Friday, January 17, 2014

Movie Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim (2013) directed by Guillermo del Toro

Pacific Rim is one of those summer blockbusters that I regretted not making more of an effort to see on the big screen. It's clearly designed for the big screen, featuring gigantic monsters (called kaiju and similar to King Kong, Godzilla, and the classic Japanese movie monsters) and robots (called jaeger, though they are much larger than any Transformers or other such big screen robots) who battle in the waters and the great cities of the Pacific Ocean. Everything is larger than life.

The story follows jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket who fights a kaiju near Alaska. In the battle, his brother is torn from the jaeger they co-pilot and he dies. Since they pilot the machine through a psychic link (which doesn't make a lot of sense but is a dramatic contrivance to make the movie more exciting) he experiences his brother's death more deeply. Raleigh retires from piloting and becomes a drifter, working on the gigantic fences being built on Pacific coastlines to stop the kaiju from attacking. He's called back to piloting when the jaeger program is on its last legs. Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) runs the program and wants to make one last ditch effort to close the rift in the bottom of the Pacific from which the kaiju are emerging. Raleigh needs a new partner and the respect of the other jaeger pilots if the mission is to be a success.

The story is fairly boiler-plate and the characters are not very deep at all. The real enjoyment of the movie is seeing the jaegers and the kaiju fighting in Hong Kong or in the ocean or under the ocean in the finale where they try to close the rift. The movie delivers in spades on this front. The kaiju are imaginative and make a great menace. The robots are as big as buildings and tear through property and kaiju with amazing visuals. Gone are the days of guys in rubber Godzilla suits trashing models of Tokyo. This movie looks great. Also, the design of the kaiju and the jaegers are a departure for del Toro, whose work is often very recognizable--Cronos, the Hellboy movies, Pan's Labyrinth, and a few other of his previous works definitely have a similar aesthetic which is not continued in Pacific Rim.

The movie also keeps a good sense of humor. It doesn't take itself too seriously and finds plenty of light moments. There are nice visual references to other previous works like Jurassic Park and Voltron and other genre classics. Unlike World War Z, these references are fleeting and fun--not a distraction but a grin. Much like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this movie is a lot better than I was expecting. I recommend it as good popcorn-munching fun. This is what a summer blockbuster is supposed to be like.

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