Movie Review: Pacific Rim

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After giant inter-dimensional creatures, dubbed Kaiju, start destroying Earth via a wormhole deep in the ocean, humans build giant robots to kick their asses and fight a war for the planet.

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Guillermo del Toro, 2013

During the longest pre-credits sequence in recent history, we get caught up with Raleigh’s (Charlie Hunnam) recent history; he and his brother Raleigh became pilots for the Jaeger project, wherein two people “drift” or mind-meld in order to steer the enormous machines with their bodies.  The project is being disbanded in favour of a giant wall, and the few remaining pilots throw in together in order to try one last wild attempt to stop the Kaiju coming through the rift.  I was really optimistic about this movie, but I can’t say it lived up to my expectations. Although, I suppose, it did have giant robots punching giant monsters, so it did fulfill THAT expectation. The characters are the usual rogue’s gallery: you’ve got your wash-out ex-pilot who suffered a trauma and doesn’t want to fly again, your untested newbie with a chip on the shoulder, your hardened leader with a heart of gold, your scientists/comic relief duo, and the fellow soldier who’s a jerk and gets in the hero’s way. Also, for some reason, your wide variety of actors playing outside their nationality and doing bad accents. (Does Charlie Hunnam sound this British on his TV show? Also, why is Grant Bowler playing an American on TV with a bad accent when there was a Bowler-alike American in this film playing an Australian with a genuinely terribly accent? Would I notice it as much if it weren’t an attempt at Australian, which Americans are notoriously terrible at (at least amongst Australians)? Why is it such a hard accent for people?)  The action was just as predictable as the characters, but the movie looks amazing.

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There’s some marvelous world-building on display here.  The fights between the robots and Kaiju are real show-stoppers, with some awesomely cool moments. I like that the robots operate within certain rules governed by the universe created by the movie, and they have the look and feel of something that could actually be created, with real weight.  Each Jaeger has its own unique design and a kind of personality, and the piloting is an intriguing concept that could be explored in more depth.  The world post-Kaiju invasion has adapted; there are cities built on and around the bones of the giant creatures, and there’s a resilience to the people who capitalise upon the Kaiju and celebrate the heroes that fight them. The Kaiju are pretty cool as well – there’s a lot of creativity in the creature design. Water is a big motif in the movie, and it’s used effectively to create the kinds of action scenes we haven’t really seen before.  The soundtrack is also amazing, with a great theme tune that’s repeated throughout the movie, something I’ve been missing recently.  Composer Ramin Djawadi, also known for Game of Thrones, is terrific.  (He’s cute too.)

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The biggest problem I had with the movie was the absolutely cheesiness of the script. Sometimes in the battle scenes it feels like an episode of Power Rangers or something – “Let’s show this guy what we’re made of!” in the middle of battle, or an oddly placed pun before a robot punches a Kaiju in the face. The lack of American-centrism in the story was undermined by having the white American lead character, and Rinko Kikuchi, while awesome at kicking butt, is unfortunately one of only two women in the film (the other of whom barely has any lines). Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori is probably the most interesting and engaging in the film, and her flashback scenes are easily my favourite scenes in the whole movie (and a wonderful homage to giant-monster-destroying-Tokyo films of days gone by). Idris Elba lends a real sense of command to his character, the hardcore leader of this crew. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day get some great scenes as the wildly different comedic scientists (who come up with a few ideas and calculations that you’d think would be at least of interest to governments of the world), and the plot isn’t too terribly hole filled, but the dialogue is so heavy and corny that it’s hard not to laugh at moments that aren’t supposed to be funny. The story is also as predictable as you can get, which is disappointing. It’s a shame that the characters are so flat and the dialogue so terrible, but thinking on it now I suppose it’s not that surprising – Guillermo del Toro has incredibly visual flair, but clearly his scriptwriting abilities leave something to be desired. Kudos to the actors for saying the lines without laughing.

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Art by Matt Ferguson

I was entertained by this movie, but I felt like with just a little more effort paid to making it a truly engaging script rather than a lot of cool ideas cobbled together with hokey dialogue and a predictable plot that you could see in any other action movie would have made it a lot more interesting. I like to be engaged all the way through a movie, rather than switching off when the characters are talking and then lighting up again when the action starts. Also the baby Kaiju is dumb.

Pacific Rim on IMDb

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