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Movie Review: Pacific Rim
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Pacific Rim Japanese PosterPacific Rim
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenwriter(s): Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 131 Minutes
Release Date: July 12, 2013

“Something out there discovered us.”

In the near future, giant monsters known as “Kaiju” emerge from an inter-dimensional portal deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a never-ending war that takes millions of lives and quickly consumes humanity’s resources.

In order to fight the monsters at our door, we create monsters of our own: massive robots, known as Jaegers, controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. Man and machine become one.

The Great Kaiju War rages on for decades. No matter how many we kill, they just keep coming – each wave bigger and stronger, harder to defeat. Resistance is futile. Now, as humanity is threatened with extinction, the remaining forces of mankind must make a final stand against their relentless, colossal adversary.

Co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), Pacific Rim is a spirited love letter to Japanese Kaiju films like Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. The film stars Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as Raleigh Becket, a washed-up Jaeger pilot brought out of retirement by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), a Pan Pacific Defense Corps Marshall who needs the brash, impulsive veteran to suit up and fight the Kaiju one more time.

Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) joins Hunnam as Mako Mori, Becket’s untested co-pilot who lost her family in a Kaiju attack. As they prepare to pilot Gipsy Danger, the PPDC’s oldest active Jaeger, Becket and Mori undergo Drifting, a type of mind meld that requires pilots to share memories, instincts, and emotions. This “neural handshake” allows them to act as one and control the 300-foot-tall, 200-ton mobile exoskeleton, using their combined combat experience to brawl with the Kaiju when bombs and bullets aren’t enough.

Best of 2013 So Far: Pacific Rim

What I love most about Becket and Mori’s relationship is that it isn’t romantic. As co-pilots, these two spend a considerable amount of time in each other’s heads and they completely understand one another – it’s just a fantastic concept, that you could be “drift compatible” with someone and they could really know you on a level no one else can. The best pilots share something in common – “The deeper the bond, the better you fight” – there are father-and-son teams, husband-wife duos, but it’s Becket and Mori’s shared pain of losing the ones they love that makes their bond unbreakable, and it’s so incredibly awesome that a film this big, with robots fighting monsters, can be grounded with such an emotional, uniquely human element.

The Kaiju (who have names like Knifehead, Leatherback, and Otachi) aren’t like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or the Cloverfield monster, they’re 25-story-high forces of nature – hurricanes with claws, typhoons with teeth. One by one these engines of destruction emanate from the sea and smash and stomp their way through cities as exterminators of the human race. Each monster is uniquely grotesque and equipped with its own biological weaponry – some spew acid onto their metal opponents while others can emit an electromagnetic burst that shuts down the Jaegers’ defenses. They are engineered for pummeling giant robots into submission, and they do so with style and bravado.

There’s a quirky subplot involving Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as Dr. Newton “Newt” Geizler, a punk rock scientist studying the Kaiju, and Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, his eccentric English partner, who are working on a solution to the Kaiju problem. Day’s character feels like the product of an unholy union between Bobcat Goldthwait and Rick Moranis, while Gorman’s tweed-wearing phlegmatic could easily be the spawn of Dr. Strangelove. The scientists need a Kaiju brain to experiment on, which leads them to Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), a black marketeer who makes a living dealing Kaiju organs as remedies to various diseases.

Pacific Rim Kaiju Attack

Day and Gorman serve as the film’s comic relief, a break from the heavy, world-shaking action of Jaegers and Kaiju body-slamming each other. They’re kind of like C-3P0 and R2-D2, eventually teaming up with Elba and the rest of the cast to figure out the secret to defeating the Kaiju once and for all. While their story is interesting, I’d much rather spend more time in the Drift with Mako Mori and Pentecost, learning about the early days of the Kaiju War.

As for the size and scope of del Toro’s film, the scale of Pacific Rim is insane – you’ve never seen anything this big on screen before. People are quick to make comparisons to Transformers, but Megatron wouldn’t even come up to Gipsy Danger’s ankle. Pacific Rim is nothing like Transformers or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – another lazy, off-target appraisal.

Japanese anime including Mazinger Z, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and cult genre films like Stuart Gordon’s 1990 post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick Robot Jox, are no doubt inspirations for Pacific Rim and should be referenced instead of Michael Bay’s Transformers series, which is dwarfed (in every single way) by this film.

I also have to mention the soundtrack, composed by Ramin Djawadi, recalls Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla scores, while providing a few bad-ass riffs courtesy of Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. There’s been a lack of memorable scores in movies lately, but days after seeing Pacific Rim I have the main theme (and Morello’s head-banging guitar riffs) burned into my brain.

Pacific Rim is the kind of movie that, if seen at the right age, could hook a kid on movies for the rest of his or her life. Star Wars was that movie for me, and Pacific Rim embraces the unpretentious spirit of adventure that made George Lucas’ sprawling space saga resonate with an entire generation. You’re dropped in the middle of this rich universe – this isn’t an origin story – populated by characters with fantastical names like Herc Hansen (Max Martini) and Tendo Choi (Clifton Collins Jr.). Jaegers like Alpha Cherno, Crimson Typhoon, and Striker Eureka sound like prototypes for the Millennium Falcon or a T-16 Skyhopper.

As someone who grew up obsessing over Mothra vs. Godzilla and the monstrous creations of Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda, I absolutely adored Pacific Rim. It hit all the right notes in being a spirited homage to giant monster movies while providing a new, original universe to play around in – a lush, lived-in universe that I want to spend more time in. For 131 minutes, I was transported back to my childhood, a big goofy grin slapped across my face, enjoying the simple pleasures of giant fucking robots slug it out with nasty monsters from the murky depths of the Pacific Ocean.

I’ve been pretty disappointed with this summer’s crop of big-budget blockbusters, but Guillermo del Toro has delivered a movie that makes no apologies for being FUN. That’s right – FUN. Pacific Rim aspires to bring us old-fashioned heroics with awe-inspiring visuals; dares to be a post-apocalyptic science-fiction film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and wants its audience to ENJOY themselves instead of take home some bigger philosophical meaning about the nature of man.

Pacific Rim appeals to the child within all of us – the uncynical child that can still be astonished – the kid that doesn’t want to be grounded in reality. I don’t know about you but I’m sick of reality. I’d give anything to Drift with Mako Mori and uppercut monsters in my skyscraper-sized robot suit. I don’t know if Pacific Rim will find its audience – if it will flop or break even or be an international success – but I’m glad it found me. Thanks Guillermo del Toro, for helping me escape reality and cynicism, if only for two hours.

Trailer

Fun Fact: Ellen McLain appears as the voice of the Jaegers’ artificial intelligence system. Del Toro secured permission from Valve Corporation to cast McLain in homage to GLaDOS, her homicidal AI character in the Portal video games.

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