Monday, July 8, 2013

"Pacific Rim" review

When the first trailer for "Pacific Rim" came out, people had the right to be skeptical. Robots vs. Monsters? How great could this really be? Will this be like Transformers? Or a glorified Syfy movie? But the genius of the Pacific Rim trailers is how closely the cards are kept to the chest. You can't really imagine just how awesome this movie is until it's right there in front of you. While I did not want to see "Pacific Rim" in 3D, being able to see it in an Imax 3D theater had to be the ultimate viewing experience. These monsters are fucking huge. The robots are huge as well. I mean, really huge. There's a lot of crazy CGI going on here with a number of things that could go wrong and yet somehow, amazingly, Guillermo del Toro pulled it off. "Pacific Rim" is very much the real deal.

Another reason to be skeptical is Guillermo del Toro. He's made the "Hellboy" films, "Pan's Labyrinth," "The Devil's Backbone," but nothing could have really foreseen that he'd be able to tackle a project that has such a massive scale as this one. Now I'm hoping he'll always have a chance to tackle big budget projects. If big budget blockbusters have to be made, give one to Guillermo del Toro. With "Pacific Rim," he has officially put his stamp and signature on the blockbuster film. The man knows what he's doing, and he does it well. He's made me a believer, for sure.

From the outset, the premise to "Pacific Rim" is explained clearly. Kaijus = monsters, Jaegers = giant robots. These Kaijus have, for some reason, risen from a crevasse beneath the Pacific Ocean. After a few years of armed services from multiple countries failing to adequately fend off these monsters. A project is funded to create these giant robots, or Jaegers, that must be controlled by two humans simultaneously with their minds being locked in a neural bridge.

The Jaeger project winds up being a success, but with more and more Kaijus coming up from this crevasse, it becomes clear after a few years that they're not just gonna go away anytime soon. While the UN wants to crack down on this expensive project, Commanding Officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) demands to be given one more chance. The UN agrees to fund the project for eight more months, but after that, it's kaput.

So Stacker enlists the help of top notch Jaeger pilots along with two scientists to try to defeat these Kaijus and close off the portal that they are coming from. It's going to be an extremely difficult battle, with lots of sacrifices to be made, but it must be done. We will not cancel the apocalypse!

Admittedly, "Pacific Rim" has a few cheesy elements. Many scenes from the first half of the movie feature a litany of character cliches. You have the romantic subplot between the hot shot former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an up-and-coming one (Rinko Kikuchi). It's... cute, to say the least. Then you have the rivalry between the hot shot and another, younger egotistical pilot (Robert Kazinsky). They fight, they're at odds with each other, but eventually come to respect each other. You have the young up-and-comer demanding to be a pilot in one of the Jaegers with the Commanding Officer repeatedly turning her down. Of course, she'll eventually co-pilot a Jaeger with the pilot she's having a budding romance with...

Yes, it's all rather cheesy and goes through cliche after cliche, but it actually gives the second half more emotional resonance. And perhaps it comes across as cheesy simply because the film has an earnest tone that's devoid of cynicism, and it never takes itself too seriously. There are lighter moments sprinkled throughout the film, definitely helped by the quirky scientists (played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman). So when you have the big, gargantuan action sequences in the third act, the scenes wind up being more fun because you get a good taste of who these characters are. So, there are cheesy moments, but by the end, you're glad they're there.

We also may not get too much explanation in the way of why these Kaijus are here, but the film's strength is its utter simplicity. Many recent blockbuster films have gone by the wayside thanks to overly complicated plots containing too many scenes where you don't know and don't care what's going on. In "Pacific Rim," every scene serves a purpose, everything leads to something, and what it ultimately leads to is very satisfying.

And that's really the name of the game: satisfaction. You get what you pay for here. Robots fighting monsters. You're going to see that here. And you know what? It's actually fun to watch. Really fun. With action sequences that, quite frankly, nearly took my breath away. I was utterly and completely taken aback by how well-made this film was, from an action standpoint. The amount of CGI and information that is going on throughout these monsters/robots scenes is staggering, and yet del Toro is able to direct these scenes with 100% clarity. You actually know what's going on here! What a treat!

It's not perfect, not everything in the film adds up. It's got a few too many cliches, I am willing to admit that upfront. But the action in "Pacific Rim" is so good and the film is so fun that it's easy to forgive everything else. Del Toro somehow manages to make it work. "Pacific Rim" stands alone as the best film of the summer. Bravo, Guillermo.

Grade: A-

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