Pacific Rim (2013)
Go big or go extinct
After getting as far as pre-production, then departing as director from the prequel to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, it was always unclear what project Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was going to tackle next. Word had it that he was to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, a novella that featured the Cthulhu, scaly winged octopus-like creatures, delving into some of their mythos, whom del Toro was constantly inspired by within his creature design. But before anything concrete occurred, the project was dropped and del Toro was soon signed on to direct a totally original feature which was to be a sort of fan-boy love-letter to Japanese monster films and mecha anime which inspired him as a young child, and thus, Pacific Rim was born.
Set in a not so distant future, when enormous monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, a Japanese word that literally translates to ‘strange beast,’ begin rising from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, a war commences that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the relentless Kaiju threat, a special type of weapon was devised: gigantic robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge, a process know as the Drift. The process of Drifting is a type of mind meld that requires the pilots to share memories, instinct and emotions. Drifting allows pilots to act as one and control the very movement of the Jaeger itself, with one pilot controlling the right hemisphere while the other reins the left.
At first, humanity begins winning the war against these mysterious beasts, becoming overly proud and arrogant in the process; Jaeger pilots become superstars, toys of the Kaiju and Jaegers are produced and pilots begin to feel like ‘Gods’ in these unstoppable mechanical creations. But everything soon changes. Bigger, more advance Kaiju begin to emerge who have adapted to the Jaeger’s attacks and before long even the Jaegers themselves begin to prove nearly defenseless in the face of the unyielding Kaiju force. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes: a washed up former pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), witnessing his older brother’s tragic death via the hands of a Kaiju while piloting a Jaeger together some years earlier, and an untested trainee, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), having lost her family as a young child during a calamitous Kaiju attack on Japan. The two pilots are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past named Gypsy Danger and together, they stand as mankind’s final hope against the imminent mounting apocalypse.
What initially seems like a film full of techno mumbo-jumbo, the narrative of Pacific Rim is really quite simple and straightforward: Giant Robots versus Giant Monsters. It’s an emotive story about simple heroism, bravery and courage from a bunch of injured and defeated souls. The forces operating the Jaeger Program start out overly confident and self-assured until things go sour one way or another, some in their professional and some in their personal lives. Then, it’s an uphill struggle for all our protagonists, pushing their human spirit to its ultimate breaking limit.
The overall storyline of Pacific Rim is rather basic but carries a lot of heart. Unlike past films about alien attacks or invasion, Independence Day (1996) or War of the Worlds (2005) for example, it’s not the American’s who come to the rescue in Pacific Rim. The world has banded together in this crisis and audiences have been given a cast of multinational characters to cheer for, from Asian, Australian, African American, European and so forth; you see the globe uniting for the good of mankind and the survival of the human race. The casts generally all do a decent job with the script with Idris Elba, Thor (2011), as Stacker Pentecost delivering some solid, yet occasionally cheesy, monologues and Charlie Hunnam, Children of Men (2006), playing likeable and compassionate hero, Raleigh Becket, with honest humanity. Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses (2011), as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), as Gottlieb play nicely off one another as the zany cartoonlike scientist and insane mathematician delivering some well needed comedic moments in an often tense or serious story. But it’s Ron Perlman, Hellboy (2004), as Hannibal Chau, the black-market Kaiju organ dealer, who steals the show with his over-the-top gangster routine, with Perlman playing a straight-up ‘human’ character for the first time in a del Toro film since the pair teamed up on Cronos (1993) many years earlier. While Max Martini, Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Robert Kazinsky, Red Tails (2012), do a credible job as father and son duo, Herc and Chuck Hansen, the pilots of an Australian Jaeger named Striker Eureka, their attempt at an Australian accent is quite possibly one of the worst presented on film to date.
Being both director, Guillermo del Toro, and cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro’s first experience shooting with digital cameras, they equally do an outstanding job in achieving some truly stunning and unforgettable imagery. Del Toro is a very visual filmmaker and consequently Pacific Rim is a film that’s visually bold in every prospect. The story is told in its wonderfully detailed, lavish and outlandish design and strong colours. Colour is a key part of the storytelling in Pacific Rim. The colour amber is used to represent the character of Raleigh, initially introduced in locations lit by orangey light, in particular, when working at the defense wall and visited by former boss Stacker Pentecost. The colour blue represents his co-pilot Mako, even having blue incorporated in her physical appearance as two streaks in her hair. These characters are established with strong colours and these colours set up the pallet for the rest of the film. Being a visual film, most of the character back-stories are imagined through visuals, in particular Mako’s heartbreaking story, where she is rescued from a crab-like Kaiju by Pentecost and is seen holding a bright red shoe that almost represents her loss and damaged heart.
The design of Pacific Rim is nothing short of spectacular, from the exceedingly detailed mechanical robots, to the unique Kaiju creatures which are a combination of marine and extraterrestrial-like beings unlike anything offered on film before. Drawing influence from anime such as Tetsujin nijûhachi-go (1963) when designing the giant Jaeger robots, del Toro truly presents audiences with creations that are uniquely grand, giving the each individual Jaeger a specific international feel with distinctive styles and designs for differing nations, with each machine somewhat resembling its pilots and country of origin. The creatures themselves are extremely involved also, having glowing and florescent-type patterns, floral-like tongues, individualized eyes and other bizarre elements; every Kaiju is distinctively unusual. The locations on show are richly inventive, picturesque and imaginative, in particular the Bone Slums location set in Hong Kong, where Kaiju have fallen in battle and, because of the creature’s oversized bodies being too large to move, civilians have built around them, using the bones as part of the construction itself. This location is truly beautiful; it’s a shame it’s hardly seen on screen; del Toro himself said that had budget allowed, more of the slums would have been explored. Existing in a World War II style futuristic setting, filled with propaganda where civilians work for rations, del Toro has shaped a wonderfully rich environment for audiences to delve in to.
While the visuals are somewhat mind-blowing, it’s the high-octane, intense and unforgettable battle sequences that truly elevate this picture to Blockbuster levels; sure the dialogue isn’t always spectacular, but when the action kicks in, all eyes will be glued to the screen from start to finish. The fight scenes are chaotic in all regards, but they’re done in such a bright, colourful, stylish way, reminiscent of Japanese animation, that it’s literally every young boys dream to witness action sequences of this magnitude, filled with unimaginable destruction, done so brilliantly and with such an eye for detail. The fight scenes themselves have an almost cartoonish undertone, adding to the madness of the outlandish state of affairs. The effects team at Industrial Light and Magic and visual effects supervisor John Knoll, Avatar (2009), are to be justly commended on the phenomenal work done on Pacific Rim, being so thorough in their animation and design, going into minute detail such as examining how the air displacement from a Jaeger moving between skyscrapers would shake the building’s windows, when animating the gargantuan robot’s walking.
Accompanied with a kick-ass soundtrack and strong score by composer Ramin Djawadi, Iron Man (2008), Pacific Rim ticks all the right boxes. Sure this film may not be for everyone, young girls in particular won’t be flocking to see this picture, but as del Toro himself put it, ‘Pacific Rim is a film made by people who love monsters and giant robots, for people who love monsters and giant robots,’ and personally fitting into that category, thoroughly enjoyed every wild and extreme second of it. Packed with fantastical imagery and an irresistible sense of fun, Pacific Rim is a must for anyone willing to turn their brains off and enjoy the riotous ride this film truly is!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Pacific Rim is released through Warner Bros. Home Entertainment