Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Pacific Rim (2013)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

RATING: 4 / 5

I broke up with blockbusters this summer. Then a 300ft robot beat the unholy crap out of a giant sea monster, and everything was right with the world. Now I can relive the excitement all over again with Pacific Rim on DVD and Blu-ray

This past summer movie season was bloated with big budget blockbuster hopefuls, many of which flopped financially and critically. Although it didn't perform as well as I expect the studio expected, Pacific Rim rose from the depths of the summer movie doldrums and punched a hole right through the lazy ranks of the competition with its gleefully geeky premise and heavy manga / tokusatsu influence. It's big. It's over the top. It's unapologetic in its nerdiness and un-ironic fun. Pacific Rim is what summer movies should be about! It should be no surprise coming from a blog dedicated to creature features and Japanese giant monster movies that Pacific Rim was favorite movie of the summer. It's by no means a perfect movie, but it stands in stark contrast to what's endemically wrong with the vast majority of summer blockbusters.

Puny Humans
Heavily inspired by Asian manga and Japanese Godzilla films, Pacific Rim takes us into a future where humanity is under repeated attack by 300 ft toxic creatures called kaiju (Japanese for "monster" or "strange creature") that emerge from an inter-dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. After conventional weapons fail to repel the first devastating kaiju attacks that lay waste to San Francisco, Manila, Cabo, and Sydney, humanity falls helpless before the rampaging beasts. In response to the monster menace, the earth's scientists create a last line of defense: the Jaegers. Developed by an international monster defense program, the Jaegers are kaiju-sized humanoid robots controlled by two or three pilots in a neural interface, becoming one -- in body and mind -- with the machine.

Transformers: Eat Your Metal Hearts Out
The Jaegers prove incredibly successful at first, but soon the kaiju attacks become so frequent and unexpectedly powerful that Jaegers begin to fall at an alarming rate. As humanity prepares to decommission the Jaeger program in favour of a giant defensive wall along the pacific rim, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a famous Jaeger pilot with a tragic past, is brought out of retirement by his old commander (played by the always impressive Idris Elba) and put back in control of his former Jaeger: Gipsy Danger. Together with his new rookie partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Raleigh must put aside the traumatic death of his co-pilot, overcome new rivalries, and find the courage to make one final assault against the apocalyptic alien menace that threatens to wipe out all of humanity from the very depths of the ocean.

This is what the Earth gets for releasing Godzilla 1998
Pacific Rim is beautifully textured and exists in its own wonderful aesthetic universe. An old-world industrial gothicnness meets a saturated neon future in Pacific Rim, which boasts exciting robot/monster battles that punctuate a solid sci-fi story that's driven, at its core, by the human element. International stars Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Rinko Kikuchi bring much needed gravitas, heroism, and tough-as-nails tenderness to humanize this monster mashing movie. While Pacific Rim lacks the practical charm of man-in-suit monster movies with hand-made miniature sets and often looks instead like one big videogame, Pacific Rim's real charm lies in the rich and textured world del Toro creates around the monster mayhem. From the smallest CGI details to the broadest comic book-inspired themes, Pacific Rim feels like it takes place in an implausibly plausible world, and it's a feast for the senses.

Gipsy Danger's got swag
Given del Toro's track record for thoughtful, artful films like Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim got some flack for being just another typical summer movie. As a kid, I never understood why "summer movie" was a term lobbed by critics as an insult. In my eyes, summer movies were fun! Shit blew up, heroes solved global problems with their fists, and there was no shortage of cool monsters and aliens. What more could a pre-teen kid want? Then I got older. Older than I wanted to admit to myself, in fact, and began to see why all these adult movie fans around me were taking pot shots at what I considered to be harmless fun. As one gets older and consumes more and more media, the spectacle of the summer movie becomes more and more tedious, especially if there's no story or heart to back it up. One of the reasons I started All Monsters Blog is that I've been gravitating back toward re-discovering retro sci-fi flicks and Japanese man-in-suit monster movies as a response to the numbing coldness I feel in so much modern mainstream sci-fi. Sure, the Godzilla and Gamera movies of yesteryear are just as silly and dumb if not more so than most mainstream blockbusters, but they come from an era of B movies that were spared the blight of product placement, gratuitous CGI spectacle, and budget-inflating celebrity fixation that now infest most summer movie fare. Somewhat naively, I've been holding out hope in my adulthood that there's still something entertaining to be gained from the brainless summer epics like Michael Bay's Transformers series or the routine disaster films Roland Emmerich sheds like dead skin cells. Unfortunately, I can't even like these films ironically anymore. They are just completely offensive garbage.
The Right Stuff
But my hope for the summer movie didn't really die until this year when I walked out of Zach Snyder's Man of Steel completely heartbroken. Having just watched the most important comic book hero ever created turned into a grim, joyless, two-hour parade of senseless destruction and product placement, I couldn't find anything heroic or fun about a guy in a cape snapping necks and smashing through 7-11's, Marlboro trucks, Coca-Cola signs, and even a damn IHOP. Man of Steel drained everything wholesome and fun out of the Superman character in a cynically calculated attempt to manufacture summer spectacle for maximum general audience profit. Summer movies have become "popcorn movies" that are as repulsive as their namesake. They're bland, stale, and barely edible wads of overcooked husk that studios hope we'll mindlessly cram down our gluttonous throats if they're coated with enough salt and fat. Make no mistake: Pacific Rim is no Pan's Labyrinth. It's certainly guilty of being big, loud, action-driven CGI spectacle too. Following as it does in the wake of countless sci-fi destruction movies, Pacific Rim can even feel at times uninspired. But where Pacific Rim differs from all the other movies released this summer is that writer, director, producer Guillermo del Toro gives a damn. del Toro wears his love of genre cinema so clearly on his sleeve that even his conscious attempt to manufacture a summer movie has more art and heart than any other action film this year. And it's exactly del Toro's love of tokusatsu sci-fi and his irrepressible talent for world building that puts Pacific Rim over the top and elevates it above its summer movie trappings. While all these other sequels and adaptations have fallen flat, Pacific Rim -- an original concept -- stands tall!

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