Guillermo Del Toro
Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman
(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 12 Jul 2013 (General release); UK theatrical: 12 Jul 2013 (General release); 2013)
Guillermo Del Toro is a geek. He’ll be the first one to tell you that. He loves everything nerdy: comics, horror, video games, superheroes… even obscurities like The Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. So when you want someone to helm your over the top tribute to the glorious kaiju films that originated in Japan post-World War II, who better than a man who more than likely studied every Godzilla/Gamera/Mothra/Rodan classic out there? Granted, he hasn’t always been the most commercial director, but if Pacific Rim is the reason he left the green pastures of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, then film fans (and studio suits) should be glad that Tolkien took a back seat.
Honoring everything studios like Toho and Daiei did in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s while bringing the whole giant monster vs. giant robots idea up to date, he delivers one of the summer of 2013’s best, most entertainment popcorn experiences. If it’s not a hit, there is something wrong with the sleepwalking sheep that make up a contemporary movie-going audience. This is why we go to the movies. It’s the magic of the artform processed through the advances in technology and digital F/X. It’s a big budget spectacle where every dollar is up on the screen, a boy’s adventure tale told by a man who never ever wants to grow up (and hopefully, he never will).
We begin with an introduction to a near future where a tear in the floor of the Pacific Ocean produces a portal between our world and a deadly alien universe. Out from this cosmic disruption arrive a series of horrifying monsters, skyscraper sized beasts who seem bent on destroying mankind. In response, the world pools its resources and builds a series of Jaegers—robotic warriors—who match the creatures in dimension and deadliness. The man in charge of this program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) picks his soldiers with one eye on their combat and fighting skills, the other on their psychological make-up. You see, the Jaegers are controlled by a pair of pilots who are neurologically linked to each other and the machine itself. It makes for better control of the huge automatons and more lethal results against the aliens.
After a five-year hiatus from the “wars”, a young man named Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is asked to return to the Jaegers. He lost his brother during a precarious battle, and has been in personal exile ever since. With the kaiju numbers rising and their offensive capabilities increasing, Pentecost needs all the help he can get. While scientists Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) struggle to understand the space threat, a wannabe warrior, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) tries to convince Pentecost to give her a chance. When a massive invasion threatens Hong Kong, Becket must find a partner who will best pair with him for the final assault, while a black market seller of kaiju parts may hold the key to defeating these fiends once and for all.
Epic in its vision and sprawling in its awe-inspiring set pieces, Pacific Rim will blow your mind. Indeed, after two months of city destroying superheroes and Rapture/zombie apocalypses, this is real end of the world entertainment. Old fashioned in its feelings for heroes and villains and propelled by a director so dedicated to his imagination that the results grow positively giddy over time, this is the kind of jaw dropping spectacle the motion picture was made for. Anyone who grew up in the era of matinee movies will instantly recognize the multiple lifts from the entire Man in Suit genre. Cities are destroyed. Cargo ships are used as baseball bats. The various kaiju each have their own unique ‘weaponry’, from knife-blade heads to the ability to spit acid, and instead of making each element ancillary, Del Toro seamlessly weaves them into his basic tale of rising, falling, and redemption.
There are moments of wicked humor here, especially whenever the nutty scientists Dr. Geizler and Dr. Gottlieb are onscreen, and there’s also heartbreak (as when a flashback focuses on Mako’s reason for revenge). We experience all the emotions that would come with such world altering events, not just the lax bravado of all those tired Transformers’ archetypes (oh - and a message to Michael Bay. You’re DONE! Might as well pack up your upcoming fourth take on this obnoxious franchise and let a true movie maestro take over). Thanks to the new realism of modern imagery, the battles become the stuff of hot Summer daydreams, an adolescent hallucination spawned by lazy afternoons in front of the TV, soaking up the latest offering from Sandy Frank, et. al.
This is the pinnacle of what Del Toro has been attempting ever since he put Hellboy through his misunderstood monster motions. It’s his nerd heart out on the line, a lament to the days when films had simple stories, identifiable characters with universal concerns, and just enough whiz bang wonder to keep you glued to you seat. In this case, when massive machines are putting a beatdown on a giant behemoth, you can see the director tapping into his deepest genre fan memories. This is Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla in brand new, CG stripes. It’s the sheer delight of putting the unimaginable up on the screen for all to see… and if he can add a bit of emotional resonance, if he can stir the heart as well as the head, he’s done his job.
Another critic suggested this, and it bears repeating. This may well be the Star Wars for a new millennium. It contains a cast of capable actors who, while not household names, will soon become same. It has a scope and a spirit that will win over the cynical and inspire a whole new generation to seek out the references from the past. It’s crowd pleasing without pandering, pushing the envelope of available technology while suggesting ways to take said artistry even further. And it’s a helluva lot of fun, reminiscent of your first trip to an amusement park, or when you first experienced a journey to a galaxy far, far away. Pacific Rim may end up being the benchmark for all similarly styled movies to come. Even without said status, it’s an amazing artistic accomplishment.