After a five year absence from the big screen, director Guillermo del Toro is back with several bangs in Pacific Rim, a big budget Kaiju (big monsters) and Mecha (large mechanized vehicular constructs…um…big robots) romp. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, and Ron Perlman, Pacific Rim is the result of a whole lot of money and absolutely zero pretensions.
In the near future, a dimensional rift opens in the deeps of the Pacific from which great monsters (Kaiju) are unleashed and wreak havoc upon the Earth. After several devastating attacks, humanity bands together to create Jaegers, giant humanoid machines of war operated mentally by two pilots (one pilot is unable to handle the mental strain) who undergo a form of mental merging called drifting. The Jaegers are initially successful, but as the monsters emerging from the deep get larger and the attacks become more frequent, the war against the Kaiju looks increasingly dire and the Jaegers appear to be losing their effectiveness.
Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), was an ace Jaeger pilot until his brother and copilot was killed in action defending Anchorage (Raleigh managed to survive and get his crippled Jaeger to shore solo). He is called upon once more by Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba (Luther, The Wire) his former commanding officer, for the final, desperate push against the Kaiju. Becket, however, is in need of a copilot, which is where Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Norwegian Wood), comes into play. Mako was orphaned when a Kaiju ravaged Tokyo, and seeks only revenge and to pilot a Jaeger. Mako is both lovely and is just Becket’s kind of damaged (you know exactly what I mean), so sparks fly pretty much instantly.
Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play a pair of scientists, Newton and Hermann, who may actually be able to provide the information necessary to save the world, if they can stop bickering with each other long enough to get any work done. Newt’s quest takes him all over Hong Kong and into the circle of a black-marketeer named Hannibal Chau played by Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy, general bad-assery). The cast is rounded out by a father-son Jaeger piloting duo played by Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky: the father is grizzled and likable and the son is a huge jackass.
Hunnam is used to anchoring a cast of excellent actors on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, and he (and his abs) performs admirably in the lead role here. Aside from the delivery of some clunky dialogue, Hunnam provides the requisite charisma required in a leading man, and has sizzling chemistry with Rinko Kikuchi. Kikuchi is up to the task as the film’s leading lady and is believable as Becket’s equal, and not someone he needs to rescue (a welcome change from typical summer fare). The film’s makes very good use of Becket and Mako’s romantic chemistry without devoting needed time to an out of place romantic subplot (the film’s main narrative takes place over the course of a few days, it would be out of place). Additionally, the two have a sparring session that is essentially a sex scene.
Idris Elba provides the requisite gravitas as Stacker Pentecost, the former Jaeger pilot now at the helm of the underfunded program. Elba does his usual solid work, and he bounces well off of both Hunnam and Kikuchi, but the role is just too cliched to make much of an impression other than his awe-inspiring ability to deliver increasingly grandiose speeches without hamming it up (too much).
I am left with the impression that Charlie Day and Burn Gorman were tasked with being scene-stealers, and they certainly tried their darnedest, but it never quite came together in the manner intended (at least from this slightly-arrogant observer’s perspective). Too much of the film was spent with the pair, and despite, thankfully, being very relevant to the plot, I struggled to find them as appealing as they clearly were intended to be (note: I like both actors quite a bit). Admittedly, I did like Charlie Day’s Kaiju tattoos. Charlie Day’s excursions with Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau were, however, very funny and provided much needed levity at certain points in the film.
The Kaiju and the Jaegers are both consistently visually spectacular, and the scenes in which they brawl (primarily hand-to-hand) do not fail to impress, despite the dark scenery on which they are transposed. These fight scenes also manage to maintain a logical continuity from frame to frame, which is surprisingly difficult to achieve judging by the hectic manner in which many big-budget movies are filmed. Oh, and those aforementioned fight scenes are just plain fun.
The main issue with Pacific Rim is the harsh manner in which it was edited. I am left with the impression that instead of editing the film with a scalpel, the good people at Legendary Pictures decided to use an ax. In certain scenes it feels as if chunks of conversation are missing, and this is apparent in the way certain sequences are acted (straight from point A to C, with no point B, if you understand my meaning). The music by Ramin Djawadi is both exciting and fitting and, while the music on the whole is nothing exceptional, the obvious influence of traditional anime scoring provides a nice effect during many of the fight scenes.
Guillermo del Toro is undeniably a director with a unique vision, even if he isn’t your particular cup of tea, and that shines through brightly throughout the entirety of Pacific Rim. He channels his passion for the work of his predecessors and that same passion helps to compensate for some of Pacific Rim‘s inadequacies. I would be shocked if del Toro hadn’t been envisioning some of the scenes present on the big screen since his childhood, and many of you probably imagined some of the same things. Pacific Rim is a spectacle meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy it.