Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

I wanted to love this movie.  No, I wanted LOVE, this movie, I really did.  The trailers I’d seen had my inner five-year-old squealing with delight.  But, as one long past my childhood, I kept falling over the script, the clichéd characters and the feeling of having been there, done that.

But every time I had concerns about the script, the film delivered such wondrous sights, a giant ball of rainbow cotton candy.  And no concerns about the story could keep me from loving most every diabetic coma-inducing minute of it.

Co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro wastes no time getting us into the action.  The story starts with the dimension rift that opens up in the Pacific Ocean, allowing giant monsters called Kaiju to enter our world.  In response, the world jointly creates the Jaegers, giant robots piloted by two humans with their brains linked, to pummel the monsters into submission.

Yea, a visual like this has me worried about plot every time

Things go fine for a while, and the Jaeger pilots become rock stars to the world.  But the Kaiju become smarter, and the Jaeger start to lose the battle, prompting the world government to relay on the construction of containment walls rather than a direct offensive.

One pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) loses his brother as the tide turns against the Jaeger program, and spends the next few years building a wall that is reveled to be useless against the Kaiju.  Fortunately, his old commander (Idris Elba) is looking for someone to run interference in an older Jaeger for a newer generation robot to drop an atomic bomb into the rift and seal it forever.  All that’s needed is to select his partner, but the best candidate is an unproven rookie, Mako, (Rinko Kikuchi), who’s past might complicate her mental connection with Becket.

And they prove their compatibility by beating on each other with stick.  Hey, don't ask me.

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  The two pilots have a VERY rocky start, causing the top Jaeger pilot and the commander to distrust them.  However, dire circumstances force them into battle, and…

Oh, hell, the script is a recycled mess.  And I dispute the idea of any originality in this movie, as the idea of giant robots and giant monsters beating the crap out of each other can be traced to the true Kaiju films from Japan back in the 70s.  And the script cribs from Top Gun to the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  And the characters are such stiff stereotypes that you shouldn't be surprised when Elba breaks into a Bill Pullman/ID4 speech before getting into a Jaeger.  I would have called a spoiler alert, but come on.  It’s too obvious that will happen.

But still, the visuals in this movie are amazing.  The first Jaeger/Kiaju battle is just breathtaking, and the minor touches resulting from the battle (the two characters on the beach) are so real, it strikes a stark contrast from the clichéd characters to come.

Cue nerdgasm in 3, 2, 1.... 

But even as the movie slows down in the prolonged second act, as Becket finds his partner through staff fighting (and how that works, as the two minds are suppose to synch, I have no clue) and we get into Mako’s past, the visuals are still a treat.  The Jaeger facility is amazing, the Kaiju are beautiful and the visions of downtown Hong Kong, with its underground Kaiju remains black market (yea, giant monster bone powder will help you guys stay erect) are a feast for the eyes.

What helps this middle act are two competing scientist, biologist Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and mathematician Gottieb (Burn Gorman).  The antics as these two compete against each other’s theories about the Kaiju, along with an terrific appearance by Ron Perlman, keeps the second act of the film from putting the audience into a coma.

Because, yes, Ron Perlman makes every movie much more awesome

But, just as things get dull, the Kaiju attack and turn Hong Kong into a delightful, Disney-colored battleground.  The scenes are gorgeous, lacking the shaky cam perspective of Bay’s Transformer movies and allowing the audience crisp views of the action, as giant robots use cargo ships and train cars as weapons against giant monsters.  Adding to the fun is del Toro ability to seamlessly weave Newton’s desire to mind meld with a Kaiju’s brain into a major plot point during the final act. And though it leads to a very predictable conclusion, the final battle is a delight to behold.

As you might have noticed, I think del Toro was more interested in the visuals than the story, and it shows on screen.  Yet no matter how often the script falls into cliché-ridden territory, his direction keeps the film looking fresh and original.  And given the parade of bland remakes and reboots storming theaters, that’s enough for Pacific Rim to earn my seal of approval. 

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