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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pacific Rim Review. Add It To Your Summer Movie To-Do List.

Pacific Rim Review
By: MattInRC

The monster/robot flick Pacific Rim is way too much fun for you to notice all the plot holes.

Among the film genres of my youth, Kaiju was not one of them. Sure, I liked the idea of giant monsters attacking cities - and even some such as the 1954 Godzilla - had almost believable plots. But I always found them predictable: you can only smash so many buildings and endure so much poor voice dubbing before they turned into a joke. With Kaiju films, it's always been two steps back (Roland Emmerich's Gozilla remake), one step forward (JJ Abrams' Cloverfield); what the genre needed was a big Hollywood budget AND a great script to get people re-energized about the genre. Pacific Rim does at least part of that really well by adding human-controlled robots into the mix. And while there are plot holes a mile wide and a predictable ending to boot, the film is tons of fun. You'll find yourself willing to forgo these issues in favor of watching 25-story monsters and robots duke it out.

Without warning, a massive monster called a Kaiju crosses a dimensional gateway at the Pacific Rim, destroying San Francisco in the process. After a second attack nearly destroys Manilla and Cabo, it's decided that mankind cannot survive without finally settling its many differences to unilaterally create a response team. That concept takes shape in the Jaeger Program: looking like a cross-between a Transformer and Iron Monger from Iron Man, the Jaegers are human-controlled robots designed to engage the Kaiju in single combat. Too massive to be run by one person, the Jaegers are manned by two pilots who join in a mental link, which means each one gets to see the others' dirty laundry. But early successes fade into frustrating losses, while the program's commander Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, Thor) witnesses more frequent attacks, resulting in greater losses like the brother duo Gipsy Danger. Their crushing defeat leaves one dead, and the survivor Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) mentally scarred. When Pentecost finds Raleigh, he's helping to construct a safety wall along the Pacific Rim, which ultimately fails to keep the Kaiju out. Raleigh returns to the Jaeger program and meets a group of talented pilots, including the young Japanese Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who's got her mental baggage as well. As the frequency of attacks increases, the team learns of the Kaiju's weakness via a mental link established by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day, Monsters University), whose bizarre behavior matches his techniques in uncovering the truth. In one last battle, the remaining Jaegers throw all of their resources into destroying the dimensional gateway, but pay the ultimate price for their efforts.

The film's direction looks like inside the mind of a 14-year-old who plays with Transformers - and that's good - because Director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy franchise) gets robot/alien one-on-one so well. Unlike Michael Bay who surrounds us with too much tightly-focused Autobot/Decepticon action, leading audiences to commonly yell out, 'Who's fighting who!' del Toro smartly surrounds us with behemoths that don't look so similar. His over-the-top, nearly WWE style of action is at once silly and sophisticated, like a ballet with swords and missiles. Again that's a good thing, because we get to see action that we haven't seen before - a Jaeger using an oil tanker as a bat? Awesome! But there are problems here as well: del Toro has amassed a group of relatively unknown actors, some of whom clearly have no business being there. Elba is not one of them: his cool badassery allows him to dominate every scene he's in, far outshining Hunnam, who just never clicked with me. The dearth of A-List actors could be a reason why Rim might not become a crossover success, but don't blame others like Day or Burn Gorman (yes, that's his name), both of who excel as competing Kaiju scientists. Ron Pearlman (Hellboy) also shows up as a glitzy Kaiju butcher who sells pieces of them on the open market.

The script by Clash of the Titans penner Travis Beacham is too slow in the non-action/comedy scenes, with rivalries and dialogue almost thrown in as an excuse or (worse) a vehicle to bring on further action. When that action arrives, I could have cared less for the fates of almost anyone inside those robots, due entirely to that lack of quality storytelling. There's also a paper-thin metaphysical angle that's never fully explored that could have given the dramatic weight which the film never achieves outside those incredible action sequences. Many might respond that Rim wasn't designed to be anything more than a monster disaster flick, but I think this is shortsighted. The original Godzilla succeeded where the remake failed based entirely on its good storytelling. Here, the human connections are merely excuses between action sequences, which does nothing to further the story in any meaningful way. Ditto for the ending, which is at once predictable but luckily doesn't devolve into lip lock between Mako and Raleigh. Most people who will see Rim probably won't care about these shortcomings, favoring big machines and diet metaphysics over what could have been.

Pacific Rim is a wild, thundering ride into the world of Kaijus and Jaegers, but its story needed an emotional boost that it never gets. Whether moviegoers care about that will no doubt play itself out at the box office. But for all of its flaws, including a predictable ending and a lack of A-list talent, we're left reborn of a genre that's been away far too long. Still, I'd forget the lack of big-name actors and the plot holes and go see this one. Pacific Rim is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 131 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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