The highly anticipated and strikingly noisy ‘Pacific Rim’ is now playing in theatres. If you plan on seeing a movie that isn’t ‘Pacific Rim’ at the multiplex, make sure it’s not playing in the auditorium next to it – there may be a tremendous amount of audio bleed. I was the guy who gave Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers 3’ a positive review in 2011; that film’s sound, fury, and visual intelligence won me over. I feel the same way about ‘Pacific Rim’ as I do about the third entry in the ‘Transformers’ series.
The key difference here would be the fact that ‘Pacific Rim’ is directed by Guillermo del Toro (who is publicly known for making better movies); his masterpiece was ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’; I also liked the ‘Hellboy’ pictures and they were well received by critics and audiences alike. ‘Pacific Rim’ could be his ode to the cheesy Japanese monster movies of the 1950s. Here is the premise – the year is 2020 and humans have been waging a war against the Kaiju, gargantuan monsters that have traveled to Earth through a dimensional space portal in a crevasse beneath the Pacific Ocean. To combat the Kaiju, the humans have created equally enormous and weaponized robots known as Jaegers that are operated from inside by two human pilots. Something called a neural bridge melds together their consciousness and memories.
I’ll admit, it’s pretty ridiculous and I think the movie lacks a human element; but in terms of big expensive set pieces, it delivers. Del Toro has already established himself as a genre enthusiast – capable of creating fantastical worlds with a weirdly beautiful visual style. His previous movie worlds have been inhabited by monsters – ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, ‘Hellboy’, and ‘Mimic’ are examples of this. The results have been mostly intoxicating. There isn’t a dull shot in ‘Pacific Rim’ – there’s visual eye candy filling every inch of the frame. This is Del Toro’s biggest scale project to date and though the results aren’t quite as satisfying as the director’s previous work, there is an irresistible sense of fun – this movie doesn’t any delusions of grandeur; it knows exactly how unabashedly silly it is and fully embraces it.
‘Pacific Rim’ could have been called ‘Transformers vs. Godzilla’. But, it also reminded me of ‘Real Steel’ – a movie that was also about ginormous robots whose fighting actions were controlled by their miniscule human counterparts. The controls in ‘Pacific Rim’ have a much higher degree of complexity – my explanation in the plot description above might be a lot simpler than it actually is. But, for a big, loud summer film, does it really matter? Once the exposition is out of the way, we want to see giant robots fight off huge monsters and that’s exactly what we get.
The cast consists mostly of non-A-listers – a risky choice for a movie with a $190 million budget. Charlie Hunnam from ‘Sons of Anarchy’ plays the rogue pilot with unparalleled skills but he doesn’t respond well to his directives. Rinko Kikuchi’s childhood flashback scenes give the film some dramatic weight. The comic relief rests on the shoulders of two researchers played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman – their lab-coat banter is cleverly amusing. Idris Elba’s performance is laughably bad; but it’s forgivable for a movie about monsters vs. robots. He plays Pentecost; totally unaware of the religious implications of his name, at the top of his lungs he shouts “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” Apocalypse Later indeed – this cornball speech made me smile. Even with the conceptual complexities around the porthole, the neural bridge, and every permutation/combination involving their sub-elements, the cast is able to sell the ridiculousness of it all.
Whether we’re watching the robots battle the monsters underwater, admiring the finely detailed costumes, marveling at the hugely expensive sets and awe-inspiring visuals, there’s no denying the visual prowess ‘Pacific Rim’ has to offer. Even with a runtime of 131 minutes, ‘Pacific Rim’ zips by quickly. I don’t suggest this often but I strongly recommend seeing ‘Pacific Rim’ in IMAX 3-D; this is the way to see a movie of this scale. Many of the battle scenes take place at night in the pouring rain (or at the bottom of the ocean) – typically, the 3-D format wouldn’t be suited for a picture like this as the added dimension often dims the luminance effect. But with the IMAX screens (even the smaller “LIEMAX” ones), the shutter is open for a longer period of time than on a normal projector – this allows more light through resulting in optimal picture quality. This is the format I saw the movie in and I was able to make sense of the action transpiring on the screen even in its dark settings. QED.