‘Pacific Rim’ Delivers Killer Punch

I will be the first to admit that I was a skeptic. The months before Pacific Rim was released, I incessantly trolled the trailers, billing it as Transformers 4, except this time I expected Mothra to show up and fight Optimus Prime. Devoid from any household name starring actors as well, my assumption was that it would be a poorly acted Hitler, I mean Michael Bay-esque plotless, unholy romp. However, in the week or so before release, something changed. People who had seen pre-screenings actually liked the movie, and the critics that saw it didn’t crucify it like they did the Transformers series. With the launch of this site, I decided that since I had a few friends that wanted to see Pacific Rim, that I would go and check it out for the first legitimate movie review on this blog.

I don’t do spoilers, so there’s no need to warn you, but I will say that if you’re not a male, you probably won’t enjoy or even want to go see this movie. The main premise is based on giant machines controlled by humans punching giant beasts from the sea in order to save the planet. The plot is thankfully more complex than that, but not so convoluted that you have to ask yourself what is going on every ten minutes, or why a certain character is acting they way they are.

To sum up what you need to know about the film, in the near future (the back story starts in 2013), a fissure opens up beneath the Pacific Ocean that has created a portal to another world. Issuing forth from this fissure are giant monsters called “Kaiju”, which in Japanese directly translates to “strange creature.” The first behemoth makes for San Francisco and levels the city before the United States military finally takes it down. It’s written off as a freak occurrence, but once it happens again some time later in Asia, the world unites to prepare for this new threat. To handle these new monsters, humanity creates giant machines called Jaegers, which translated from German means “hunters”. Because of the mental strain piloting a Jaeger has on the human mind, these machines are controlled by two pilots who are neurally bridged to act and move as one in a Jaeger. Pilots who are extremely mentally compatible fight better as one unit, such as the bond and similarities between father and son, and siblings. Through a concept called “drifting”, they are psychically (psychic not physic) bound to each other in the Jaeger, and share all thoughts, experiences, and emotions with one another through the process. Thus, the bond forces pilots to implicitly trust one another, and creates a very strong and trusting relationship in and outside of the drift.

The movie picks up with our main character Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, of Sons of Anarchy fame) and his brother Yancy as legendary Jaeger pilots, piloting Gipsy Danger while defending the coast of Alaska from possible Kaiju attacks. Humanity is winning the war through these giant robots, as a watchful peace settles upon the world. The brothers engage a large “Class 3”  Kaiju, but after incorrectly calling the kill, end up in a desperation battle with the monster which shreds his brother and most of Danger, as Raleigh is forced to attempt to pilot the machine solo in which he defeats the Kaiju, but crash lands his Jaeger. Because of the neural bridge, Becket is emotionally crippled as he felt the fear and pain from his older brothers death, whom he trusted with everything. He barely survives the crash landing, and wanders off into the tundra looking for an escape from the war.

Five years later, humans are on the brink. Each Kaiju attack is significantly more deadly than the previous one, and an end does not seem in sight. World leaders decide to decommission the Jaeger program and instead build a giant “Wall of Hope” that is meant to be able to keep all of the monsters literally at bay in the Pacific. Becket is found to be one of the construction workers on the wall, when his former CO, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) tracks him down asking him to re-join the final Jaegers who are being set to defend construction of the wall. Becket agrees, and the duo set off for Hong Kong where they reunite with Tendo Choi, (Clifton Collins Jr, from Star Trek) Gipsy Danger’s old handler/technician, and Dr.’s Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, from The Dark Knight Rises) who are experts studying Kaiju. Upon arrival, they meet up with the last three Jaeger teams on the planet, a father-son team from Australia (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky), triplets from China, and another duo from Russia.  Their next concern is who to pair Becket with, since he no longer has a drifting partner to pilot the reconstructed Gipsy Danger. It is then when we are introduced to Pentecost’s aide and Jaeger expert Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who has always dreamed and trained of and to be a pilot herself.

In the drift compatibility tests to follow, it becomes apparent that Mori and Becket are very compatible, yet Pentecost refuses to let them pair together because she is his adoptive daughter, and a very green rookie. He eventually gives in, and after some trials they join the other three Jaegers to defend the coastlines, and eventually with Geizler, Gottlieb, and Pentecost, form a plan to close the fissure and rid the Earth of the Kaiju, who are entering through the crevice more frequently and with more deadly abilities.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Pacific Rim comes through in its directing and action. In comparison to Transformers , the grappling between Jaeger and Kaiju is clean and concise. In Transformers, you couldn’t really tell half the time what robot was grappling with who, what moves were being put on, who was winning, etc. It wasn’t until, say, Prime would rip someone’s head off that you knew what was going on. In Pacific Rim, it’s easy to distinguish between friend and foe, and the fighting is methodical enough yet delivers realistic weight to make for a fantastic and fun action movie. Jaegers use rockets, cannons, fists, spears and swords to decimate Kaiju, who in turn attack with acid spitting, fire, large horns, and plain brute strength. There’s even a scene in which Danger grabs a large cargo ship and proceeds to beat the tar out of a monster with it in the streets of Hong Kong. The Kaiju are very well done and legitimately scary, the wreckage and death that they inflict isn’t covered up or downplayed like in Transformers or even The Avengers. Lots of civilians are dying, and it’s a desperate battle for humanity as the film clearly shows. If you’re in this movie for the action, I promise you that you will not leave disappointed.

Yeah, a Kaiju tears apart the Golden Gate bridge with its mouth. What a boss.

To accentuate the action, del Toro brings in Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Game of Thrones) to compose the score. And Djawadi pulls off a ridiculously good score, with some hard riffs to accompany the fight scenes and the presentation and awe of the Jaegers. It is very reminiscent of the Halo 2 soundtrack, as you gun your way through the Mausoleum on High Charity, with Breaking Benjamin’s guitar-driven score ripping through.

But, if you’re in it for the acting, you will probably have mixed feelings. Hunnam, as Becket, gives a mediocre performance. He isn’t going to be remembered for how exceptional he did, and honestly you can probably plug-in any other same type actor and get the same, if not better, result. Same goes for Kazinsky and Gorman, the former coming off flat and the latter annoying in an attempt at comic relief. Ron Perlman, who plays a black market Kaiju vital organ dealer, teams up with Day who provide a the majority of the laughs throughout the movie. It’s always hard in a movie that Charlie Day is in to not picture him as Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but he manages to pull off the crazy scientist rather well. By the same token, Elba, Martini, and Collins Jr. all nail their roles and are cast very well, even though Elba seems to be set as the stereotypical African-American military commander. The one that I can’t really make up my mind about is Kikuchi, who I feel doesn’t get enough screen time to create a fully developed opinion about. Through her flashbacks and interactions with Elba, she comes off very well, but we simply do not get much of her beyond her initial development to leave a lasting impression.

Coming out of this movie, you feel like there was a lot of potential in it for something far greater. Pacific Rim honestly could be turned into two movies if everything was exactly right. Creating the drift I thought was underemphaszied, as far as the bond between characters goes. Imagine sharing everything with one person, not just what you tell them, but what you think, feel, felt, know and have known, have said, will say, and want to say. That would create such a strong connection that if or when (in this movie it’s when, because let’s be realistic, not everyone is going to survive) you lose that other person, you are going to be so emotionally broken that recovery simply doesn’t seem like an option. With a connection such as this, when the other person breaks you would break too, and almost literally lose a part of yourself. It seems terribly underplayed and vague in the movie, and so vastly unexplored that it could have left room for a lot more emotional character development and attachment to the individual characters themselves. The film would probably need to be recast if this were the case however, as the acting chops of some of the stars (Hunnam) may not be up to par for such a written story.

It also seems that because drifting is so untouched, that the movie can make up whatever they want about it and claim to be true. It is set up as a bond that if it’s stronger, will make the pair fight better. And, one would assume, that with a tight bond inside the drift, there would be one outside of it as well. That doesn’t seem the case though, as the father-son team are constantly bickering to each other, and the team of Becket and Mori test out their drift compatibility in a kung-fu stick battle. I don’t know how one test of a stick battle can assert that a pair have a strong connection, but the movie wants us to take this as gospel. It drives the story because the story needs to happen because there’s a movie about it; when it should be the characters themselves that drive the story. Maybe del Toro simply ran out of time to put more emphasis on development or it was simply an afterthought, but that aspect almost breaks this movie and is most Michael Bay-esque (unfortunately). Instead of showing you why things are, the movie straight up tells you (or doesn’t tell you) and you’re forced to take it as fact, because they wrote it into the script or screenplay. As is it stands though, the movie already comes in at over two hours, and any additional length would just start to draw out the film.

My final problem with the movie itself isn’t with the actual movie, it’s with the trailers. The previews for this movie were just plain bad. They were poorly put together and didn’t seem to highlight the story or the size of the film as it actually was. To top it off, trailers are supposed to be teasers for the movie, not the actual movie itself. In most of the trailers, two of the best parts of the movie were already partially shown, which I would rather had been kept for the movie. Give us more plot, and less narration from a guy who sounds like he’s been smoking cigarettes since childhood.

Pacific Rim is a great summer action flick, and one that I will definitely buy when it comes out on home media. It’s fun, gripping, and even though I had been awake for 18 hours prior to going to see it around 630 PM last night, I only started dozing off at one point in its duration. The fights and heights are just dizzying, and the story is solid enough and without major holes that it becomes enjoyable to watch if you can get past some of the bland acting. A sequel may be in the works depending on box office performance, and if done right could have potential. If done wrong (like Transformers) it could turn into a major disaster, such as if somehow the Kaiju reopened another portal for revenge upon the earthlings, or something stupid along those lines. A Jaeger-Godzilla movie idea has been thrown out there, which could have some success with the Godzilla reboot coming soon. But what I think would make the best sequel would be if post-Kaiju Earth would be torn apart by war with each other through the use of separate countries using Jaegers to conquer, and somehow working the Kaiju or some other large species (maybe Godzilla?) into there. I don’t have any perfect ideas off the cuff, but give me time to formulate something and I’ll have a goldmine at the ready.

If you’re into action movies, go see this. As I said earlier, I don’t know how the female audience would react, but I’m interested to find out how skewed the ratio will be, or if any women are actually interested in seeing this testosterone fueled adrenaline ride. The great thing about this movie was that going in I didn’t have high expectations, I did not know what it was supposed to live up to or have much of anything to compare it against. Which means, it turns out that I wasn’t disappointed at all leaving the theater, which is almost a first for me this summer. I also saw this in regular definition, so if anybody sees it in 3-D or IMAX let me know how it is. I’m really not a fan of 3-D movies especially after the Iron Man 3 debacle, but if done correctly I’m sure it would be good. This goes down as a movie I would definitely see again, so I’ll give it a 7.5/10.

My Year at the Movies (in rank of best to worst, of movies released this year that I have seen)

1. Star Trek Into Darkness

2. Man of Steel

3. Pacific Rim

4. Monsters University

5. The Great Gatsby

6. Oblivion

7. Oz the Great and Powerful

8. Fast and Furious 6

9. Iron Man 3

10. Hangover Part 3

11. A Good Day To Die Hard

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