Film Review Pacific Rim

Left Brain Review: Pacific Rim

July 13, 2013Ben MK

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Warning: The following review contains spoilers

This weekend, Guillermo Del Toro and company are canceling the Apocalypse, with the release of Pacific Rim. It's a monster of a movie, so much so that the neural load on one reviewer would be too much. Hence, we're compensating by initiating a two-reviewer mechanism: Left Brain and Right Brain. Two separate reviews, one film. So without further ado, here's your Left Brain review of Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim wastes little time getting going. After a brief text introduction explaining the Kaiju and Jaeger terminology, the audience is thrust right into the story with a lengthy prologue, accompanied by a voiceover narration that (thankfully) doesn't last throughout the film's entirety. The setup is effective, giving us a plausible explanation of the tech and the backstory without going into too much techno-babble.

However, for a film billed as an all-out battle between giant robots and giant monsters, the first half (following the prologue) is surprisingly bereft of Jaeger vs. Kaiju action. Instead, there's much plot exposition and character setup (both of which could be handled more economically), and what action sequences we do get are often brief and presented in a way (as flashbacks or news footage) that doesn't engender much emotional investment from the audience. It's somewhere around the halfway point that things finally pick up, we start to feel like there's something at stake in the massive battle sequences, and the film really pays off.

Along the way, we get serviceable performances from the cast, though nothing terribly outstanding. In fact, the film's main character, played by Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam, is bland enough that you might not even notice a difference if you swapped him out for Tron: Legacy's Garrett Hedlund (not a good thing). Idris Elba, using his native British accent for once, plays his role with stoicism and bravado, channeling Aliens' Sgt. Apone at times. And though Rinko Kikuchi gives a generally good performance, she plays a good portion of her scenes with the expression of an apologetic schoolgirl sent to the headmaster's office for bad behavior (which is kind of odd). Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman round out the principle cast, providing much of the film's comic relief and its more memorable performances.

Visually and sonically, Pacific Rim is stunning. The visual effects are spectacular and the sound design of the film is enveloping and practically non-stop. The color palette, set design and cinematography are reminiscent of Del Toro's Hellboy films. Some scenes within Jaeger HQ (aka: the Shatterdome) would feel equally at home within the B.P.R.D. Headquarters. But Hellboy isn't the only film that comes to mind when watching Pacific Rim. Ignoring the obvious references to Godzilla and Gundam, there are also a few similarities to The Matrix series and Marvel's The Avengers. The Shatterdome sometimes feels like Zion, and even the dynamic between Elba's and Hunnam's characters evokes flashes of Morpheus and Neo. Some of the Kaiju even give off EMP pulses, just like the sentinels in The Matrix (sorry Godzilla, your atomic breath isn't going to cut it here). The film's climax is straight out of the third act of The Avengers, with the whole self-sacrifice-to-close-the-interdimensional-rift bit playing out again here (except this time, we're dealing with an iron giant instead of an iron man). The action in the film is generally well-staged, but because most of the battles take place at night and on or underwater, it's sometimes difficult to figure out what you're looking at. It would have been nice to get a better look at some of these Kaiju designs, especially since Del Toro has said that he went to great lengths to adhere to the "guy in a rubber suit" aesthetic of classic Kaiju films.

Overall, Pacific Rim manages to live up to what you might expect from a big budget Guillermo Del Toro action film. It may even have a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo from the director himself (you can spot what looks to be him as one of the unfortunate fellows in the "belly of the beast" scene). Twelve-year-olds would love this film, just as twelve-year-olds twenty years ago fell in love with Jurassic Park. For everyone else, it's enjoyable but flawed -- yet, it delivers exactly what it promises: giant robots vs. giant monsters. And you can't ask for much more than that. [★★★½]

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