Guillermo Del Toro is known for his wild imagination which is best represented in Pan’s Labyrinth, arguably is his best film. Even as he’s dabbled in action flicks — Blade II and Hellboy — Pacific Rim is his first honest stab at a summer blockbuster. Del Toro’s greatest strength has always been his honest love of film and filmmaking, so even his lesser works are always buoyed by a persistent earnestness and it’s that boyish charm that anchors Pacific Rim.
As The Dark Knight ushered in a wave of brooding blockbusters, some have been lamenting the loss of the light-hearted action affair that ruled screens in the ‘90s, and Del Toro is one of them. To say that Pacific Rim is a cookie-cutter-blockbuster may be an understatement as the story and characters only serve to set up the breathtaking action sequences. And yet, somehow, that’s OK. While the story is predictable and somewhat lacking, it’s obvious that Del Toro’s intentions aren’t to make a piece of art. Instead, he wants to make something that’s pure entertainment and in that regard he succeeds immensely.
The story goes that it’s the near future a portal has opened up on the ocean floor and monsters called Kaiju have been crossing over from another dimension. They’re destroying cities and consuming resources leading humanity to come together to build Jaegers, or massive robots, to combat the creatures. The robots require two pilots to control each half and to do so they must “drift,” meaning their minds are connected through a neural bridge. Raleigh Beckett (an American-accent challenged Charlie Hunnam) is one such pilot who loses his brother, and co-pilot, Yansy (Diego Klattenhoff) during a battle and abandons his fame and fortune (Jaeger pilots have become world heroes and superstars) due to heartbreak. Cut to five years later and the war still rages on, only it’s getting worse. Raleigh’s old commanding officer Stacker Prescott (Idris Elba) hunts him down and convinces him he’s needed in the now dwindling program.
It’s a fairly basic concept and one where the characters are barely more than archetypes. Once Raleigh is back in action he meets Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) a pilot-in-training who’s desperate to become one and who has an immediate connection with Raleigh. Again, standard action movie affair. Still, Del Toro isn’t attempting to make something that’s incredibly original. He wants all of the clichés and cheesiness of a contemporary blockbuster to give it a fun and freeing levity. There’s even the requisite comedic relief duo thanks to Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (The Dark Knight Rises) as a pair of scientists who are complete opposites. Day is Dr. Newton Geizler, an admitted Keiju fanboy who believes he can learn more about them by studying whatever body parts he can get his hands on while Gorman’s Dr. Hermann Gottlieb is rigidly English and seeks answers through endless math equations. Day is essentially playing the same character he’s always played but he’s so good at it that his scenes do bring the humor that Del Toro is looking for.
Of course, the real stars of the film are the Keiju and Jaegers themselves who endure epic battles that make Man of Steel’s action sequences look like child’s play. They are truly epic and, from an effects viewpoint, awe-inspiring. Even as CGI becomes ever present in all films, not even action ones, its use can still be hit-or-miss. Pacific Rim’s real achievement is its use of visual effects. Just like every other aspect of the film, the action sequences are so over the top that they come full circle, and back down to Earth. The film in general is just so ridiculous yet so unserious that it just feels so fun– something that’s missing from a lot of blockbusters recently. Guillermo Del Toro may not have made the best blockbuster in recent memory, but he may have crafted one of the most enjoyable ones.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5