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Pacific Rim (2013), an epic live-action anime experience

July 15, 2013

MY CALL.  Effects. Effects. Effects.  That’s why you wanted to see this movie.  NOT for a good story!  This is live-action anime.  If I hear one more fool (who thinks he’s a deep thinker) criticize the story while overlooking the action I’m going to lose it.  You can’t sound smart if your critique of the story suggests this movie is “bad.”  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Real Steel (2011) and Transformers (2007) successfully captured similar action and CGI-robot combat choreography.

This is one of those movies that gets your over-critical friends saying “it just looks like a big blob of CGI.”  Sure, the scale of this summer blockbuster-style film is TREMENDOUS.  But, unlike the Transformers sequels, it doesn’t get away from itself.  No.  We still find some Guillermo del Toroisms, especially in creature-creation and preternatural market senes.  The story, on the other hand, is quite simple. It strikes me as something out of a videogame or a futuristic Dungeons & Dragons adventure.  It’s no Troy (2004).  Troy was an epic-scale war story that–among some AMAZING action sequences–still allowed its viewers to intimately understand the characters.  Rim is less (successfully) character-driven.  A few things are revealed about the characters, but they don’t seem to “develop.”  But why was this movie made, how was it marketed and who was it made to please?  Probably not a bunch of stuck up plot critics.  No, this was made for sci-fi effects and action junkies.  So, if you’re not willing to check your critic’s hat at the door, then I suggest you just shut up and wait for the next giant monster fight when you go see this.

Through some manner of portal between tectonic plates deep below the Pacific Ocean emerge giant behemoths called Kaiju.  These creatures come all shapes and plus-sizes.

There’s your movie.  If you need great writing to accompany this, then shame on you.

To save humanity all of the world powers set aside their differences to pool their finances and engineer Jaegers, giant robots jockeyed by paired, mind-melded (aka, drifting) pilots.  All seems to be fine–given that we are under attack by 600 foot tall abominations–until the Kaiju start winning!  Though simple behemoths at first, subsequently emerging Kaiju are bigger, smarter fighters with more bells and whistles.  The world powers begin to doubt the Jaeger program, whose director Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba; The Losers, Prometheus) is running out of options.

Despite the simple story, there is a steady flow of information to keep us informed and updated about the Jaeger program and what we know about the Kaijus.  It provides a nice balance between the action, which was delivered with a sense of uncertain urgency as to just how bad things were going to become for the Jaeger pilots in many situations.  To put it briefly, the dire consequences of piloting a Jaeger are realistically depicted even as we enjoy a world-threat story in which humanity actually unites instead of letting our differences impede our success.

Pentecost turns to ex-pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam; Sons of Anarchy, Deadfall) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi; Assault Girls), who get the most attention among several pairs of Jaeger pilots we meet.  Mori is meant to strong and complex, but to me her character seems ill-imagined and entirely out of place.  Raleigh isn’t perfect either, but at least he’s not another one of those “reluctant heroes.”  There’s a little romantic interest there and I think it fails both in execution and contribution to the movie.

Raleigh and Mako suited up

Interspersed between pilot-Jaeger highlights we have a pair of bantering scientists who provide some silly, charming comic relief.  Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman; The Dark Knight Rises, Red Lights) is some sort of physicist and Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day; who brings a welcomed quirky performance) is some combination xenobiologist-neurobiologist-biomedical engineer.

Lastly, Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau is a Kaiju parts broker.  Why is he in this? I’d just say because del Toro can’t seem to make a movie without him…Hellboy 2, Blade 2, Cronos.

Returning to the effects, the effects make this movie. They don’t “save” it.  They make it a satisfying experience all on their own.  The Kaiju each come with their own distinct appearance and fighting style, and the same goes for each Jaeger and its pilots.  In fact, the Jaegers and Kaiju are presented as their own named characters.  Amazing attention to detail was placed on the movements of these over-sized combatants, their surroundings and how they destructively plow into and through them.  I already can’t wait to watch it again because so much was going on in each of these fights that I feel I must have missed a lot of clever nuance.

See this movie.  Then see it again!

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