by David Seaman | Echo
Even with a premise that is basically "Transformers" meets "Godzilla", "Pacific Rim" is still one of the most original blockbusters of the summer. It is refreshing to see a summer action flick that is not a sequel, franchise or superhero movie. "Pacific Rim" delivers what it promised from the trailers (robot-on-monster brawls), while showing some heart along the way.
In the not-too-distant future, alien monsters called "kaiju" have found a way to Earth through an undersea portal. Kaiju are not invincible, but they are very hard to take down and seem to be endless. The world pools their resources together to create "jaegers," giant robots controlled by two people designed to quickly put kaiju down.
Raleigh Becket used to be one of the best jaeger pilots. But after a battle results in a major loss, Raleigh decides to quit the fight. Five years after the incident, Raleigh is working on a massive coastal wall to keep out the kaiju. Jaegers have been losing the war, and the world is focusing on defending what they have left. The worst is yet to come, however, and Raleigh is forced back into service to stop the threat once and for all.
The plot is at times confusing and bloated, and the visuals far outclass the story in "Pacific Rim." For some movies that is not enough (see "Transformers"), but the effects mostly succeed in diverting the mind away from sub par acting and writing. Charlie Hunnam, (as Raleigh), is an uncompelling cardboard character. His co-star, Rink Kikuchi, is more convincing as Mako Mori, Raleigh's emotionally compromised co-pilot. There is some good chemistry between the two characters.
Actors Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are annoying as two kaiju-obsessed scientists, while Robert Kazinsky and Max Martini leave their marks as tough-as-nails Australian pilots (who also happen to be father and son). Besides that most of the other characters are forgettable. Some actors elevate the material. Idris Elba is intimidating and almost Shakespearean as commanding officer Stacker Pentecost. Ron Perlman hams it up as an over-the-top black marketer specializing in kaiju organs. Elba takes things seriously while Perlman does not, and it creates good contrast in a film that is both tongue-in-cheek and serious.
The storytelling is a bit of a problem. The film has a slow pace and takes quite a while to end. Viewers crave fight scenes, but in order to get to those there are a lot of talking and training scenes, which can be tedious. It does, however, set up some good character development, especially in fleshing out Mako's backstory. There is also some fascination in the way the film combines Asia's robt and monster obsession with the continent's strange fixation on nuclear holocaust, all within an American-made movie.
Director Guillermo del Toro deliberately had kids in mind for the audience, so he crafted a story that contains good messages related to courage, teamwork and sacrifice. Characters must overcome their fears and prejudices in order to work for the common good. Del Toro also wisely decides to show people being safely evacuated from cities. This lessens the overall peril and lets the viewer enjoy the kaiju versus jaeger action without fear of loss of life.
What great action it is, too. In spite of some plot and acting issues, "Pacific Rim" really delivers in the visual department. The kaiju and jaegers look real. There is a sense of awe in seeing a massive jaeger rise and fall, and the kaiju are as terrifying as the jaeger are awesome. The fights are epic and fun to watch. Best of all, they are coherent. A viewer can clearly see a jaeger punch a kaiju or a kaiju unleash a powerful attack. The different types of jaegers are entertaining. Del Toro even winks at the audience by giving us kaiju that look like famous Japanese movie monsters (and in one case, an American one).
The movie may have a sub-par plot and poor acting, but the spectacular visuals and fresh reverence to monster movies make it worth a viewer's while. Above all it's fun and not too cynical, something that is greatly needed at the movies these days.