Pacific Rim (2013)
7/10 Monster Hunters
It’s live-action anime and it’s actually pretty awesome.
Pacific Rim takes place in the near future, a future where giant monsters have started attacking our cities after an inter-dimensional rift opened up in the Pacific. After quickly realizing that our jets and tanks are no match for these mighty beasts, our world leaders put aside their differences and start pooling their resources. Before long, the Jaegers are born: those big-ass man-powered punching machines that, for a while, do a bang-up job of puttin’ a whuppin’ these Kaiju. Our story follows one particular Jaeger pilot who abandoned his post after barely surviving a fight with one of these jerks. But as the Kaiju grow stronger, our guy suits up to put an end to this nonsense once and for all.
When you’re generally regarded as one of the busier, more ambitious people in Hollywood, one would expect that you’d choose your projects wisely. From trying his hand in the world of video games to producing, oh, just about every foreign horror movie of the past five years, Guillermo del Toro puts a lot on his plate. With so many passion projects to commit to, I honestly don’t know how the dude gets anything done. Bathroom breaks must be low on the to-do list. With that said, I couldn’t have been the only one surprised by these trailers.
Gone were the story-driven glory days of Pan’s Labyrinth, ahead of us lay what appeared to be his highly suspect, best forgotten “Michael Bay period.” Giant robots fighting giant monsters, dialogue written by gym rats in wife beaters, more than enough eye candy to make contacts out of Pixy Stix. “You’re better than this, Gui” I thought to myself while Idris Elba went all Liam Neeson on my ass. It wasn’t until the trailer’d been jammed so far down my throat it was starting to give me kidney stones that I began to drink the Kool-Aid. But even then, the mantra bore repeating.
Trust in Guillermo, Aiden. Trust in Guillermo. If it works with Bill Belichick, why shouldn’t it work here?
The double-edge sword of sorts is that Pacific Rim is exactly what it’s being sold as: Independence Day, as told through the eyes of a teenage boy. I’d like to say that I’ve grown up since the middle school, I’d like to say that a pitch like that no longer appeals a maturity level such as my own (because what’s more mature than Cut The Crap Movie Reviews). But alas, once a teenage nerd, always a teenage nerd.
With each new nod that Guillermo throws to the worlds of video games and anime, I couldn’t help but feel like he and I have more common interests than I’ve ever cared to admit. Suddenly, there I was, right back on my mom’s couch burning hours with my old friend Xenogears. There I was, watching Neon Genesis Evangelion on VHS before making the trip back to Blockbuster. Even the getups that the Jaeger pilots wear look like deep-sea versions of the ARS suit from Vanquish. Needless to say, it was quite the geekout that culminated upon hearing GLaDOS’s voice in the cockpit. That was when I realized that nothing’s really changed.
Despite my hesitations, Pacific Rim is a movie after my own heart. It’s still a far cry from something like The Devil’s Backbone – something I’m far quicker to associate with del Toro – but as a creature feature from an otaku who thinks Shadow of the Colossus is art, believe you me, I was on the level.
So I guess therein lies the subjective appeal to this ditty. As for the objective side of things, you don’t need nerd cred to appreciate del Toro.
Sure, it’s got that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em childlike sense of wonder, it’s even got monsters from the Golden Army’s reserves (although I wish there’d been some more variety in their designs). But that’s not the reason I was quietly cheering “KICK HIS EFFIN’ ASS!” with each brawl that went down. See, boys and girls, the one thing Guillermo is a goddamn wizard at – and really doesn’t get enough credit for – is the ludicrous degree by which he keeps raising the stakes and the insurmountable odds he makes his heroes overcome. Man, I still watch Hellboy and wonder how he’s gonna beat those damn Nazis?
It’s weird though, because even though you can’t raise the stakes much higher than, you know, global destruction, that crippling, “last chance” sense of desperation isn’t quite here like it is in Hellboy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a crap situation, but even with all the threats that the Jaegers have to deal with, I was always pretty confident that they’d rise to the occasion. I mean, Hellboy’s arsenal boiled down to a big-ass six-shooter and flame-retardant flesh. That’s not much given what he was going up against, it was actually borderline depressing how dire his situation was. But the Jaegers? Those things were made to fuck shit up, and fuck shit up they do. They got this, yo.
However, there is a major design flaw in these killing machines, or rather there was a major lapse in combat training down the line (fair warning: minor spoilers in the rest of this paragraph). From a screenwriting perspective, I completely understand why you’d stick to fisticuffs for half the movie before opting to break out the swords. Makes for better, longer brawls where each fighter has to earn that W and that nick-of-time sword reveal certainly was nice. Then again, given the stakes and given our resources, I couldn’t have been the only one who spent the first half of this movie wondering where the swords were at? Pretty sure that’d be a priority in the design process, pretty sure that’s a required course over at Jaeger University. Thinking this whole Kaiju problem would have been a lot more manageable if there’d been more stabbing in the mix, but I will admit that it wouldn’t have been as much fun.
And it really is fun, it really is Independence Day-meets-Godzilla 2000 and it’s simply amazing how closely this plot mirrors that of ID4. If the whole thing ended with Randy Quaid on a Ski-Doo, I wouldn’t have been surprised. There’s part of me that doesn’t want to admit how enjoyable this all is simply because of this obvious connection, but I just can’t deny what a crowd-pleaser it is. It’s the kind of movie we talk about when we talk about summer blockbusters, it’s the kind of movie that keeps giving you reasons to get a high-thirty going. It is cheer-worthy stuff from beginning to end. And for the all time it spends in the ring, there’s just enough substance to save it from being mindless. Can’t say I shed any tears over this lot, but props to Guillermo for going the extra mile. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
The cast itself also does a good job of knowing what they’re dealing with and knowing just how seriously to take themselves. Idris Elba’s good as his macho self; big fan of any movie that paints Rinko Kikuchi as a badass; and while I’m usually not big on Charlie Day, he’s alright here. Dude needs to switch to decaf though.
So with all these good vibes I’ve been sending out, teenage Aiden would probably be sad that I didn’t bump this sucker up to an 8. Since I’m not one to rain on my own parade, I will say that I have good reason for my Verdict. The reason Pacific Rim is stuck with a 7 is that, at the end of the day, it’s still a summer blockbuster, even if it is by Guillermo del Toro. Maybe if it’d been by someone else it would have gotten that extra point, but since we’re all pretty aware of what Guillermo can do, I can’t help but feel like this is all a bit beneath him. From the art direction to the set pieces, this looks like del Toro as much as it feels like del Toro, which is exactly why it works like it does. I’ll even give him points for fleshing out these characters, which is more than most directors would have done. I guess I just wish there’d been more to take away than the adrenaline rush, something that’ll make me remember it more once fall arrives.
Still, if it’s a rush that you’re after, what a rush it is. It pays to trust in Guillermo.