This review was originally published on TopicalTodd.com 7/16/2013
Expectations for director Pacific Rim aren’t high but unlike other films with lukewarm expectation , director meets the bar it sets for itself which is better than flying low of lofty expectations. Director Guillermo Del Toro successfully takes influences from Asian science fiction and applied it to a blockbuster formula we have seen before to make it feel fresh.
Set in the future where a group of monsters dubbed the Kaiju regularly attack cities along the Pacific Ocean. In response, humanity has joined together to build giant robots called Jaegers to fight off the Kaiju. The film shows its formula from the beginning as it opens on brothers Raleigh and Yancy Beckett (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff) as they are called into action to fight a Kaiju.
The movie’s biggest strength is its readiness to get to the action and we’re treated to a battle worthy of a climax – and they only get better. Unfortunately it doesn’t go as well for our heroes as it does the audience. Yancy is dead, forcing Raleigh into exile. The united governments relegate the Jaeger program in favor of a wall leaving Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to bring Raleigh back for one last effort to save the world for good. Upon his return he finds a new co-pilot in the hopeful scientist Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) whom he must train to help him save the world.
We’ve seen this familiar formula films like Top Gun or the more recent Fast and Furious 6. While both those are more efficient in multiple ways, they don’t have the atmosphere that Del Toro brings to the picture. Both Hunnam and Elba give performances limited by a script that would give more wiggle room for the likes of Tom Cruise or Jeff Bridges. Which is disappointing, considering the character work in the Hellboy movies or Del Toro’s foreign work.
It’s no surprise that the best written character is also where you’ll find the best lead performance in Kikuchi – not to mention the fact that she’s the only Asian lead in a film loaded with nods to Otaku culture. Mako respectfully scoffs at Pentecost’s efforts to keep her out of the cockpit and is focused on her sole goal of killing Kaiju. Again, credit is due to the script for not forcing her into a romance with Raleigh. While there are hints of intrigue and attraction towards her co-pilot, their relationship is closer to Goose and Maverick than Han and Leia. Fathers should encourage their daughters to come to the movie with them and their son as there won’t be a better female role-model this summer.
I have only touched on the film’s highlights, which are in the fights. As I’ve said before, the opening battle is enough to put the best climactic conflict to shame and they only escalate in scale. This summer has been full of senseless urban destruction and while a large part of Hong Kong is decimated, the script makes it clear, our heroes do everything they can to keep battles at sea – in a nice touch one carefully steps over an overpass rather than walk through it. Del Toro reaffirms that he’s the king of creature and tech design by injecting unique personality without allowing cartoonish behavior. He also avoids relying on slow motion, opting instead to keep the audience well-oriented at all times.
It’s Del Toro’s commitment to delivering on these strengths that makes the weakness – again there are many – easily forgivable. This is especially true when so many blockbusters aim high only to fall far too short.