I’m the type of person who likes to hear the bad news before sweetening up my life with a bit of the good stuff. So lets get the pain out of the way:
1. Stereotypical character tropes – there’s the wise black commander dude, the feisty Asian chick, the wildcard beefcake hero…etc etc
2. Awkward pseudo-love story undertones between the wildcard beefcake and the feisty Asian (at least it was inter-racial)
3. Hammy dialogue. Like, very hammy dialogue. (Beefcake to Asian: “C’mon, c’mon! Let’s do this… TOGETHER!”)
Now that we’ve eaten our veggies, let’s gobble up some yummy sweets.
I’ll be honest, I gave Pacific Rim a lot of shit when the first trailer came out. What did I say again? “The Transformers Take Cloverfield”? I suppose I also said some other colourful stuff involving Michael Bay, JJ Abrams, and poop. I forget.
After further consideration, I respectfully forego my preconceived notions and pledge my allegiance to the kingdom of nerditude. In other words, sorry for being a dick, Guillermo, because your movie effing ROCKS.
This summer blockbuster season has been promised to be filmic candy-land: Iron Man, Man of Steel, Wolverine, Monster University etc etc. All season though, everything has either been hitting below par or merely meeting expectations. Pacific Rim has outstripped my (admittedly, low) expectations unlike any other. I said that it was arriving at the butt-end of the blockbuster season, didn’t I? Instead of being part of the superhero discard pile, little did I expect that Pacific Rim was the freaking clean-up batter for the entire round-up.
Pacific Rim tells the story of Earth’s epic battle against extra-terrestrial monster invaders called Kaiju (“strange beast” in Japanese) that rise out of cosmic portal located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. These deadly leviathans can level whole cities, and that’s exactly what they proceed to do to the coastal population centres encircling the Pacific Rim. The Kaiju were sent to exterminate mankind to make way for alien colonists.
After realising the futility of conventional warfare, the world’s leadership unites to form the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. In a stroke of fantasy-level collaboration, everyone overcomes their political differences (except probably North Korea, because Kim Jong-Un is a spoiled prick) to pour their resources into humanity’s final solution – The Jaeger Programme. Meaning ‘hunter’ in German, the Jaegers are colossal military mechas powered by two human drivers through a neural link-up. With these super-weapons in our arsenal, humanity finally starts kicking some ass.
After a few years of being badass, the aliens adapt and send out their bigger guns. Jaeger losses are at an all-time high when world leaders decide to shut down the programme in favour of something a little more stupid. In an epic move of bureaucratic dick-baggery, our wise leaders decide that a “coastal wall” is the solution to our problems.
However, after a Category 3 Kaiju blows straight through the coastal wall around Sydney, Australia in a matter of hours, this prompts the remaining Jaeger rangers to form a resistance. They plan a last-ditch assault on the alien portal with a skeleton staff of lone ranger gunslinger types. A plan involving nukes. How could it go wrong?! Thus, shenanigans ensue. Oh man, do shenanigans frickin’ ensue.
First of all, this movie made me irrationally proud of being human. HUMANITY, FUCK YEAH! I felt a little bit like I was in the bleachers for a massive football game – HUMANS VS ASSHOLE ALIENS. Go Team Human!!!
Secondly, Pacific Rim is an exercise in human innovation and passion. In the years of late, the film horizon has been littered with blockbuster tentpoles that are pale imitations of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. I was getting incredibly sick of the dark-cynical-gritties that Hollywood was churning out at an astonishing rate.
Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a colourful and imaginative entity. Most importantly, it is a completely original one. When was the last time we saw a movie of this scale that wasn’t based on a comic book, a novel, or a fucking Hasbro toy?
The universe of Pacific Rim is so expansive and so richly fleshed-out. Not since Underworld (before the slew of piece-of-crap sequels) has a filmmaker been rewarded for daring to tackle a such a visionary canon in a little under two-hours on the big screen. Maybe it was for this reason that I felt a flutter of nostalgia for the good old days when movies were original properties and not just some adaptation of the latest YA faux-Twilight craze.
What’s even better is that Pacific Rim manages to pay homage to the genre of Japanese Kaiju without ripping off scenes and monsters from other films (yes, I’m talking to you Tarantino). Despite the mostly god-awful dialogue and the paper-thin characters, it felt like I was living a well-crafted throwback graphic novel. We have our heroes and we have our monsters, and that’s that. (Plus, I’ve been watching a lot of SyFy’s special effects makeup reality competition, Face Off, which has given me a newfound appreciation for creature design.)
Let’s admit, though, that the majority of the reason for why I’m letting the shitty character development fly is because Guillermo Del Toro assembled a cast that’s got charisma leaking out of their eyeballs.
Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, aka. Beefcake Loose Cannon
Beefcake Charlie was more of a cypher than he was a character. I overlook that because I’ve liked Charlie since I saw Nicholas Nickleby on The Hallmark Channel. Perhaps that’s not the best testament to his acting talents. He was awesome as that Civil War douchebag in Cold Mountain. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Sons of Anarchy, but he’s probably good in that too because he’s good at everything. Random note, ‘Beefcake Charlie’ would be a great name for home-style fast food joint.
Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, aka. Feisty Asian Badass
Props to the writer/director for NOT turning her into exotic Asian sex kitten with heeled boots and bootie shorts. There was only so much stereotyping I could handle. Rinko is awesome, mainly because she’s my Asian brethren and I feel irrationally supportive. Yay for Asians in big blockbusters! I could’ve done without the awkward sort-of-but-not-really love story with Beefcake Charlie though. But then again, we totes need more inter-racial lovin’ on screens, folks!
Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, aka. British Nick Fury
Idris Elba is such a badass. He is the token wise black dude that Morgan Freeman has made a career out of. He walks around, dropping corny bits of sage wisdom. However, the lame dialogue somehow turns to honeyed gold when it falls out of his mouth. That man could turn a Damon Lindelof script into Shakespeare with his voice alone. If this acting thing doesn’t work out, I suggest going into vocal acting for e-books. In all seriousness, he imbued the character with a depth and gravitas that obviously didn’t exist in the script. I would totally follow this man into war.
Rob Kazinsky as Chuck Hansen, aka. Cocky Douchebag Golden-Boy
I’m gonna be upfront – I’m really biased because I’m falling in love with Rob Kazinsky on True Blood. He’s so bloody earnest. So, it was actually incredibly jarring when he plays an asshole in Pacific Rim. Chuck Hansen is the cocky ranger with the best Kaiju kill-record. He pilots the Australian Jaeger, Strike Eureka, with his papa, Hercules Hansen (yeah, no joke, his name is Hercules. I can’t laugh because I have a cousin named Achilles). He’s the Val Kilmer character in Top Gun, that starts off disliking Charlie Hunnam’s Tom Cruise, but then starts acknowledging him as an equal once he proves himself. Credit where its due – him and Max Martini (who plays his dad, Hercules) have the sole scene in the film that might be remotely capable of spurring a real emotion in the audience. Its at the end, and its kinda sad / touching. On a brighter note, Australian outback represent!!
Diego Klattenhoff as Yancy Becket, aka. Brother Beefcake
*SPOILER* (Heed the spoiler warning lest you wish to be eaten by a Kaiju)
OMG Guillermo! How could you kill of Shane Oman / Mike from Homeland within the first 5 mins of the movie?! He is the bomb! But yeah, that’s right, Raleigh Becket’s brother is SHANE OMAN FROM MEAN GIRLS. HAHAHAHA. Random note: I’ve always found Diego Klattenhoff’s name so weird. Diego is Spanish, Klattenhoff sounds German, and he looks Irish. Its SO confusing to me.
Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Doctors Geiszler and Gottleib, aka. Comic Relief
Their the odd-couple crack research team. We have the fly-by-the-pants scientist rockstar, Charlie Day, providing a foil to Burn Gorman’s, straight-laced British professor. They bicker. They do funny stuff. They become friends despite their differences. The Internet writes gay fiction about them. Yup. That’s how humanity rolls.
This is the cast that pop culture geeks are vibin’ with. They’re all from popular TV shows, they’re all kinda under the radar, and they’re all totally awesome. (Plus, Ron Perlman makes a sweet cameo to remind the world why he’s the best.)
Everything from the cast, to the concept, to the frickin’ monsters – everything feels like Guillermo has made a film just for us movie nerds in the world. It could’ve been a hot, hot mess (and some parts were). However, Pacific Rim isa testament to the fact that there are still some filmmakers out there who geek out to the same shit we do and are willing to invest millions into creating a high-quality movie for the fans.
How do I know that I loved this movie? Well, when I got home, I spent 2 hours perusing the Pacific Rim wiki, researching everything from the name of the sick-ass Kaiju with the wings (its “Otachi”, btw) to Stacker Pentecost’s drive-suit size (sadly, that info is not available).
If you’re not a pretentious douchebag whose favourite auteur is Godard, GO WATCH IT. This embodies the sense of batshit-awesome that summer blockbuster season was always meant to be.
Random Anecdote: When I left the cinema, I couldn’t stop yammering to The Boyfriend about how The Sister and I would totes make a great Jaeger team. (The closer your bond, the better your Jaeger will fight.) The Boyfriend, being the incredibly sarcastic and dispiriting person that he is, had this to say: “Oh yeah, I’m sure you guys could drive a Jaeger. What would it be called? “Spicy Noodle”? — UM, YES?! We are Asian. We are feisty/spicy. We love noodles.
BONUS – Do you doubt just how much care and detail was put into this film? Listen to Guillermo Del Toro wax nostalgic about his “beautiful poem to giant monsters”. Btw, note how how talks about how he stays away from referencing previous films? TAKE A NOTE, TARANTINO. You can still make exciting films without plagiarism.