by Ed Sum
Plenty of heavy metal thunder can be found in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Once the action happens, this film’s many battle sequences are fast and furious, and that’s how real fights should be wrought. Anything drawn out makes those moments slow. Audiences must be tired of Matrix-style “hang-time” effects by now and this film is anything but. Plenty of striking visuals can be seen in this movie that is very different from del Toro’s previous products.
Even the 3D finally offers some punch. Out of all the movies that have been converted to 3D in post, this film is the best of them all. Not one moment feels flat.
Although there is plenty of familiarity to this product, fans of giant monster movies and anime will no doubt love this film. The pacing could have been better and the camaraderie further developed, but that would shift the focus. This movie is layered to introduce smaller conflicts for the hero, and to have more explanation happen would make this film run longer. In a tale that is like the classic anime of the previous century, the hero is introduced to a precarious situation, has to lose something (or someone) dear to him, and that drives him for the remainder of the series. If there are plans for another movie, the threat will have to come from the stars next. Del Toro may well finally get to make a Cthulhu inspired movie after all!
In this film, the threat comes from deep in the Pacific Ocean. That’s not too far different from another sleeping beast, even though it is located in the Atlantic. Instead of a lost city of R’lyeh, a portal to another dimension gets opened instead. Perhaps that doorway is located somewhere along the Bering Sea or in the Mariana Trench. The detail went by too quickly to note but viewers will find that volcanic activity is evident. These beasts seem to have no rhyme or reason at the start to explain why they are attacking coastal cities. Many years have passed and a special program was developed to build giant robots (Jaegers) to combat this threat. Much like the doomsday clock, humanity is fearing the worst—complete takeover of their world.
And it is up to Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to save the day. However, he has to contend with a potential rival in Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky) and to face his fears of piloting a Jaeger again; this time with a new co-pilot. After the loss of his brother, Yancy (Deigo Klattenhoff), he took time away to isolate himself amongst a team of construction workers trying to build a wall, an apt metaphor for what he is doing to himself, to stop the monsters from invading North America.
These man-made barriers do not help and Major Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) arrives to take him to the life he has no interest in returning to. Sadly, he has no choice.
At least four decades worth of animated mecha and live-action kaiju (monster) movies were paid tribute to. The tale is as engaging as the old anime tales of yore. Everything old is new again from a live-action perspective and some viewers may want to make comparisons to other films, namely Starship Trooper and Independence Day. The hero has to overcome adversity and, of course, get the girl. This film is more like atypical comic book style fun and that’s what this film exemplifies. Del Toro’s well paced mecha action puts Bay’s attempts to shame. This Mexican director imbues his battles with clarity than the other ever will. Audiences can easily follow along to what is where and recognize what is going on.
And viewers acquainted with the anime and monster movie stylings from the 60’s and 70’s will find plenty of iconic references. For example, Knifehead looks a lot like Guiron despite being primarily bipedal and the Jaegers look like they can easily fit into the world of MD Geist or Armored Trooper Votoms. But there are more anime familiarities if the viewers look carefully. The interface the Jaeger pilots use is a blend of ideas from Evangelion and Gunbuster. Although viewers do not see what the pilots are seeing, one must assume they are seeing the world in their own mind’s eye, so that they are aware of their surroundings. Not everything is communicated to them by headquarters.
Hopefully in due time there will be a book that will explore the technology behind the Jaegers. They look like they are inspired by the latest trends in robotics. And yes, some fans are waiting for a live-action Mobile Suit Gundam movie to be made. If Pacific Rim is any indication, it can be done. The real issue will be in how realistic will the mecha be if they are the designs created by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.
8 out of 10