BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - “Say no to reboots, say yes to robots!” Guillermo del Toro wants you to forego the franchise fare that’s all over the silver screen and take a dive into Pacific Rim, a completely original movie. And I suggest, no actually I demand (nicely,) that you follow his instructions. Pacific Rim is the best movie I’ve seen all summer, and potentially all year.
Completely original? You mean not based on a book, comic book, TV show, another movie or yet another sequel? Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. And frankly, it’s sad that I basically have to make that distinction nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I love sequels. The past two reviews I’ve done have been on sequels. But it takes a good long minute of racking my brain to think of a blockbuster movie released recently that was based off an original idea.
The trailers provide a decent snippet of establishing the type of movie you’re signing up to see, but it barely scratches the surface of the epic adventure that awaits you for two gloriously jam-packed hours. I was lucky enough to see the film in IMAX 3D through the LA Times screening series, followed up by an hour long discussion with director Guillermo del Toro, the man himself. Just hearing him speak and to see the pure passion he exudes in everything he creates reminds me of why I love movies and that amongst the superficiality of Hollywood, there are people who do what they do for the love of the craft.
Pacific Rim provides a very effective exposition to the world in which the story is set. Aliens, called kaijus, have surfaced, quite literally, from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and begin to attack cities around the world. These monstrous creatures are hard to kill, so in order to suppress the threat, the world’s governments create monsters to rival the aliens in the form of jaegers, which are several-story tall robots piloted by two humans joined together through what is called a drift. A drift brings the two pilots together through memories and unites their brains and bodies to each other and to the giant robots. This program is effective in stopping the threat of the kaiju, for only awhile.
Del Toro mentioned during the question and answer session following the film that it was important for him to set the movie in a time where the protagonists are losing, and they have to become the resistance. After the exposition scenes, the body of the film is set in the time when the governments are ready to shelve the jaeger program in exchange for building a giant coastal wall. Needless to say , the wall doesn’t work, at all. So with only four jaegers left, the once mighty commanders and pilots band together to put up one last fight.
Part of the reason this movie succeeds so spectacularly is the strength of the characters. The main protagonist is a jaeger pilot named Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam most recognizably from FX’s Sons of Anarchy, who retired from the program after his brother was killed while they were completing a mission. His commander, Stacker Pentecost, played by powerhouse English actor Idris Elba, recruits him back for their last ditch effort to “cancel the Apocalypse.” Raleigh gets teamed up with a new co-pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who has demons from her own past which she’s forced to confront alongside him. Providing the comic relief are the two fast talking scientists, (Burn Gorman and Charlie Day), each trying to prove themselves right, mainly by talking over each other as often and as loudly as possible. And of course, Ron Perlman of Hellboy fame as the slimy gangster of the Hong Kong underground black market steals every scene he’s in, pun slightly intended.
These characters start off on their own, insistent upon facing their problems alone, and as Del Toro pointed out, it wasn’t until they came together that they could accomplish what they needed to. Raleigh needed Mako to get himself back into the pilot’s seat, and she needed him to finally get past her tragic past to forge the future. Each character gets their moment of togetherness with another and the epiphany that we don’t have to do it alone. Especially heart-wrenching is the story between our antagonistic character and his father sharing a moment of tenderness before the battle. Also, I’d just like to point out the wonderful decision not to force a romance where there didn’t need to be and providing a great powerful female characters for anyone of any age or gender to look up to. Women in action movies are usually reduced to the damsel in distress, or arbitrarily ending up with little clothing on. It’s refreshing to see a strong female presence in a testosterone-fueled action film market.
Yet, the story is only half of the movie, with the other half being the audio and visuals. Del Toro put it quite nicely in saying “I don’t do eye candy, I do eye protein!” The visual world is super saturated in terms of color; whether you’re in the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong or inside the jaeger machines, the color palettes are stunning and incredibly beautiful. If only to add to the scale of impressiveness that this movie provides visually, all of the sets were completely realized in a physical form. The CG only comes into effect when you’re looking at the kaijus and jaegers from the outside. The pilot’s controls, the huge hangars, most anything the actors touch are all real sets that were pain-staking in their design with all details in mind down to even the menus inside the restaurant. Paired with an unavoidably catchy musical score by Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Game of Thrones), this movie is really the whole package.
This movie is 100% worth it in 3D. The 3D effects were stunningly real and completely engulfed you into the movie to the point where you couldn’t see the seam between reality and the world you were invited to.
This film is pure joy to watch. The action sequences are phenomenal and absorbing. The two hour run time flies by as you root for this pack of rightful misfits fight for the one thing that unites us all: our humanity. Guillermo del Toro said that’s the most important aspect in any of his films, the idea of humanity and togetherness, “We all need each other to survive. We are all metaphorically in the same robot.”
Pacific Rim starts tonight with special premiere shows and goes into full release tomorrow. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language and has a runtime of 131 minutes. Read more about the movie here.