**minor spoiler alert, but you don’t exactly need to be a genius to figure out the plot arc of this one…monsters and robots fight to save mankind, and guess who wins?
On first glance, Pacific Rim looks like a clone of the Transformers series. In some ways, it’s not so different…though it has thankfully gotten rid of the empty eye-candy characters that clutter up the screen and inexplicably make Shia Lebeouf seem like the smoothest guy on the planet (see: Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whitely…seriously, how did he land them?)
The name Guillermo del Toro (director of, among other things, Pan’s Labyrinth) was enough to give me pause and land me in a sticky seat at my local movie theater. That, along with a surprising 80% positive rating on rottentomatoes.com. What, if anything, makes Pacific Rim more than just a drawn-out little boy’s fantasy, where robots smash each other and most of the world’s major cities to boot?
For one thing, the premise of the machines is fairly interesting, and in an age of motion capture video-games and non-stop 3D nonsense, it seems pretty plausible already. In the machine (or jaeger, as it’s called in the film), two human pilots tap into the neural system of both the machine and each other, achieving perfectly synchronized combat as each human forms one hemisphere of the robot’s brain. It’s a demolition derby with high human stakes. Buildings are ripped apart and cars overturned with glee every ten minutes. The monsters themselves are deliciously gross, bleeding neon blue goo all over the screen. This is clearly the creation of someone who has seen Godzilla once or twice, and has offered up an heir.
Pacific Rim also offers a brief respite from the wearying onslaught of alien-attack premises (Avengers, Man of Steel…the list goes on) by making these giant monsters from Pacific depths…sort of. Turns out the monsters are alien colonizers, naturally. But at least the film taps into the last truly unexplored part of Earth, the only place really unknown to man—the depths of the Pacific. Space has been so overdone in movies lately that it feels almost inevitable that every superhero or combat-heavy movie will end with an epic battle against space monsters. But we know a decent amount about space. We’ve sent humans out there (at least for a little while). Less known are places like the Mariana Trench, which are still mysterious despite all our technical prowess. Now that’s scary. Monsters that come from the depths of the ocean are little-used and long-overdue in the long streak of CGI-heavy films that now dominate theaters.
The plot isn’t really the point, anyway. The characters are sketched out with a tiny bit more depth than your average rock-em-sock-em flick offers (thinking of you again, dear Transformers), and the film certainly benefits from the presence of Rinko Kikuchi, who steals every scene she’s in from her mostly lackluster co-star, Charlie Hunnam. At least he looks like a cross between Liam Hemsworth and Channing Tatum…? Kikuchi’s scenes, especially the one where she fights (and beats) her future co-pilot, carry the film as far as character development goes. No wonder she was nominated for an Oscar for a film in which she didn’t even speak (Babel).
If I’m rambling a bit, it’s because there’s really very little to break down with regard to this film. It’s salvaged by the same kind of eye for fun (and a hint of cheesiness) that infused Hellboy, another of del Toro’s creations. Pacific Rim is mostly style, mostly catch-your-breath combat and little else. It may not be high art, but it’s damn good fun.
*and it features Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, channeling that manic energy into the role of a monster-crazed scientist. What’s not to like?
**and Mr. Del Toro, what happened to that rumored adaptation of Beauty and the Beast that was forthcoming a few years ago? Starring Emma Watson? Less Godzilla and more magical realism fairytales, please!