Sign up for our newsletters    

Baltimore City Paper home page.

Film Review: Pacific Rim

July 12, 2013
By

Pacific-Rim-Movie-Facebook-Promo-700x376Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Opens July 12

Pacific Rim’s opening minutes are perhaps the most straightforward and economical exposition you’ll ever see in a summer blockbuster. A mysterious portal opens at the bottom of the Pacific ocean, allowing nearly mile-high monsters (“Kaiju”) to escape and wreak havoc. In response to seemingly escalated attacks, the world’s powers decide to pool their resources and develop appropriately proportioned human-piloted robots (“Jaegers”) to defend the remains of civilization.  We’re shown that humanity is comfortably winning these battles, and the Kaiju/Jaeger conflict becomes a part of day-to-day life; Jaeger pilots are treated like all-star athletes, complete with talk-show appearances and shoe-endorsement deals. Guillermo del Toro purposely overwhelms the audience with this information, images of opulence flicker by in snapshots. The effect is unnerving. You get the feeling that something is very wrong here. From there, he moves to an opening fight sequence both awe-inspiring and crushingly grim. The Kaiju get smarter and stronger. In 10 or so minutes, del Toro establishes that Pacific Rim is going to be an underdog movie and, boy, is it a good one.

There are essentially three main characters that anchor our robots-punching-monsters-in-the-face movie: washed-up American Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), hotshot rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kinkuchi), and Idris Elba’s growling authority figure/Jaeger den mother Stacker Pentecost. Del Toro (and scriptwriter Travis Beacham) don’t give them especially complex motivations, but they are resonant ones. Beckett is grieving the loss of his brother/co-pilot. Mako is a Jaeger prodigy who desperately wants the chance to prove herself in battle for reasons that become clear later. Pentecost is a tired general fighting a losing war that has lost financial and moral support from the world’s governments. Not only are these three-dimensional characters, it’s refreshing to see a diverse lineup like this in what has been an otherwise fairly White Guy-Oriented summer movie season (Fast & Furious Six excluded).

Obviously, the main draw of Pacific Rim are the fight sequences, and they are unlike anything you’ve ever seen on film. These monsters are tough to kill, and the robots are far from invulnerable. And the fights have honest-to-goodness weight behind them. Del Toro’s camera shifts from right over a Kaiju’s scaly shoulder to the view from the street, then to the interior of an about-to-be-pulverized-by-a-metal-fist office building. Movies like this generally show destruction for the sake of destruction, because it’s expected of them. But here, even the thundering footsteps of a heroic Jaeger have destructive physical consequences. With Pacific Rim, del Toro has built a beautiful, destructive machine himself, one with real heart at the center of it, and unleaded popcorn-butter pumping through its veins.