15 July 2013

PACIFIC RIM- Review

Film fans will be waking up this morning, to the unfortunate news that the latest dick-splash comedy from Happy Madison Productions has managed to outperform Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim at the US box office. This isn't one of those reviews that's going to champion an intelligent, post-modern action film, with character depth and complex storylines, over Adam Sandler's bullshit. That's mostly because Pacific Rim is how you do a stupid movie right.

On the surface of it, the plot looks kind of like the last ten minutes of a Power Rangers episode, but there's at least a little more depth to it than that. Around a decade or so into the future, the nations of the world have pooled their resources to fight off an invasion of giant alien beasts that have come to Earth through a dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean. The resistance effectively used equally big robots called Jaegers to hold their own in the war. But when the military decides to shut down the program, and only four machines remain operational, leading a group of brave Jaeger pilots to plan and mount a final mission, and save mankind from destruction.

With tentpole films becoming less original and more convoluted all the time, here's a film that isn't particularly built for deep thinking, but finds a depth and breadth of its own in the all-new and yet somehow lived-in world that co-writers del Toro and Travis Beacham have created. Though it's slightly disconcerting to have a voiceover-led exposition dump right at the top of the film, Pacific Rim gets off the blocks immediately. It's not the most elegant method of world-building, but the likeable blunt force with which it's put together turns out to be far more effective than most other big-budget movies we've seen of late.

The other benefit is that our heroes are a group of characters who are accustomed to the world that we're seeing- characters can grow without having to ascend the elementary learning curve to which iconic characters like Superman and Captain Kirk have recently been subjected. At the centre of it all is Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, one of the remaining Jaeger pilots. The robots require two pilots to engage in a neural handshake with each other to synchronise fights, which makes for interesting dynamics between Raleigh and each of his two co-pilots- his brother, who is traumatically killed in the film's opening battle scene, and Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, who's concealing a trauma of her own.

Neither Raleigh, nor Mako, nor any of the other characters in the film, are particularly well-drawn- they're archetypes, acting as shorthand for humanity in order to devote as much time as possible to the action and the world-building. This would be a huge problem, except that del Toro and Beacham still give a damn about the characters and their position in the story, moreso than the setpieces. The supporting characters range from a pair of cartoonish scientists, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, to Idris Elba's enjoyably shouty Marshall Stacker Pentecost (awesome name too), but each has something to be getting on with while the robots punch the monsters in the face.

And blimey, do the robots punch the monsters in the face. Both the kaiju creatures and the lumbering, obsolete Jaegers are distinctively designed, and the film nicely avoids the Transformers syndrome of losing all comprehension whenever a large-scale action scene erupts. Even though a lot of the fights in the film take place at night, in the rain, you can generally tell what's going on- it's shocking that that's a plus, rather than the norm, but there you are. The fights have buckets of imagination too, with jaw-dropping cinematic moments arriving one after the other in the film's pivotal clashes. It almost becomes like a workout for your jaw.

While there's little sense of exhaustion at any point in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, and it's never boring, there are some potential pacing problems in that regard. When you pick up your jaw after one particularly massive fight at the end of the second act, you almost feel like you're ready to go home, only for the film to go on for another 30 minutes or so. It maintains the goodwill, however, on the virtue of looking to films like Star Wars or, yes, even Independence Day for its structure, rather than recent tentpoles. It doesn't go on for another half-hour just to blow more things up, because as explosive as it gets, nobody loses sight of the importance of a resolution over a climax.

For much of Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro seems to be piloted around by his inner child, working in a neural handshake with his own filmmaking experience and sensibilities to create an impressive and appealing action movie. It thunders along, with no need to be arch, or post-modern, or ashamed, because it's not a re-fit of some much-enjoyed source material that other filmmakers have tried to kick into shape. Although it's let down by some weak dialogue, which is not atypical of del Toro's English-language efforts, all of its more generic elements behave in tandem to make something refreshingly original and thrilling. This, finally, is how you make a giant robot movie.

Pacific Rim is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Pacific Rim, why not share your comments below? And Jesus, who's still giggling at the title? Quiet in the back there!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

NerdyRachelMay said...

You know I hold your opinion above all else but it pains me to say I can’t side with you on this.

Pacific Rim is all kinds of shiny and hats off to it for being an original picture in a world of remakes and sequels but I just didn’t care about any of the people and I need that emotional hook to properly engage with a film. Charlie Hunman’s abs are lovely and Ron Perlman’s continued employment makes me happy but I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. I don’t want it to be ‘Inception’ levels of mental acrobatics, I just wanted it to make me care but instead it left me cold.