Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: 'Pacific Rim' is an absolute blast

As a young lad, my “Godzilla” toys occupied a good deal of my time. They weren’t my favorites, my “Terminator 2” toys held that crown, but the “Godzilla” crew was high on my list.
                I had a big, sorta-crummily painted Godzilla whose arms and legs you could move, but only in a pretty unrealistic motion. I hate a big brownish pterodactyl my dad got surprised me with one day when he picked me up from school. Even though it was just a dinosaur, I happily pretended it was Godzilla’s sometimes winged-friend, sometimes winged-foe, Rodan.
                One Christmas I also acquired a fun little set of Godzilla’s entire catalogue of co-monsters, although they were much smaller than the other two, which kind of limited cross-over opportunities, but when you’re a kid, you make due.
                All of this is just a wildly long-winded way of telling you that I was pretty psyched when I first heard about Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robots slugfest “Pacific Rim.”
                If there’s one man who I trust implicitly with my beloved childhood memories of wearing out my VHS copies of Japanese monster movies, it’s del Toro, a guy who I’m sure was doing the same thing when he was a boy. Maybe to this day, even.

                In the future, a portal thing opens up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, allowing giant
monsters from another dimension known as kaiju (Japanese for strange creature, also the name given to the genre of movies Godzilla started in) to enter our world and start smashing stuff.
                Humans decide the best way to fight off these giant monsters is with giant robots, called jaegers (German for hunter). It takes two humans to pilot the jaegers, and the peeps need to have their minds linked together through a process called "drifting" in order to drive the big machines properly. This whole element reminds me a bit of the mind-hoping stuff featured in "Avatar."
                Everything’s going great until the monsters start getting bigger and the humans start getting cockier and suddenly jaegers are dropping like flies. As they often do, the people in charge panic, abandon the jaeger program and start building big walls to keep the kaiju out.
                But not everyone’s on the same page. A crack team lead by the delightful Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) keep the fighting going, using the last remaining jaegers. Before long, the walls start to crumble and this ragtag group becomes humanity’s last hope.
                With one last chance to end the war, Pentecost recruits former pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who’s been out of the game since his brother was killed in combat.
                That is a lot of plot and I’ve only scratched the surface. As the movie goes along, you find out characters are connected in new and mysterious ways, there’s a million subplots and all sorts of fun backstory.
                Even though it’s very busy, maybe even over-plotted, “Pacific Rim” is a blast. I had a giant, kaiju-sized smile on my face almost beginning to end. It’s exactly what I hoped it would be: del Toro doing “Godzilla.” There were honestly times during this movie where I was downright giddy - one fight scene in particular takes a turn I won’t spoil, but I almost lost it.
                The movie never takes itself too seriously, which is evident in its supporting cast. My spirit animal Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) shows up in a goofy, but restrained, role as a scientist, Mr. Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”) has a wonderful turn as scummy, blackmarket kingpin who sells kaiju body parts, and Burn Gorman (“Dark Knight Rises”) is fantastic as Day’s biggest science-guy rival.
                Our main heroes are no slouches in their own right. Hunnam seems to be doing his version of a Chris Evans character, which is great because I love Chris Evans and Rinko Kikuchi brings a surprising amount of depth to her role as Hunnam’s tough, but sensitive new partner.
                This movie gleefully hits all of the big action movie tropes: the idea of one last mission, the grizzled vet who swore he’d never go back, but then does, the underdog battle, in this case between an outdated piece of technology vs. a super-advanced one.  
                It’s all there and del Toro and his team know exactly what they’re doing. They’re paying homage to a genre of movies they grew up with (Godzilla stuff) and having fun playing off of the familiar beats of the action genre.
                My only criticism of the movie is that it’s too dark. All of the major fight scenes are set at night in the rain or at the bottom of the ocean, which makes it pretty hard to see anything.
                I felt like I could tell the jaegers apart OK, but often the kaiju sort of ran together into one big mess of tentacle, claws and teeth. Even one daylight fight scene would have been appreciated.
                It’s a shame too because from what I could see, this is the best CGI since the earlier-mentioned “Avatar.” There didn’t seem to be any reason to hide it. It’s not like in the old days, where you had to worry about the monster’s zipper making a cameo. This stuff was the real deal, so put it out there for us all to enjoy.
                The storyline has been criticized by some citizens of the web for being too dumb, but honestly, it had no problems with it. I saw it as pretty engaging and creative.
 I’ve also seen it compared to a Michael Bay movie, which isn’t accurate at all. Character development isn’t del Toro’s #1 goal, but there are some sweet father-son, quasi-adopted father-daughter, and just general human moments in here.
                If you love the old “Godzilla” films or are just looking for a fun night at this movies, “Pacific Rim” is the ticket. It’s something I definitely plan on revisiting again and again. Now if only I still had my old Godzilla toys …   
                Pacific Rim: B+

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