This is the second half of a double feature review by Natalie Belz. Here’s yesterday’s review of Despicable Me 2.
For months I’ve been hearing about Pacific Rim from friends and followers on Tumblr, the all-things-pop-culture social media site for sharing spoilers and trailers and celebrity craze. Every few posts on my feed would be “Name Your Jaeger,” “Who’s Your Jaeger Co-Pilot?” or “Warning: Kaiju Attack.” I trust the opinions of the seemingly intelligent Tumblr-users, but it took me a while to finally decide to go see the hit movie for myself. My Elysium obsession has kept me from fully appreciating any other 2013 film. Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9) second movie is said to hit theater on the August 9, and I couldn’t be more excited. But alas, I did manage to find some room in my completely empty schedule to go see Pacific Rim on Monday this week.
I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. IMDB’s 4-star rating was an exaggeration (Maybe 3 1/2 would have been more suitable?), as was the feedback I got from Tumblr. But what can you expect from die-hard fans of Sharknado and The Avengers?
Pacific Rim, released on July 12 (Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures), is an all-out action/science-fiction directed by Guillermo del Toro. Large, monstrous beasts called Kaiju have emerged from an inter-world portal that has opened up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. At first there are only a few, but soon, more and more larger and larger Kaiju begin to attack coastal cities like Sydney and San Francisco. Eventually, the whole human race comes together to stop the Kaiju by creating giant robots called Jaegers. A Jaeger requires two pilots who can “drift” together, which means entering a mental state in which both pilots’ brains could work together to move the arms and the legs of the robot. But when the Kaiju begin to get too big for Jaegers to defeat them, the Jaeger project is abandoned, and the humans build a wall that—alas—proves incapable of holding back the Kaiju. The Jaegers are then sent to Hong Kong, where, as a last attempt to save humanity, they try to destroy the portal between our world and the Kaijus’. The movie stars Charlie Hunnan, Idris Elba (The Wire’s Stringer Bell) and Rinko Kikuchi.
Pacific Rim opens with a brief description of the terrors that have begun to emerge from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, and then bang, straight into the movie’s over-the-top action. The premise of the movie was it’s insane, Japanese-monster-movie type action, with huge, metal robots fighting gigantic Godzillas in the streets of Hong Kong. Half of the time I was watching the man-made robot blasting the seemingly undefeatable creatures from the deep with plasma hand-cannons and ripping them apart with sword-arms, an almost comical, classic form of entertainment. Big things fighting other big things in a city. But wasn’t that what Pacific Rim was basically about? Before going to see it myself, I’d read several reviews and interviews with the director, Guillermo del Toro, who based the movie on old-fashion action-adventures, and claims to have intended to make the movie about nothing more than that, reviving the style to summer blockbusters.
As far back as I can remember (which isn’t very long) the summer hits—science-fiction, action, adventure, fantasy, etc.—have always been very Hollywood in every aspect. They have formulaic plots, predictable romance, good guys and bad guys, and loads of action. But as I watched Pacific Rim it seemed that Del Toro’s intentions weren’t to create a Hollywood hit or an artsy, indie film, but simply to revel in the sheer entertainment of robot fight scenes and gigantic monsters that shoot acid and have glowing blue blood. It may have been just me, but I certainly saw some visible symbolism in the Kaiju vs. Jaeger scenes—titan-sized Gods vs. Demons, standing in a storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with great waves crashing around, were a picture of the cosmic clash between good and evil.
Besides showing off science-fiction special effects, Pacific Rim has the same theme of connection—the establishment of bonds between characters—as Avatar (the alien movie released in 2009). Throughout Pacific Rim, there’s almost an alchemy of spirits, whether it’s people’s minds bonding, people becoming one with their robo-bodies, monsters swarming and sharing info like a hive, or a man bonding his mind with that of a monster’s. This theme plays out in other more subtle ways, too. Hidden examples of real-world bonding between two things, animals or people, such as in relationships between family members (brother/brother, father/son, mother/unborn fetus, etc.) or the natural bond between man and woman are also present in Pacific Rim. And if I’m not mistaken, this idea of harmony between all things, even things like the human world and an alien world, is based on the Eastern philosophy of everything having a spirit that embodies our world that can synchronize and flow together to create something new, like two people coming together to work a giant robot, or the alien creatures having two brains to move their massive bodies.
As far as imagery and overall rhythm of the movie, Pacific Rim is very colorful, futuristic, but not as utopian as the Star Trek films. It isn’t exactly dystopian like Blade Runner, although the dark streets of Hong Kong, with the rusty walls of the Jaeger base, did resemble the noir style of Blade Runner. It also borrows a lot of Tony Stark’s hologram, touch-screen technology and metal suits. Most of the movie is insane CGI animation, and the same “Jaeger Battle” soundtrack was played throughout the entire film. So not much to go on, there.
What Pacific Rim tries to accomplish—an old-school Japanese-style action movie with a hint of depth—it mostly succeeds in. It is, of course, very over-the-top, but not unconsciously so. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, like most summer blockbusters, and it delivers a worldview of harmony. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not much more than it is on the surface, and the dialogue is contrived and doesn’t make much sense, but it is entertaining. It’s exciting, and it was worth seeing even though I was occupied with nothing else to do.
Plus, in addition to watching Pacific Rim, I witnessed the first ten minutes of The Conjuring (which I really want to watch the rest of) and got another Elysium trailer beforehand. I also recommend Elysium, even though I haven’t seen it. It’s the greatest movie ever.