Pacific Rim (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
San Francisco, Manila, Cabo–the first three cities demolished by the Kaiju, towering monsters from another world that have gone through a portal located deep within the Pacific Ocean. In response to the catastrophic attacks, nations of the world band together and create the Jaeger program. Led by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), giant robots are sent to exterminate the leviathans each time they surface. For seven years, the program has proven to be a glowing success. However, not only have the aliens turned more massive over time, it appears as though they have learned to adapt.
“Pacific Rim,” based on the screenplay by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro, is propelled by two elements: nostalgia and faultless visual effects. When I wasn’t running around outside with my cousins or collecting bugs as a kid, I sat in front of the television around dinner time and marveled at shows like “Ultraman,” “Chikyu Sentai Fiveman,” and “Chōdenji Machine Voltes V.” When an episode was not dubbed, everything was in Japanese. I didn’t mind; the images spoke for themselves. All I really cared about was the action–especially during the last ten minutes or so when two figures fighting, one standing for good and the other for evil, grow taller than mountains and anything goes from there. I approached the film with optimism.
Fans of sci-fi action will be satisfied. Children, especially most boys, will be drawn to the picture. Themes like determination and heroism are present, but the centerpiece, colossal figures duking it out until an arm is torn off or the target is pummeled to electrical malfunction, allows it to stand out from other movies that showcase robots and superheroes smashing into skyscrapers.
The magic is in the detail and execution. While we are given some time to gape at the giants’ full bodies from a good distance, tight shots that linger are also implemented so we can observe the roughness and scaliness of the creatures which directly contrasts with the angularity and bulkiness of the robots. It is a completely different experience–a pleasant one–compared to other work within the sub-genre in which most of the action is largely composed of quick cuts. It is inviting. Instead of repelling or inundating us with rampant and incomprehensible editing, the filmmakers actually want us to see what two hundred million dollars looks like on screen when it is done right.
Having said that, I am a little older now and action is no longer the only element I care about. The dialogue is not particularly strong especially when the mood takes a serious turn. In addition, trying to steer some of the material toward a dark and dramatic territory is a miscalculation because paths are created but never explored meaningfully. There are ways of creating character development without necessarily making more subplots. For example, since the planet is in a state of cataclysm, it is more appropriate to focus on the decisions the characters feel they must make, how they live with those choices, and what their specific roles mean to them within the Jeager program. By streamlining its scope with respect to characterization, there might have been less scenes that drag or feel forced.
It is not without a sense of humor. I am usually repelled when scientists are portrayed as being so smart that they are unable to relate with anything that has to do with reality, but Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Newton and Gottlieb, respectively, are so fidgety, you’d think they chugged at least three Red Bulls prior to “Action!” I was amused by simply watching their characters struggling to stand still and keeping their opinions to themselves when their superior demands that they speak one at a time. Scientists with different perspectives on how to solve a problem is nothing new, but Day and Gorman’s performances create an illusion that it is new. Also, I liked looking at their lab. Newton’s side is like a bizarre candy store. That piece of Kaiju brain floating in a tank made me hungry. (I like to eat pork brain.)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, “Pacific Rim” is made with a love for the medium. It engages us with its visuals without relying on them too much to the point where there is no story. And although the script is somewhat limited, it remains a delight throughout. When you feel that the filmmakers have taken extra steps to create a work that is worthy of your time, especially in today’s increasingly cynical attitudes toward moviemaking, know that what you have seen is a rarity.