Thursday, July 25, 2013

FILM REVIEW: Pacific Rim

I finally saw the long-awaited Pacific Rim from Guillermo del Toro, his film about giant sea monsters fighting giant robots. Critical reaction has been somewhat mixed (72% on with the audience more favorably disposed to the action-packed film (82% on del Toro is known for his florid visual style, a somewhat macabre (and spooky) sense of humor and devotion to comic-book genres. His oeuvre includes the comic book movies Hellboy and Hellboy 2, the critically acclaimed (and Oscar-nominated) Pan's Labyrinth and the freaky horror films Mimic and The Devil's Backbone.

Pacific Rim features huge sea monsters (reminiscent of Godzilla) known as Kaiju who are appearing on Earth through a portal to another dimension found in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and coming on to shore and demolishing cities on the Pacific Rim (San Francisco, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tokyo etc). In response, humanity bands together and creates equally gigantic (basically 1000-plus feet tall) robots called Jaegers to battle the Kaiju. del Toro is trying to introduce mainstream American audiences to a form of Japanese anime called mecha which features adventures by robots or machines as well as kaiju which features giant monsters.

The film definitely has a comic book feel to it while simultaneously fulfilling its role as mindless summer blockbuster entertainment. In fact, the number of familiar movie tropes that flash by is somewhat dizzying. Here are just a few: the smoking hot (typically a blonde and blue-eyed white male) hero with chiseled abs who has suffered an emotionally devastating loss and now needs to be rehabilitated to restore his long-lost hero status (Charlie Hunnam); the super-smart female with daddy issues who has undiscovered depths of ability that become revealed during the story (Rinko Kikuchi); the harsh and grizzled military man in charge, oftentimes played by an African American in recent multicultural revisions of reality, who has a secret weakness (Idris Elba); the mad scientist/technically proficient geek who has to dig deep and reveal surprising resources of courage and/or strength (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman); the hot-headed hottie who doesn't follow the rules but succeeds anyway despite his rivals (Robert Kazinsky); the amoral kingpin who is exploiting the horrible situation for his own gain (Ron Perlman). And those are just the character cliches!

The action itself is a curious (but entertaining) mish-mash of many many films we have seen before. My list of Pacific Rim's influences would include: Transformers (blindingly fast action), Top Gun (testosterone-fueled machismo), Real Steel (fighting robots controlled remotely by shadow boxing humans), Godzilla (huge Japanese sea monsters/aliens), Independence Day (a classic speech given before the final battle to save humanity from extinction) and Ghostbusters (huge creatures destroying skyscrapers in a major urban setting). This is not an exhaustive list!

Even though the film is not doing that well at the box-office, the theater I saw it in was packed (mostly with fanboys, to be sure) on a balmy Tuesday night in Arlington. I would encourage you to see Pacific Rim in the theater while you can, especially if you enjoyed any of the films on its list of influences.

Title: Pacific Rim.
Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language.
Release Date: July 12, 2013.
Viewing Date: July 23, 2013.

Writing: C+.
Acting: B+.
Visuals: A+.
Impact: A-.

Overall Grade: A-/B+ (3.50/4.0).

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