132 minutes, PG-13 for building crushing action, bloodshed, mega-death.
Fair Value Rating of this Film: $22.00 for people who somehow don’t like big robots or dinosaurs. $42.00 for those who do. This is without question the best summer movie for boys aged 6-14 years of age. It’s also one of the best summer blockbusters of 2013.
Do you like robots fighting dinosaurs?
That is the only question you need to ask in regards to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
If your answer to this question is no: By all means, resume your bookshelf organizing or fantasy football league.
If your answer to this question is yes:
This film is like a really over-wrought ice cream sundae. It’s delightful and quite the sugar buzz, but you may feel embarrassed to be seen enjoying it in public.
Synopsis: Giant alien dinosaurs come out of a dimensional rift to fuck shit up. Mankind builds giant robots to fuck alien dinosaurs up. Giant robots fight giant alien dinosaurs. This isn’t Gosford Park, people.
Best One Liner:
“Wait, we should check this guy for a pulse.”
(character proceeds to unload an entire clip of plasma cannon until the body explodes)
“No pulse. Let’s go.”
Review at Length:
This is a film that I’ve been waiting 34 years to see.
I am too biased to fairly assess this film. I’m a lifelong, diehard monstrologist, and I’m also very keen on the subject of mecha. †That makes me simultaneously the best person to review this film, due to my body of knowledge, but also the worst person to review this film, because this film pushes every button I have.
In the desperate future, giant monsters have been wading out of the Pacific Ocean, to wreak uninvited urban renewal on various metropoli. In response, the world governments fund and develop the Jaeger program, which builds giant mecha. Each mecha uses neural interface technology (or ‘noetics’) to pair two pilots into a seamless operation of the mecha, known as ‘neural drift’. The closer the emotional connection between the two pilots, the more effective the mecha. Yes, in the future, they’ve made empathy into a power source. And so our international band of heroes is a mixture of siblings, lovers, and parents and children.
Traumatized Washout (Charlie Hunnam) is brought back into the program, just as it has become a second line of defense. The world governments have decided to abandon mecha construction in favor of building a wall around the pacific. As a consequence, the Marshal Pentecost (Idris Elba) is re-activating every mothballed machine and pilot. It’s Pentecost’s last day on the beat, and he wants to do one more mission to win the war. Washout is paired up with the emotionally unstable trainer/evaluator Mako/Mori (Rink Kikuchi), and the requisite romance arises. Will there be a comedic subplot involving the team of Frantic American Expository Scientist (Charlie Day) and Stodgy English Expository Scientist (Burn Gorman)? At least the guest appearance of Ron Perlman as a black marketer serves as a great touch.
For all the cliches, Del Toro pays attention to the heart as well as the shiny metal casing. Idris Elba owns this film in every scene that features him. Rinko Kikuchi invests her character with brimming passion, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman work as a comedic odd couple. The more interesting science fiction concept is the neural drift- each pilot has to work their way through the memories and traumas of the other one, while not allowing the memories to distract from the task of dino-punching.
The visual effects are top-notch and wonderful. The monsters, designed by master science fiction artist Wayne Douglas Barlowe, are each unique and colorful. Kate Hawley’s costume designs went a long way to building visual shorthand for the characters, who otherwise get short shrift in a relentlessly active plot. Creature supervisor Michael Balog gives an excellent sinuous choreography to the fighting monsters. Dan Bornstein, Lindy DeQuattro, and his entire visual effects team deserve credit for a richly imagined and inhabited science fiction world. Any effects studio can make a clean surface. Professionalism in visual effects consists of making a realistically stained and stressed room, tool, or vehicle. A worthy resume entry for anyone involved at ILM.
Some have called this film a ‘video game movie’, as though it could just as easily have been a collection of cutscenes from an Xbox game. That’s true, but it’s a worthless barb, a snobbish and cavalier way of dismissing both a genre, and an extremely fun film. Raiders of the Lost Ark could be a ‘video game movie’. Big Trouble in Little China could be a ‘video game movie’. These same critics deny the power of games to produce a cathartic experience, or a moment of rhapsody. If you want to derogate a film, derogate the film in cinematic values. Don’t show off your obsolescence by likening it to a new medium that you disapprove of. If you’re going to go down that path, might as well follow up by telling me how jazz isn’t real music, and how impressionism isn’t real painting.
What matters is that Pacific Rim is one of the most gleefully enjoyable films out there right now. It doesn’t try to be dark, even though it’s about the nigh-extinction of humanity. It doesn’t insist on being gritty, or some absurd gasp at being realistic. It just delivers good pyrotechnics, fight choreography, and spectacle. This was the first movie of the summer where I woke up the next day wanting to see the whole thing over again. It’s a big budget Monday Night RAW played out across the landscapes of entire cities, and it’s glorious to watch.
Go see this movie. Your inner child will thank you for it.
I will be rating the mecha on their aesthetics.¬†Here is a example scale:
Valkyrie VF-1 (from the Robotech universe): 10.0. Classic humanoid lines, transforms into a fighter jet, inspired every humanoid mech since.
Eva-1 (Neon Genesis Evangelion): 6.0
AT-ST (Return of the Jedi). 1.0. If your mecha design can be defeated by teddy bears, throw the blue prints into the incinerator and start again.
The Mecha of Pacific Rim:
Gypsy Danger: This is your main protagonist mecha, the US mech, with a ridiculous Pentagon code name. Gypsy is a rebuilt mecha with a ‘dual fusion core’, plasma cannons, and a conventional layout- in some ways, almost the mecha version of Master Chief from†Halo.
Design Rating of Gypsy Danger: 5.0. Gypsy Danger has transforming hand cannons, a chain sword, and a good deal of old battle damage- enough going for it to have an established place among the ranks of semi-memorable giant robots. Were it not for the gimmicks, the big blue robot would be pretty middle of the road.
Cherno Alpha: This is the most ‘Del Toro’ of the mecha designs- a giant industrial walking skyscraper, evocative of a 19th century diving suit. Cherno effectively conveys the flavor of Russian military design- tough, blocky, slow, but strong.
Design Rating of Cherno: 6.5 – We don’t get to see Cherno’s gimmicks, but it’s a good representation of a ‘Mark I’ design, more walking reactor than weapons platform.
Crimson Typhoon: The Chinese mech, again, has a character derived from and signatory of the parent nation. It’s a good but weird looking three armed design, equipped with buzz-saw hands and double jointed articulation.
Scale Rating of Typhoon: 7.0 – The best mech design of Pacific Rim, Typhoon has the grace of a martial artist, a snazzy paint job, and that third arm gives it the exoticism of the more bizarre of Chinese weapons (like a Shuang Gou).
Striker Eureka: The Australian mech is the Iceman to Gypsy’s Maverick. As such, it’s a similar design, but faster and better armed, notably with a missile array. It’s also a rather generic humanoid mecha, the least interesting design of the film.
Scale Rating of Striker: 4.5. I really don’t remember anything that set Striker apart as a mech. It has a double blade and shoulder missiles, and a drab military coloration. It’s a forgettable mech
The Kaiju: I have a theory about the naming of the monsters of the film. The two very bored officers who monitor the dimensional rift have an ongoing bet as to who can assign the most ridiculous nickname to each monster that invades earth. Let’s set up a Kaiju aesthetic scale, shall we? Gojira is a sufficient baseline for a median here- he has those fins, that long tail, that unforgettable roar.
Example Range of the Scale:
Gigan (Millenium era): 10.0. He’s like Gojira with a Cyclops-style eye visor, T1000 style hook claws, and wings.
Goghiel (from Evangelion): 5.5
Gamera: 3.0. He is, after all, mighty neat and made of meat.
Minilla (from Son of Godzilla): 1.0. So lame….
Knifehead: This goblin shark inspired Alaskan brawler sets up our expectations for the film. Colorful and tenacious, he straddles the line design wise between a Barlowe monster and a surreal Tim Burton claymation creature. Knifehead helps to establish that we aren’t merely dealing with over-scaled terrestrial vermin.
Design Scale Rating of Knifehead: 6.0.†Knifehead does a very good job of establishing the baseline for the monsters in this film, as far as power and weirdness.
‘Sydney’: A whale-like head and a range of ambiguous appendages, this guy comes across as a blind miscegenation. It’s very much a Mad libs monster: ___ number of limbs, ___ number of eyes, and _zero_ reasons to like this beast.
Design Scale Rating of Sydney: 3.0. This guy’s a mook. He stands up to be knocked down.
Ultra-Beetle, aka ‘Onibaba’: You know what’s scary? Lots of moving mouth parts. This is the grossest looking of the Pac Rim kaiju.
Design Scale Rating: 6.5. A terrific arthropod monster that ably conveys the terror of scales being reversed (a crab stepping on people).
‘Otachi’: The Kaiju of 1000 gimmicks! Whether it’s spitting acid or taking flight, Tongeasaurus has more surprises and reversals than any of the other kaiju of Pacific Rim.†
Design Scale Rating: 9.0. Scorpion tail, day-glo tongue, crest like a Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus- Rodan wishes that he was this cool.
†’Leatherback’: Leatherback is to Gamera what the 1998 Zilla redesign was to the Tojo original (the ONLY good thing about the Emmerich Godzilla movie was the redesign of Big Green- such a pity they wasted a good Kaiju design on unfathomable crap).
Design Scale Rating: 6.5. Just don’t start befriending any singing orphans, ok, big fella? Though having Gamera’s rocket propulsion would be a bonus…
‘Scunner’:†He shows up in the final fight, but there’s not much to him. He’s just a thug that resembles Knifehead from the beginning of the film in behavior, albeit with lateral horns.
Design Scale Rating: 3.5. This guy has little personality, just another animal headed muscleman.
‘Raiju’: This eel-like speedster is the most maneuverable of the Kaiju. The most memorable of the enemy combatants in the climax, between his false face, his team-work, and the colorful bioluminescence.
Design Scale Rating: 7.0. Good enough to stand in as the main heel against Gojira himself.
†’Slattern’: 50% Mignola, 50% Lovecraft, this big hammerheaded fella doesn’t have that much screen time.
Design Scale Rating 4.0: This is a mashup monster that’s less than the sum of his parts. The whirling mass of lower tentacles detract from the craggy muscle of the upper torso. Partially because he was shot in the murk of an abyssal trench, we never really get a good sense of the anatomy and movement of this creature.