RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 14: Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” (2013)


The Players…

Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman and Charlie Day(!).

The Story…

Earth’s under attack! It’s an alien invasion! Scramble the jets!

Wait. Don’t look to the skies. These fiends are rising from the depths!

A dimensional rift has opened up from beneath the Pacific Ocean, and huge, horrible monsters are emerging and laying waste to our cities! Humanity is under attack! We’re all doomed!

Or are we?

It’s time to call in the elite battalion of battling robots to thrash these beasts hell-bent on destroying the planet.

We must summon the Jaeger Corps!

(I love anime.)

The Rant…

When I started these posts this summer past (What would one call these posts anyway? It’s not traditional Facebook fodder, and it’s not really a weblog either. Weblogs usually require an outside provider. Facebook was available. Guess we’ll call this thing of mine a Faceblog. How’s that? No? Tough.), it was kinda at the behest of a former co-worker (Jordan. You know who you are). We got to talking one slow evening about movies that were more or less “misunderstood.” Did lousy at the box office. Bad rep. Plagued by rumor. Stuff like that. That was the criteria under which The Standard was established. Now, another unmentioned point of order following a pattern for The Standard: The movie must’ve been made in the 21st Century. 2000 to present (I know the new millennium didn’t start until 2001. Just humor me).

Why this period in time? Because moviegoers have been fleeced something fierce since the turn of the century I feel. We’ve been snowed under with remakes, reboots and repeats for well over a decade now. Ticket prices have gone up, quality and imagination has gone down. Hollywood has resigned itself to a single tenet in recent years: the audience is stupid. They’ll watch anything with pretty faces and a surfeit of sh*t that goes boom. Now I like shiny just as much as the next crow, but at the same time I like a little plot depth, some character development, and a lack of pandering. When was the last time you went to see/rent/stream an alleged summer blockbuster only later to feel you wanted your two hours back? I reckon it’s happened a few times. At any rate, I had a crapload of opinions about movies rattling around my brainpan for years. Looks like Facebook became my bullsh*t pulpit. Besides, Twitter couldn’t support rants like these under sheer volume’s sake.

That being said, onto this week’s review…

Hoo boy. Here’s the magna mater of films to which I decided to do these Facebook posts. Back to where The Standard was born. Big budget film that tanked (or at least had a disappointing return) at the box office? Check. An alleged blockbuster plagued with both the rumor mill churning and a sad reality of poor writing, lousy acting or misguided direction? Check. A lotta splash and dash and not much else, appealing to the most vacant of movie goers? And check. What’s worse? A very talented director at the helm who’s reputation for handling fantasy films has been impeccable.

Until now. Right?

Drop that sandwich…

Fantasy has foremost been del Toro’s stock in trade for years (Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies). What could be more fantastical than giant Godzilla-like monsters versus building-sized, psychic-powered gargantuan robots? Sounds unique enough to me. Not really if you’re an otaku, but still…

So an inter-dimensional rift called The Breach tears into our reality at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. You know what “pacific” translates into? Peaceful. This is an attempt at irony according to Hollywood. A good attempt, mind you. Anyway, through The Breach storms ginormous monsters dubbed “Kaiju” who are hell bent on turning our world into their stomping grounds. Literally. Cities are razed. The populace scattered to the four winds. Mania and mayhem ensues. The usual apocalyptic stuff when leviathans belch forth from the ocean depths.

Of course humanity has to fight back. Hence the Jaeger Program. Comprising of skyscraper-tall robots powered by a psychic connection between tandem pilots, they kick some Kaiju ass into submission. For a while. As the years roll on, and complacency sets in, it looks like the Jaeger Program is winding down, for the Kaiju are getting more and more toothless. Or so it seems.

And this is all in the cold open. The first crucial 12 minutes.

Fast forward a few years. Enter our hero Becket (Hunnam), a more or less disgraced and/or defanged Jaeger pilot. He and his brother were the premier team of the Jaeger Corps, until they lost a battle in a Kaiju attack and Becket’s bro lost his life. Our battle-wounded protag takes a job as a welder at the newest, cheaper line of defense against the regrouping Kaiju ranks, the Life Wall, a huge barrier essentially cordoning off the coastlines from the ocean (how this makes sense will shatter your skull if you think about it too long).

Of course this doesn’t work. What’s more is that bigger, badder and more evolved Kaiju are oozing out of the Breach, this time laying waste to the more sophisticated Jaegers out there (something about the Kaiju creating EMPs or something, frazzling all the newer Jaegers computer systems. This doesn’t affect Becket’s older unit, which is diesel powered. Ah. Again, don’t think too much about it). With the Program diminished, and hairier foes on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before veteran Becket and others are summoned back to the fore.

In charge of the program revamp is Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Elba). Yes, that is his name. He tries to tow Becket back into the program, but he’s hearing none of it. He and his late brother were the elite back in the day, able to drift effortlessly with their Jaeger. Yeah, drift. That’s what it’s called when the two minds meld psychically to operate a Jaeger (what did I tell you about thinking?). The only way Becket could get back in the ring is to drift with a new partner that can think as he does.

Enter Stacker’s aide, Miko Mori (Kikuchi), a survivor of a Kaiju attack as a child, heavily determined on getting into the Jaeger Program and exacting some revenge. Of this legacies are born. And so begins an odd partnership with a man, a woman, their giant robot and a dire mission to wipe out their enemies once and for all.

Will Mori and Becket become the next greatest team? Will the Kaiju ever be defeated? Will Charlie Day ever hang up his manic acting style he uses in It’s Always Sunny…?

Um, duh (except for the last one. Vote’s still out on that)…

Pacific Rim appears to be an attempt at live-action anime. A very good attempt, mind you. Giant robots doing battle with pseudo-Lovecraftian behemoths? Gotta love that. Such ideas are overt Asian tropes nodding to the anime structure. That being said, admit it: a Jaeger clubbing a Kaiju with a derelict ship is mighty badass.

This film is 90% visual candy. The plot is razor thin, and almost an afterthought paralleled against all the wanton mechanized mayhem. The dialogue is often trite, and I truly dislike excessive exposition in a movie. It’s a movie; it’s all about show, don’t tell. The acting is wooden. There is no chemistry between any of the leads and all roles are interchangeable. Except for Charlie Day. His Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler (yet another improbable name) is naturally the comic relief, as well as the bridge for pushing the plot forward, such as it is. Is he funny? Kinda. Not Charlie Murphy funny; he seems to be really reaching here. But at least his performance is memorable, if only in an irritating way. Unlike the rest of the cast.

Barring the craptastic acting, Rim is oddly engrossing. Del Toro still has the eye for fantastic flair. This has to be the first true big budget he’s had access to, and he wasted precious little of his resources. The action scenes are indeed impressive, and the anime parallel runs deep. Also, the detail involved in rendering each Jaeger and Kaiju alive is nothing short of mesmerizing.

However there is this very slight feeling of weakness throughout the film, and I don’t mean in any technical way. It’s like Del Toro had a flash new toy to play with—sans the instructions—and is just barging his way through to get to the action scenes (granted there are a lot, but still). On the flipside, there is an odd subtlety to this film. Can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s why it failed as a true blockbuster. The film simultaneously beats you over the head with crashing action and then has its quiet moments of reflection. Up and down, up and down. It’s like playing with the volume on a stereo. The inconsistency is hard to take, as well as other factors, too. Did Rim have too long a running time for the audience? Have we grown numb to CGI-infused spectacles like this? Was Charlie Day too annoying?

I don’t know. But I did enjoy the film.

Sure, it might sound like I’m complaining. I’m not really. All the inconsistency in the movie lends a peculiar charm. Rim still has that Del Toro quirkiness, which pervades his every film. And sure, Pacific Rim is a comic book movie in need of a comic book, what with its slapdash, corny premise. But it’s also a summer blockbuster with a small seam of intelligence running through it, also like most of Del Toro’s movies. I wonder why the movie failed to catch on with the popcorn-choked rabble. This film made two-plus hours stream by quite quickly; time I didn’t necessarily want back. And unlike the recent A Scanner Darkly viewing, this was a visually impressive movie that was definitely not boring.

Poorly acted? Sure. In search of a solid plot? Yeah. Questionable writing? Uh-huh. Dull?

Decidedly not.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. C’mon. It’s a traditional, stupid popcorn movie: mindless, harmless and fun. It’s a good way to waste a Saturday evening, with or without the beer. Did I mention it has giant robots battling monsters?

Stray Observations…

  • Wait, the first Jaeger unit we see in action is code-named “Kimchi?” For those paying attention, kimchi is more or less Korean sauerkraut. That is f*cking funny.
  • “I can’t have anyone else in my head again.”
  • It’s nice to see that Polaroids still exist well into the 21st century.
  • I like the small moments. Like when the Crimson Typhoon shakes its head after being punched by a Kaiju. Little touches of humor like that are rampant in Del Toro’s work, and all for the better.
  • “No pulse.”
  • “The Kaiju want the little dude!” Mac, bring the badass-itude!
  • Nice tie-in with the shoes. On a low level nice, but nice all the same.
  • Rivers, quit singing my name.


Next Installment…

Paul Giamatti goes for a swim with the Lady In The Water.

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