Transformers meets a whole lotta Godzillas.
Pacific Rim is an action movie for the action fan, a movie so overblown with giant-sized robots, monsters, explosions and destroyed buildings that I wonder how the planet is still intact by the film’s conclusion. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, that there’s this much action in a movie like this, especially with the release of Man Of Steel earlier this summer. It just means that this is a specific movie for a specific audience: one that is very stylish, visually stunning and hella lot noisy.
The premise is something of a Independence Day meets Transformers. These mythical creatures called “Kaiju”, who are the biological equivalent to the Godzilla monsters, come from a portal deep in the pacific ocean called “The Bridge”, and it is this portal where the Kaiju stem from to attack the human populace. They start at specific locations at first: San Francisco. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. The more frequent the attacks, the more the humans realize that they need a battle plan to counterattack the Kaiju.
Enter the Jaeger program. “Jaeger”, from what we’re told, is German for “Hunter”, and that’s exactly what this program is. It’s a military initiative designed by the world’s leader, combining their resources to make a weapon to fight the Kaiju with, which in this case, is an army of giant, imposing robots that would make Optimus Prime explode in his diaper.
I know what you’re thinking: “Why use the resources on a robot army instead of finding a way to close the portal?” Because then we wouldn’t have our movie, now would we? The most experienced of these Jaeger pilots is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a retired Jaeger pilot who quit after losing his twin brother in battle. With their resources dwindling by the hour, however, Raleigh is recruited by Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) back into the fray, to defend the earth before it is forever lost to the Kaiju army.
Sounds like a movie by Michael Bay, right? No? Well, how about Roland Emerich? Alexander Pryas? Andy and Lana Wachiowski? All wrong. This movie is written and directed by spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who is most known for movies including Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. What exactly, convinced him to step out of those realms to traverse into a science-fiction action movie like Pacific Rim?
Doesn’t matter. This is a good movie. A very good movie. How good, you might ask? So good that when you watch the movie, you can’t help but be blown away. It’s the sort of explosive, massive, beat-em-up action movie that functions as a sort of love letter to classic Japanese manga and anime, with shows such as Voltron and Gundam seeming to serve as the inspiration for these crazy monster fights. The fight scenes in the movie are big and boisterous, its level of scale and destruction so disastrous that it made movies like Godzilla and King Kong classics. I remember when I saw the 1939 King Kong for the first time five years ago and being impressed by what they accomplished visually despite the lack of technologies they had back then. Hear me, fellow reader: what Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack did with King Kong, Guillero Del Toro did with Pacific Rim.
In this day and age though, its easy to just focus on a film visually and forget to invest time in the story and characters as well. That’s where most action movies fail and what makes us frustrated by the majority of them, including the Transformers sequels and any Stephen Sommers movie. Here, Del Toro is smart enough to craft an actual story with his visuals, and for this I appreciate his effort. It isn’t just mindless action we’re watching on the screen here: Del Toro takes careful consideration in crafting a smart and interesting story to keep viewers interested, starting with the first day the Kaiju came to earth, to looking deeper into the troubled histories of many of these Jaeger pilots. There was one scene specifically that sticks out in my mind, a troubling and disconcerting memory of one of the female pilots recounting their experiences as a child when a Kaiju came and destroyed her home and her family, all while her male co-pilot tries his best to console her while crying helplessly like a lost child.
This is what turns the movie from good to memorable: the presence of these characters are rich, charismatic and dramatic, a nice combination of an involving, epic story with that of over-the-top stylish and exciting action scenes. Rarely do we get a combination this effective, and Del Toro does a great job delegating both parts of the story when the time calls for it.
It’s a shame, though, that Del Toro doesn’t keep up with that balance all the way through. There is a common problem this movie shares with many other action movies, and that is a final 30-40 minute action sequence that becomes repetitive, boring and predictable that loses all of the momentum and excitement it had at the beginning of the film. What happened? It’s overstuffed, dear reader. The end sequence takes place in the pacific ocean with two Jaeger’s fighting against an army of Kaiju. There are two things I know for a fact here: 1) The good guys are going to win, and 2) The main character, Raliegh, is going to live. I know thats how its going to end because the film would receive backlash if it ended any other way.
I’m fine with a predictable ending as long as it emotionally satisfies me, but why drag it out this long with action that loses its momentum? I know its for the viewers that just like to see big things blow up on screen and nothing more, but the ending sequence dragged out way too long. It became less of a story about humanity and survival and more of a video game watching things punching each other and screaming.
Okay, now before any sci-fi die-hards pounce on me like a wildcat, let me wrap this up. There may be some problems with this movie. Nevermind that. Take out the huge explosions. Take out the prolonged action scenes. Take out the cheesy dialogue and any of the movie’s supposed faults and just look at the film from the action fan’s perspective. This is an action movie that is exciting, suspenseful, involving, visually stunning, and mind-blowingly spectacular. This is an action movie that has been done right, not that Michael Bay would know about anything like that.