Pacific Rim: Where do you want to die?

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Pacific Rim – 2013

Director Guillermo Del Toro
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman
Screenplay Del Toro and Travis Beacham

Once Guillermo Del Toro decided to forego The Hobbit series of movies, the concept kind of lost steam for me.  After I saw the first film, it was apparent why.  Jackson was creative in a way that represented his view of someone else’s vision for so long, it was no longer apparent that he had a vision of his own.  The scene that best exemplified this was the bumbling escapade through the cave of the Great Goblin.  There was no attempt at perspective.  Running through the cave through some invented rickety pathways and then falling for what seemed like miles, only to bounce up even after the fat goblin landed on them.  Everything was designed as a cheap attempt at humor and it completely took away any sense of drama that the Riddles in the Dark chapter had gained.  Any feeling of wonder that we had clung to in the first series of films is now compromised.

How did those planes get on there with that corpse?  Who cares?
How did those planes get on there with that corpse? Who cares?

Del Toro takes on multiple fantasy and sci-fi sacred cows with Pacific Rim.   Everything they are doing has been done too many times before.  Godzilla, inter-dimensional invasions, cloning, human-mechna bonding, mind-melding and even Rock ‘Em Sockem Robots.  This movie should be an absolute mess.  Thanks to the ambitious vision of Del Toro, what we have is a glorious masterpiece.  For something as loud and potentially obnoxious as this could be, it’s a remarkably subtle work, right down to the lone golden shoe.  Del Toro notices everything, because he loves about everything that is going on here, and everything that it derives from.

Explaining the plot is simple.  A bunch of monsters named Kaiju started to attack cities on the Pacific Rim one at a time.   Conventional means took down the first few.  The attacks increased in frequency as civilization developed mechna weapons operated by humans called Jaegers to fight them.  The catch for the humans is that the mechna fighters need two bonded humans to run them.  Those who have operated the machines solo have developed bloody noses, which is short hand for irreparable brain damage.  Hunman as Releigh Becket, is one of the few to survive this phenomenon for reasons that will remain for the viewer to discover.

It's a geek fantasy.  Might as well be a video game.
It’s a geek fantasy. Might as well be a video game.

The mechna bots start to whittle down as the Kaiju continue to learn how to defeat them.  In a last-ditch effort, two operations take place.  First there is an attempt to build walls along the coasts of the Pacific.  The other is a an effort to combine the last of the Jaegers in Hong Kong for one last shot at closing the portal that serves as the monsters entry point to Earth.

Hunman has the bulk of Vin Diesel, the voice of Keanu Reeves and more enthusiasm than both of them.  It serves him well in the role of hero, when combined with the able supporting cast.  His chemistry with Kikuchi (Becket’s partner Mori)  is a geek’s fantasy.  She plays the role of winsome and dangerous quite elegantly.  Alba is finally able to use something close to his real accent as Pentecost, the leader of the Jaeger program.  Day and Gorman play your typical mad doctors, trying to out-theory each other ad-naseum.  Day’s quirk filled delivery  and isolated story line with Perlman helps keep the combination from seeming like something directly out of an Emmerich / Devlin pile.  On the other hand, it may be Gorman that brings the thing down.  They should lose him for the sequel.  Perlman is exactly what you’d expect.  No matter what he’s in, he’s completely at ease on the screen.

Epic battles.  Things get wrecked.
Epic battles. Things get wrecked.

The battles are epic.  Everything that has happened since Terminator 2 has lacked the immediacy of that classic battle of machine versus machine.  No one else has really come closer to those landmark battles than Del Toro.  His battles actually feel like they are weighted by attention to time, space and gravity.  It helps to feel like sequences have actually been story boarded.  The scene featuring Newton’s Cradle is a wonderful example of a scene that many other directors could do horribly.  In the hands of Del Toro, it’s as intricate as touching a sleeping baby on the chin and not waking him or her.  On the complete other end of the spectrum, there is the completely needless pounding of fists by the mechnas.  Watching this, one might be tempted to wonder how much the act would damage one large mechanical hand or the other.  Instead, the viewer gets pumped in the most gloriously dumb way.  Yeah.  I’m in for that.  All in.  Just like Del Toro.

Let’s be honest.  Pacific Rim is big, dumb fun.  It could have been dumber, but it could not have been much more effectively big.  It’s a story that is as shallow as a video game.  I will watch this movie several times in my life, and find new ways to enjoy it.  It’s just the way Del Toro is able to collaborate with people, making the other people’s vision his own.  It never feels calculated.  It always feels laden with exuberant joy.  He makes all the battles we imagined as children come alive, in a way that feels as true as anything we’ve ever felt.

(**** out of *****)

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