Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Diego Klattenhoff. (2013, PG-13, 131 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 12, 2013
Barring any hints from me, you already know if you’re “drift compatible” (to use the film’s terminology) with Pacific Rim – this summer’s giant monsters vs. robots spectacular – before jumping into the breach. Fans of Japanese monster movies and gladiatorial mecha and Transformers epics will be over the moon because Pacific Rim is bigger, badder, louder, and smarter than almost any of these genre films ever aspired to previously. Whether that also means Pacific Rim is the greatest thing since Godzilla first reared his ugly, atomic head or simply a better-than-average monster movie depends on your perspective, but as I said, the answer may depend on your drift compatibility.
One thing I know for sure is that Pacific Rim is ferociously louder than anything I have ever seen. Sonic vibrations travel throughout the auditorium and seat cushions, enough to make you feel like you’re sitting in a D-Box motion seat. (Those with sensitive bladders are advised to relieve themselves thoroughly before settling in because your innards will be subject to some heavy reverb.)
True to the Japanese tradition, the giant beasts that spring forth from a fissure in the ocean are called Kaiju, while the robots built to fight them are dubbed Jaegers (or hunters). An opening prelude narrated by Jaeger meister Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) details the events that have taken place on Earth since the beginning of the Kaiju War. Opening in the year 2020, the seventh year of the war, Raleigh explains how the world community banded together to build the Jaegers, which have had limited success fighting the various Kaiju that have decimated cities on both sides of the Pacific. The Jaegers are 25 stories tall and are operated from inside by two pilots joined in a mind meld called “drift,” in which each pilot controls a single hemisphere of the brain. Raleigh and his brother (Klattenhoff) were in perfect drift, but five years have now passed since Raleigh went into a tailspin since his brother was lost in battle. The government has by now abandoned the Jaeger program and is working on building a wall to keep out the Kaiju. (They should have checked with World War Z or residents of the Rio Grande Valley to discover the inadequacy of building walls to keep out undesirables.) But when pilots are needed for an early-model Jaeger, Raleigh is pressed into service.
All the film’s technical contributions are top-notch, and director Guillermo del Toro and his regular cinematographer Guillermo Navarro capture some of the most vivid battle scenes ever recorded in megamonster movies. The script by Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans) and del Toro makes a stab at injecting some lifelike traits into the human characters, but little of it registers because Charlie Hunnam exudes a blandness as the film’s leading man and Idris Elba as Commander Stacker Pentecost (yes, that’s his name) only comes alive during his 11th-hour speech about “canceling the apocalypse.” As the nerdy scientists who are also necessary characters in this genre, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman provide some amusing comic relief, while del Toro’s Hellboy Ron Perlman also amuses as a black-market peddler in Kaiju body parts. The presence of Rinko Kikuchi as another potential pilot ought to help the film in its overseas markets (which will be extremely important if the film is to achieve financial success).
There’s no denying Pacific Rim is the best film of its kind. It remains to be seen whether the film’s epic clawing and clanking satisfies a pent-up demand equal to its ambitions.