Monday, July 15, 2013

Welcome to the Shatterdome

Year: 2013
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi
Run Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

If you'll allow me to name drop for a minute, I had the unspeakable pleasure of attending a Q&A session featuring Guillermo del Toro himself and it was very clear that Pacific Rim was a product of love. He didn't discuss it so that he could sell it - he couldn't care less if we saw it, just that it was made to the best of his ability. Now, it's certainly not his best film by any stretch of the imagination, but all that time in his childhood spent avidly watching Japanese imports paid off.

Not content with just making a movie about giant robots punching big monsters in the face, del Toro has created a world that has grown accustomed to monster attacks, something which hasn't really been thoroughly explored. After a series of attacks on major cities by ravenous Kaijus (in Japanese - "strange creatures"), humanity dropped their disputes and banded together against the common enemy. The invention of the massive monster-fighting machines called the Jaegers (in German - "hunter") has allowed the world to carry on as normal. By this point in 2020, the monsters are a normal factor of life. Kaiju figurines fill toy store windows, Jaeger pilots are worshipped like rock stars, and Kaiju bone powder makes entrepreneurs a fortune with its Viagra-like qualities. There is even a slum in Hong Kong built inside a massive ribcage.

Humanity has grown confident in their abilities to beat back the Kaiju menace (they appear through a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean about once every six months) but things have begun to change. Kaiju attacks are getting more frequent and the monsters are becoming more powerful.

Commander Striker Pentecost (Elba) rallies all the remaining Jaegers to launch one final defense of humanity. There are four; Cherno Alpha, a Russian behemoth operated by a husband and wife team (hooking a single person up to the machine proved too much for the human brain's capacity, so Jaeger pilots hook their brains together and work in tandem); the Crimson Typhoon, operated by a set of Chinese triplets; Striker Eureka, the most advanced model to date, run by an Australian father son team; and Gipsy Danger, an American Mark 3 model without a pilot.

Pentecost brings in the only living Mark 3 pilot, Raleigh (I could have sworn the said Riley, but IMDb never lies) Becket (Hunnam) and assigns his top agent, Mako Mori (Kikuchi), to find him a new partner. He is still traumatized by his brother's death five years ago. They were in the Jaeger with their brains hooked together and he could feel his brother be torn apart, which left him understandably a little shaken.

There's actually even more plot than this (it's two and a half hours, a lot happens), but I'll leave it at that for now. This is a good point to bring up the characters anyway. Every one of the mains and most of the supporting characters have a backstory that provides a motivation for their participation in this final showdown, like revenge for their family, duty to their culture, or even unbearable cockiness. Maybe the characterizations aren't as deep and complex as some of del Toro's artier Spanish works, but their backstories all resonate in the same simplistic, primal way as the monster fighting and as such, are a good tonal fit with Pacific Rim.

And of course, this being del Toro, there are some parts that generate actual feelings in the audience. Several scenes brought me close to tears, even. In a monster movie! With whatever flaws the movie had (including being far too long), it always had a solid emotional foundation to fall back on. It proves that although it can be tremendous fun to watch a monster level an entire city, human lives are ever expendable.

And yes, unfortunately, there are several flaws. While we're used to our giant monsters looking kinda fake (come on, Godzilla was a guy in a suit), there is something a little shabby about the CGI here that necessitates most scenes being shot at night so it's harder to notice.

This is one of the few daylight(ish) scenes and... well, it leaves something to be desired. 

Really, this isn't a huge complaint because, again, we don't honestly expect our monsters to look hyperrealistic. And how could a monster look real anyway? We don't actually have any to compare the Kaiju designs to. There's just something inescapably computer generated about them that you stop noticing after a while, but it is worth mentioning.

But hey, things get crushed, robots punch them in the face, and everything is fine. 

Let's talk about Charlie Hunnam. To my (and many people on tumblr's) astonishment, the lead character is played by the same guy who played the British womanizer Lloyd in Judd Apatow's 2001 college sitcom Undeclared, and boy has he grown. How a man could go from this...

to this...

is one of the great mysteries of the world, but I thank the Nondenominational Gods every day for it. Perhaps you've noticed that he's a British actor playing an American. Frankly, it shows. Many of his lines sound like they were spoken with a mouth full of dental instruments. But hey. You won't catch me complaining.

And that brings us to the other Charlie. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Charlie Day plays a neurotic scientist bent on discovering the secrets of the Kaiju anatomy. It's a comic relief role, yes, and he plays it well. But his character is given much more importance than that and his dramatic scenes are incredibly credible. This isn't Oscar-worthy acting by any means, but I'm pretty impressed with Day's range.

So. Robots punching monsters. Mostly human characters. Actual emotional moments. Guillermo del Toro. It's just a popcorn movie, but it has enough of the good stuff to be a step above the rest of the box office bait out there at the moment.

TL;DR: Pacific Rim is fun, creative, and has emotional resonance despite some shaky CGI work.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This? You already know if you are going to like this movie, you don't need me to tell you.
Word Count: 1059

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