So here’s the thing. There is probably a segment of the general movie-going public that would see and/or hear about Pacific Rim and decide it isn’t really for them. Giant robots, giant monsters, Guillermo del Toro directing, epic summer blockbuster etc etc. I guess that’s okay. I mean, to each their own. But for the rest of the general public, there is no reason not to get your backsides out to see it as soon as you possibly can. Now, my worry here is that, even that we’re only in July, there might be a bit of big-ass-movie-fatigue setting in. Iron Man, Star Trek, Lone Ranger, Man Of Steel, World War Z, After Earth, White House Down, Before Earth, White House Up…eh, you get the idea. There have been a mess of them and more to come. But just because there has been a herd of ‘tentpole’ movies (some of which might’ve disappointed you in one way or other) so far, is no reason to second-guess on going to see Pacific Rim.
Because it is freaking awesome.
I’m still grinning three days after the screening and cannot wait to see it again this weekend. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, and frankly I don’t want to overload you with too much information beyond what you might’ve garnered from the myriad of featurettes and other promotional stuff flying around. Thankfully, the folks promoting Pacific Rim haven’t been too offensive in terms of giving stuff away (like whomever cut that most recent Conjuring trailer that just infuriates me with what they show – loved that movie but that trailer has the chance to deflate the effect of some key scenes and that just pisses me off) and I certainly won’t start the trend here. What I figure my job is to give you a basic rundown, why I loved the thing and why I hope the ‘tentpole’ directors of the world show up at their screenings with a pen and notepad in hand.
The story surrounds a large government aided (and run, it fluctuates) program to build giant robots to combat the ever-increasing attacks by giant monsters that arise from the ocean. Unlike many other epic disaster or alien invasion type movies, Pacific Rim starts us well after the start of these attacks after man has discovered a way to combat these creatures with initial positive but, as time wears on, more negative effects. This is played out in the first 15 or so minutes of the film and really set the tone for the rest of the story. Being given a lot of expositive data in a short amount of time can be really frustrating but in this case, the data melds together in an almost allegoric way. As if the narrator is recounting the story to someone unaware and while you might think, ‘duh, we’re the audience, we don’t know the story’ I mean to point out that it doesn’t treat you like an idiot but doesn’t overload either. Like a good orator and at the core, this is a storyteller-telling-a-story-directly-to-you type of movie, despite it’s scope and size.
These robots (called Jaegers) require immense amounts of engineering to pull off and very skilled pilots to control. They really aren’t ‘robots’ when it comes down to it and are a very very far cry from the newest version of Transformers robots (but more on that in a bit). They function with two pilots using a mind-meld type of thing because the mental load for one pilot would be too much. Trying to go into great detail about how this control technology works (called The Drift) would be a fool’s errand on my part, just rest assured that the logic of it and how it plays into the triumphs and tragedies is very well handled and does not get mired in the sci-fi mumbo jumbo area that bogs these type of movies down. It makes sense within the universe del Toro has created and how these giant machines must work. It is smart and creative and neat. Really, it is just a great solution to a potentially silly problem when you’re, you know, dealing with making giant robots as realistic as possible.
This brings me to another thing, the design of both the Jaegers and the Kaiju (the monsters) as well as the world they stomp around in. Maybe it is because I’m biased for affection for Guillermo del Toro’s work, but I really was in awe at the incredible depth of production design for this movie. Things that should look worn look worn but not in a cutesy Pottery Barn kind of way. They are used, they wear down around the edges. City streets look expansive even if we’re only dealing with a few hundred yards of them at different times. Massive building projects don’t look fancy but instead look cobbled together, dangerous, textured. Really that word is what it comes down to, textured. This world has weight, has substance and has function. Nothing is used, nothing is shown that shouldn’t be there. The monsters themselves have serious presence. I was totally blown away by how much real, logical space they actually occupy in this world. Time after time, giant creatures on screen look neat but don’t do a lot more than just that. The Kaiju of Pacific Rim are living, breathing things and by and large your ability to accept them as ‘real’ is aided by this attention to detail on not only them, but how they react and interact in their environment.
Because this is NOT a ‘Transformers meets a bunch of big ass aliens’ re-hash type of deal, especially when it comes to action. When the battles happen, you aren’t thrown in a clothing dryer with a mess of car parts, random electronic stuff and a couple iguanas and hope you make it out in one piece with some idea of what just happened. The choreography of the battle sequences in Pacific Rim is crisp, clear and I’d say most if not all of the time you do not get lost in the action. You can identify what is happening and what part belongs to what thing. This is very important in terms of film craft because without this approach the overwhelming effect of all the CG would be entirely too much to deal with after a while. Now, I will say the film could’ve used 1-2 less big battles and a little more of the ‘ground game’ but that is a minor gripe. The simple act of making big action seem small puts this film leaps and bounds above things such as the Transformers franchise in terms of action.
Well, in terms of story too and also in how you handle comic relief and the human element (Charlie Day’s Dr Geizler is the best of both worlds). Pacific Rim does not treat the human losses lightly, but also taps into human nature that follows disasters in a way that I really didn’t see coming but makes perfect sense. From shock to sorrow to, well, to what we humans often do which is cope, integrate, profit and ignore. I can see that I can very easily go into a lot of extra plot stuff here but I really don’t want to do that. While the underlying plot of the film is not complex by any means, it isn’t dumb either and better experienced as the film unfolds. The different shifts in tone are not tone-deaf by any means and do take the events of the film into account. It is subtle, but it is the right way to balance the spectacle with the human.
This does bring up the one complaint I do have with the film which is the human element on the personal level. There are multiple Jaeger pilot teams but they mostly fall into pretty basic character types that mix bravado with resoluteness in a way that is expected and not too deep. In fact, I don’t know that I could tell you much about the back stories of any of the other crews in any amount of detail. While you still care about them and you still cheer for them, you don’t know them in a deeper way. Now I’m not looking for Remains Of The Day meets Godzilla when it comes to character depth but I would’ve liked to know more about who these people really are. One could argue this could dilute things too much and I guess that might be true, but, I felt I could have used more to relate to when it comes to some of the secondary characters. For the primaries, their character models are pretty cut and dry for the most part with very easy to understand motivations and simple traits that make them who they are. None are wooden but none are deeply resounding either. All actors involved do well, Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman are excellent all around. No soft spots in the bunch. There are no stupid ‘people are the real monsters’ sub-plots to slog through and no excessive personal/relationship drama to deal with either. So in a way, the lack of depth works out okay.
Look, I could keep writing and writing and writing about this film and likely not wear out as quickly as you might reading all of it so I’ll get down to the core of it for me. As we get older, as life becomes less special and less fun, we instinctively seek out those things that give us little bouts of happiness and joy. So when I get to see a film like Pacific Rim which inspires that hard to find, hard to define joy, I’m very thankful. It isn’t often a film of this size and scope is done as well as Pacific Rim is and really, that’s all that matters. That little bit of escapism, that little bit of child-like wonder and that joy that makes all the difference