s probably going to be the case for many gaming geeks’ dates, so fair warning to non-gamers with gaming significant others! Still, if there’s any place for a director to declare their gaming adoration in good faith, it’s definitely in a Japanese monster movie-inspired action blockbuster!
To be honest, the movie’s action scenes are the highlights. The human element isn’t terrible by any means, and still remains plenty appealing due to its likeable characters. It is rather predictable though. You’ll immediately know how each character arc will turn out, as Pacific Rim really doesn’t try to throw curveballs in its storytelling.
Still, if you’re seeing a movie like this, it’s for the special effects and the damage. Pacific Rim definitely delivers on both counts, and while the plot itself isn’t quite as creative as the premise, which earns extra points for being original, you’ll have plenty of fun with the movie simply because it’s so giddily entertaining! You’ll want to cheer and wince and applaud along as Jaegers and Kaiju exchange blows and ravage the landscape around them, especially in the heavily immersive and gripping IMAX 3D cut!
Pacific Rim isn’t a very complicated proposition though. It’s just meant to be pure, larger-than-life escapist entertainment. On that note however, it succeeds with flying colours, being one of the most action-packed and visually impressive movies of the entire year. It even outclasses its rival Summer offerings in that respect! If you just want pure effects-driven bliss, highly enjoyable, albeit undemanding cinematic entertainment, or just love seeing high-quality Hollywood action, Pacific Rim should be a high priority on your Summer movie list in these last few weeks of the season!
If the impressive final product of this movie is any indication, perhaps it is indeed time for the monster movie genre to make a comeback!