Friday, July 19, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.

I know I've spoken at great, most likely annoying lengths throughout the course of this blog about my dislike of Michael Bay. I could probably start a glue factory what with all the horse corpses I have laying around to pummel as a result of it. I give him credit where credit is due, as my shockingly glowing review of "Pain & Gain" proves, but that is the rare exception to the norm. Overwhelmingly Bay is a hack to rival anyone rated among the most notorious, and his money-factory juggernaut films represent nearly everything that is evil and wrong with the lowest-common-denominator-seeking industry that we find ourselves saddled with.

And Guillermo del Toro just gave him the biggest, most thunderous and glorious pimp-slap that has ever been recorded in human history.

Michael Bay needs to be strapped into a chair a la "A Clockwork Orange" and forced to watch "Pacific Rim" 47,000 times in a row. In between each repeat of the film, for 10 minutes the screen will flash the words "THIS IS HOW YOU DO GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING, YOU ASS!!!" After he's done those words will be tattooed on the inside of his eyelids in florescent paint so he will forever see it when he closes his eyes in a constant reminder of how much his "Transformers" series sucks in comparison, and how to make the inevitable sequels better.

Lots of this is a good start. Honestly it's not that complicated.

What Guillermo del Toro has managed to accomplish with "Pacific Rim" is creating one of the most entertaining, thoroughly rousing and consistently surprising action films I've seen since...I can't even recall off the top of my head. Nothing has really ever come close with the obvious exception of some of the Millennial "Godzilla" films, and even they didn't have moves like "Pacific Rim" has.

"Pacific Rim" is a musclebound madman who throws you in his truck, starts flying down the highway at 193 mph and then, while still driving, sticks your head out the door and grinds your face off with the pavement like the world's most insane belt-sander until all that's left is a gleaming skull, but you're still alive but can only communicate by growling Opeth lyrics. Then he takes you to a garage where they chrome your head, strap you to the nose of a spaceship like you're a hood ornament and launches you into the sun while a crew of vikings do battle with space-axes on the outer hull of the ship. That's how hardcore "Pacific Rim" is: It should have space vikings.

Hell yes.

Like all of del Toro's works, "Pacific Rim" is a love letter to the genre it occupies. In this case the genre is in line with the Japanese "Kaiju" monster movies, of which the likes of "Godzilla" and "Gamera" and whatnot are the most famous. It's a bit of a niche genre, for sure, but few can argue as to the inherent awesome factor of seeing giant monsters beating the crap out of each other.
What "Pacific Rim" does is to take those movies, which were infamous for guys in rubber suits and corny special effects and give them a high-tech, flashy, steroided up shot in the arm that looks stunningly gorgeous and is essentially a dream come true for anybody who is a fan of the genre. But I have a hard time imagining someone not having a great time at "Pacific Rim," even if they don't know Barugon from an unusually large honey badger.

But if you catch that this shot is a direct reference to another film, "Pacific Rim" is for you.

The story flies by quick and dirty in the opening scene as we are told how giant monsters came to be here. Basically, a dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific ocean opened up, giant monsters we call Kaiju came through and started leveling cities, we built giant robots called Jaegers to fight them, the fight isn't going so great, and beyond that don't worry about it. That's all you need to know.
Blissfully "Pacific Rim" doesn't try to make the story more complex than it needs to be. And while some snobs may call "simplistic" on that setup, it makes perfect sense since the whole point is that nobody knows what the Kaiju are, where they actually come from or why they're attacking us. The reveal of that mystery is one of the driving elements of the plot. So call it "simple" if you want, but it's only that way because you only know as much as the characters do. Makes sense to me.

Um, excuse me? I expect deep characterization in my movie about giant monsters trampling Tokyo. Boo. Zero stars.

Our protagonist is Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), a Jaeger pilot who experienced a horrific loss years earlier during a nasty Kaiju attack, and has since retired from the fighting. Now, as the Jaeger program has essentially been scrapped and the world is curling up on itself in defeat like you've just lost a game of "X-Com," Raleigh finds himself drawn back into the fight by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), his old commander. He and what's left of the Jaeger program gear up for one last effort to close the portal and stop the Kaiju permanently.

Raleigh is a typical action hero who would rather not be doing this and plays by his own rules, but Hunnam plays him well enough so as to make him a believable and likeable character. It's true that his character may be a bit of a trope, but what do you want from a hero in a giant robot movie? A wuss who meekly follows orders but complains the whole time? Guess what? That would give you Shinji from "Neon Genesis Evangelion." And screw that.

Yeah, dissenters of "Pacific Rim." You're right. It's not the same unless Raleigh is crying to himself and whacking off over her while she's in a coma. Because that's what I signed on for.

The one who really got my attention though was Rinko Kikuchi as Mako, Raleigh's eventual co-pilot whose only goal in life is to drive a Jaeger. Rinko is an absolutely dynamite actresses, and she played vulnerable and tough-as-nails at the same time better than anyone I've seen in a really, really long time. The child version of Mako we see in a flashback, played by young actress Mana Ashida in a performance which was so realistically heartrending that it was pretty tough to watch, only strengthened her character and made me like her even more. She might be one of my new favorite female sci-fi characters.

Did I mention she's also really, really hot? I should mention that at some point.

The whole cast is solid all around, with Idris Elba being the face of seriousness to ground us in the drama, and Clifton Collins Jr. as one of the Jaeger techs and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the two head-butting scientists lending some non-distracting and actually humorous comic relief. Normally I'm against comic relief as I feel it's usually unnecessary, but since these guys are actually funny without trying too hard, it works just fine. And I say that while not being a fan of Charlie Day, so that's pretty high praise coming from me. (I know, I know. Charlie Day is the greatest thing ever. I know. I've been told. I just can't stand listening to him. His voice is like an aural root canal.)

There are some characters who aren't that spectacular, not because they did a bad job or are poorly written, but the movie doesn't get quite enough time spent with them. Foremost amongst those is Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), one of the Australian Jaeger pilots who immediately butts heads with Raleigh and seemed like he was an interesting character, but because there's simply too much else going on, we're left with him simply being an "Iceman from Top Gun" type figure who's kind of a big jerk who is somewhat justified in his jerkiness. That's about it. I feel like there must have been a scene left on the cutting room floor that would have wrapped his character up a bit better.

But Chuck wasn't the worst. An issue I have in movies like this is when we're shown this collection of soldiers or awesome characters and whatnot, and before they really have a chance to do much, nearly all of them are wiped out nearly instantly once the fighting starts. I'm reminded of "Aliens," actually. Despite that being one of my favorite movies, the marines in that movie get like 70% annihilated roughly 2 minutes into their first fight. Those were awesome characters but they get slaughtered before they can do much of anything. Without getting too into spoilers, "Pacific Rim" is guilty of this, too. And yeah it kind of bugged me.

Then again...any movie that has Ron Perlman looking like a steampunk pimp out of an anime is automatically amazing.

What is amazing to me is that the action in "Pacific Rim" is compreshensible and gorgeous to look at while using barely if any slow-motion and taking place almost exclusively in the dark, often in the ocean and sometimes in the rain. It's so well framed and edited that there wasn't a single point in any of the fights that I didn't have a clear idea of what was going on, and that's including the moments when tentacles and smoke and debris and water are flying all over the place. It's a stunning example of how "Pacific Rim" got it right whereas "Transformers," even with it's slow-motion-in-broad-daylight handicap failed miserably. Guess that's what happens when you get a good director.

By the way, don't bother seeing "Pacific Rim" in 3D. I've seen it both ways, and the normal 2D version is (unsurprisingly) better. It's not that the 3D was bad, but it tended to make the action more difficult to make out, detracting from the normally fantastic action. The glasses making an already dark movie more so didn't help matters, either.

This NEEDS to become a franchise. Del Toro has mentioned that he has ideas if sequels were to be green-lit. I would pre-order my tickets today if that we the case. I don't care. Hell, I'll take three. Whatever it takes to make more of these. Del Toro, you crafty bastard. You've done it again. Make sure to swing by Michael Bay's house to deliver that flying elbow drop off the top turnbuckle that you owe him.

(Dramatic Reenactment)

Check out the trailer for "Pacific Rim!" And yes, that is the same woman who did GLaDOS as the voice of the Jaeger. Nerds, you're welcome.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Pacific Rim" is a perpetual buffet line of awesomeness. It will chisel a smile into the faces of anyone watching who possesses a pulse and a desire to have a good time. Apart from that, it's an expertly crafted action film which looks gorgeous, is exciting, and is a love letter to those monster movies that awaken the gleeful 10-year-old lurking somewhere in all but the most jaded of us. Probably the most fun I've had at the theater this year to date. It's an amazing movie, and Top 10 of 2013 nearly guaranteed.

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