Pacific Rim (2013)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
In the ongoing war against the Kaijus, giant monsters that come from fissures in the earth, the only things big and bad enough to stop the terrifying enemy are manmade robots called Jaegers (German for “hunters”), controlled from within by expert fighters. Of these robot drivers, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, “Sons of Anarchy”) is the Jaeger-master. But when Kaijus increase in frequency and intensity and whole cities are destroyed, even Raleigh needs help from his boss (played by Idris Elba, “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”) and his copilot, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) to stop them. That’s if researchers Geiszler and Gottlieb (CharlieDay and Burn Gorman) don’t discover something catastrophic in the meantime.
In Guillermo del Toro’s latest summer blockbuster (“Pacific Rim” made over $400 million worldwide after working with a $100 million budget), actions speak louder than words. The larger-than-life robots and even more gigantic monsters make this sci-fi epic bigger than anything else 2013 offered. Critics complained about the number of buildings Superman smashed through in the final fight of “Man of Steel” – that was nothing compared to the collateral damage caused in the final smash-down of “Pacific Rim.” While del Toro borrows almost every monster movie standard available, plus a few more (it’s like a Godzilla/Iron Man/Avatar mash-up, or one of those “monster vs. monster” movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s), he still finds a way to make “Pacific Rim” exciting and unpredictable entertainment.
A lack of considerable star-power (Charlie Day and Idris Elba are hardly Clooney and Denzel) makes “Pacific Rim” an unusual brand of blockbuster, but it might have been its saving grace. There’s something to be said about casting a star-studded ensemble, but del Toro knows that when you’re looking at Brad Pitt’s hair, you’re less likely to notice the action taking place around him (“World War Z” was about zebras, right? I didn’t get past Pitt’s dreamy eyes). By casting a bunch of lesser-known actors who have nevertheless proven themselves over and over again on the big screen, del Toro lets us absorb all the incredible action taking place around them.
And the action is definitely incredible. Nominated for four different awards (so far) for its visual effects, including, most recently, a BAFTA Film Award, “Pacific Rim” looks far more realistic than most of the sci-fi epics we’ve seen recently, including “The Desolation of Smaug.” Like Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” and “Elysium,” however, all of the futuristic technology crafted on-screen isn’t spic-and-span. After seeing its share of use, the robot suits are scuffed and dirty, making them blend in with the imperfect world we’re so used to seeing.
But at its core, “Pacific Rim” isn’t just an action epic – it’s a human drama, driven by the emotionally powerful performances of Elba and its other leads. As an audience, we care about the comprehensive backstory and the ongoing challenges these people face when met with dangerous foes. Forgive the sometimes snore-worthy dialogue, which tends to only get in the way of the action we crave, and sink into the story. In this monster adventure, let del Toro captivate you with his giant machines – and be sure to thank him. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
“Pacific Rim” is now on Blu-ray and DVD.