Movies

Reviewed: Pacific Rim

Guillermo del Toro's go-for-broke monster mash

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Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The fact that somebody would spend $185 million to whomp up a big monsters-versus-robots movie of the sort that the old Toho mutant-lizard factory would have tossed off for a few bucks and change 60 years ago is surely a sign that something's right with the world. Or at least with Hollywood. Or at least it will be if Pacific Rim doesn't follow After Earth and The Lone Ranger into the currently raging bonfire of box-office despair. The movie is a technological amazement, made with real affection for its low-rent genre, and it's often a lot of fun. How you feel about going to see it, however, may depend on how you feel about, you know, monsters and robots.

The picture has been cooked up from decades of Japanese sci-fi films of the Kaiju (big monsters) and mecha (big robots) variety. Fervent aficionados of these pictures, of whom there are very many, can probably quote whole swatches of silly dialogue from Mothra vs. Godzilla or the multi-behemoth Destroy All Monsters. Director Guillermo del Toro – a man in famously close touch with his inner 12-year-old – is one of these people, and what he has delivered here is a love tribute to those fondly remembered old films. The movie achieves a wondrously high standard for digital imagery employed in the service of an original concept – the ocean effects alone have a titanic power, and the mega-beasts rampaging through the picture make the Toho colossi of yore seem retiring in comparison. The action is relentless, but del Toro has wisely anchored it with – what else?—a tale of simple human courage and loyalty, and even a few dribs of romance, which allows us essential breathing space.

The story begins in 2020, the seventh year of the "Kaiju War" – an unending assault by alien creatures who have made their way up into our world through a crack in the ocean floor, and have been wreaking havoc on cities all around the Pacific Rim, from San Francisco to Sydney to Tokyo. These creatures are huge – when they arise in the middle of the ocean, the waters only come up to their scaly knees. They're also extremely unpleasant to behold: some have heads shaped like axes, others like knives; some of them spew acid and most of them can take out whole neighborhoods with a swing of their fearsome tails.

To fend off the Kaiju, coastal humans have deployed squads of Jaegers ("hunters" in German, who knows why), towering battle robots operated by pairs of telepathically-linked pilots. The interiors of these machines are the size of small factories. (They're exceedingly well-crafted by Legacy Effects, the California company that also worked on World War Z and Iron Man 3.) Positioned amid a welter of cables and computers, the pilots are able to manipulate their robots in roundhouse punchouts and booming arm-cannon salvos against their saurian tormentors.

Lately, though, the Jaegers have been getting creamed by the Kaiju, which keep evolving in newly hideous ways. The movie begins with a spectacular battle in which one of the Jaegers, piloted by two brothers, is furiously dispatched by a merciless attacker, killing one brother and seriously incapacitating the other, a stalwart lad named Yancy Becket.

Becket is played by Charlie Hunnam, of TV's Sons of Anarchy, and it's too bad that he's the lead, because here, at least, he's a little too bland to really command the screen. Fortunately, he has a lot of colorful backup. Idris Elba (Prometheus), who plays the Jaeger-corps commander, Stacker Pentecost (a name possibly left over from After Earth), is an actor of imposing presence. And Rinko Kikuchi (Babel), as Mako Mori, who eventually becomes Becket's new partner, is a terrific martial-arts girl with a sad, sweet secret. There's also a pair of comic-relief research scientists scurrying around: Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), a whiny math wiz ("Numbers are as close as we get to the handwriting of God!"), and Newton (Charlie Day, of Horrible Bosses), an amusingly frazzled brainiac who feels the answer to defeating the Kaiju lies in biological experimentation.

With the Jaegers racking up defeats in their ocean battles, unseen authorities decide to shut them down and direct all defensive efforts to building enormous walls around coastal cities to keep out the ravening Kaiju. The action switches to Hong Kong, where the municipal wall proves predictably ineffective. Pentecost, now a civilian, decides to re-form the Jaeger corps on his own. Meanwhile, Newton, in search of a biological weapon that will end the war, seeks out a black-market character named Hannibal Chau, who's making a fortune selling hacked-off Kaiju body parts for purposes only vaguely specified. (Chau, played by old del Toro hand Ron Perlman in a burgundy vest and black goggles, is easily the movie's most entertaining character.)

The Kaiju keep coming and coming, tearing up much real estate and continuing their oceanic assaults against the foundering Jaegers. These battle scenes really are CGI triumphs. Del Toro (working with Industrial Light & Magic) creates illusions of weight and scale and complex dimension that bring a new realism to this fundamentally unreal genre. But the movie runs well over two hours, and after a while, the novelty of even these impressive effects begins to wane; as one thunderous confrontation is followed by another, and then another, we begin to wonder when it will all end. And the conclusion that finally does arrive, while elaborately worked-out, doesn't really top all the furious action that has preceded it.    

I had a good time at this movie, and the vast brotherhood of monster-and-robot fans will surely love it. Whether or not a larger mainstream audience will be drawn in is a crucial question for a picture whose total budget, with marketing costs added on, will likely exceed $250-million. The movie hasn't been tracking well, and Warner Bros. and its production partner, Legendary Pictures, have been worried. It's great that they let a unique talent like del Toro go for broke with this film; understandably, they won't want to be going broke for having done so.             

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  1. I want to take my kid to see this. He’s 7 and in the sweet spot for this sort of mayhem.

    1. Do it, my dad used to take me to all the cool summer movies.

    2. I’d say that any man under 70 is in the sweet spot.

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      1. Let me guess? She strips for dirty old geezers?

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  2. If it wasn’t del Toro I would probably dismiss this film, but I want to see what he’s done with it.

    1. Exactly. If this was Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay directing I’d dismiss it out of hand.

      1. How dare you use my comment as a springboard to disrespect Michael Bay.

        1. There is no disrespecting Michael Bay, because only a madman would have any respect to start with.

  3. Maybe I’ll take the kid. I was a fan of “The War of the Gargantuas” when I was his age.

  4. What about Grown Ups 2

  5. Rinko Kikuchi is the only thing about this movie that interests me. And I’m guessing she doesn’t strip down.

    I’m sure it continues the cinematic tradition of under-utilizing Idris Elba, as well. And I can’t see Charlie Hunnam as anyone but Jax Teller.

  6. “Monster or job creator?”
    Don’t give them ideas. At least the fictional crisis wasn’t attributed to global warming.

    1. Monster or job creator?

      Well done, sir. Hilariously enough, rampaging monsters would qualify as a Keynesian stimulus.

      1. Pauli Krugnuts approves.

    2. Dems would cream their panties over an events like ocean monsters or the “alien invasion” Ozymandias perpetrated in Watchmen.

  7. I thought this looked awful, but I had no idea it was a Guillermo del Toro movie. I might actually check it out on Netflix in 6 months.

  8. The beauty of Hollywood, they spend $185 million and I still pay the same ticket price. Giant robots. Giant monsters. Giant del Toro budget. We’re seeing it.

  9. To fend off the Kaiju, coastal humans have deployed squads of Jaegers (“hunters” in German, who knows why)

    I’ve noticed it’s not uncommon in anime to sprinkle in German names and words for various things. I don’t know why either. Basically this movie is live action anime, which means it’s probably best to take anonbot’s advice: “jsut roll with it.”

    1. I’ll make a WAG and say it’s because when the Japanese were modernizing in the late 19th century the Prussians had the rep as the most badass Army (and of course the best pro-state educational ideas) around so the Japanese adopted a lot of German military notions, just as they adopted British ideas for their navy.

    2. Everything sounds more menacing in German, too.

    3. Maybe they should have just called them Evas?

      1. It’s funny you should mention that. When I first saw a trailer for this movie for the first few seconds I thought maybe they were doing a live action Hollywood-ized version of Evangellion.

        On a related note, has there been a series that ended with a bigger mindfuck than the last 3-4 episodes of that show?

    4. I think there is an actual anime that has gianr robots that are referred to as jaegers.

      I find myself drawn to some of the stranger anime, but that one wasn’t one of them.

    5. That’s because anime and manga are obsessed with European / western aesthetics.

      No classic Gundam or Japanese robot series is complete without foppish looking European characters dressed like Liberace, the Scarlet Pimpernel, or Napoleon. The French Gundam is called Rose Gundam and operated by a French Royals named “George de Sand”. The Robot comes with his own cape, sword, Napoleon hat, and a butler robot.

  10. Just think what Obama could do with a “Global Struggle Against Kaijus”. The NSA would surveil every beach, swimming pool and toilet. Libertarians would object. The Feds would say sure we record your every bowel movement, but we are listening for Kaijus.
    Plus taxes to build giant robots, defense contractors making sure every congressional district was making some part or component.

  11. Do the monsters win?

    1. since the movie is called “Pacific Rim”, there’s likely very little chance Washington D.C. gets flattened, so I’d say yes, the monsters win.

  12. Pacific anal rim.

  13. Hunnam’s character is named Raleigh Beckett. Yancy is the dead one.

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