Saturday, July 27, 2013

By request: Pacific Rim

I was asked by a friend to see the new film Pacific Rim as soon as possible, then comment on it; having watched the film last night, I'm happy to oblige:

Set in the not-too-distant future, director Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim features giant monsters (kaiju) who emerge from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean via a portal between Earth's dimension and their own. The monsters' goal is to destroy human life and as years pass their attacks become more frequent and the monsters, more powerful. Earth's best defense is, naturally, to construct immense robotic men (Jaegers) to combat the Kaiju. Because just one man cannot handle the mental strain of operating a Jaeger, the pilots operate in pairs, linking their minds together. The central action of the film arrives at a time where the Jaegers have almost all been destroyed or decommissioned; the last four Jaegers are sent to defend Hong Kong and attempt a desperate effort to destroy the Kaijus' portal; the central figure is Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger pilot who formerly worked alongside his brother; with his brother dead, Raleigh needs a new partner.

Just arriving at the point outlined above - where the defense of Hong Kong and destruction of the portal - are identified as the primary goals of the protagonists requires a lot of backstory on the film's part. First, here's how the Kaiju attacks started; then, here are the Jaegers; subsequently, here's the Jaegers being defeated and Raleigh's brother dying. Finally, here we are, ready for the actual plot of the film.

Surprisingly, this is not a "USA saves the world" picture. Raleigh is certainly from the US, but the other pilots include teams from Russia, China and, significantly, Australia. The battle against the Kaiju is an international effort which is kind of neat to see (and may account for why the film is performing much better internationally than it is domestically). There's also Raleigh's eventual co-pilot, Mako Mori, a Japanese woman. Although the film is ultimately about them proving their compatibility it is not concerned with setting up the pair as a romantic couple. On the one hand, I felt like the film kept me waiting for a shoe drop which never came; on the other hand, it's very refreshing to see a male-female relationship which doesn't require the couple to lock lips at the climax.

There are a few familiar faces in the picture such as Del Toro's personal good-luck charm Ron Perlman (playing a dealer in black market Kaiju body parts) and Jaegermeister Idris Elba, who appears to be speaking with his natural accent (for a change).

Unlike most of the dull shakey-cam films in most summer attractions, Pacific Rim puts a lot of effort into its visuals - terrific colours, interesting fight choreography and a fighting chance for the audience to understand what the opponents are doing to each other as they grapple. I should have to acknowledge a film for being coherant, but such is the world we live in. Similarly, although the story spends a fair bit of time explaining what's up with the Kaiju, you're never at a loss as to what the characters are trying to achieve. Because Pacific Rim is (again, unlike most action film offerings) not a sequel or adaptation, there's tension in not being able to anticipate how the plot will unfold or how the characters will wind up.

Is Pacific Rim a gift for giant monster movie fans? In a way, yes. Those who enjoy their Godzillas - especially films where humans go toe-to-toe with the Big G such as Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) - or who wished Neon Genesis Evangelion spent less time navel-gazing (to say nothing of light fixture-gazing) will have a blast. However, Pacific Rim could be enjoyed by anyone in the mood for a fun action movie. It hits the right beats and is ultimately very satisfying.

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