It’s not deep, but it sure is pretty.
I’m at somewhat of a loss for words with Guillermo Del Toro’s (“Pan’s Labryinth”, “Hellboy”) monster masterpiece, “Pacific Rim.” It’s “Independence Day” meets “Godzilla” meets “Transformers” meets “Power Rangers” meets “Gundam Wing.” I hope you caught all of those references (plus many more callbacks to classic black and white monster films) and Del Toro certainly hopes you did as well.
We find ourselves in the midst of a futuristic society that has learned to cope with gigantic monsters called Kaiju. Granted, “cope with” is such a loose phrase to utilize, considering these monsters have begun spawning and respawning around the globe, attacking large coastal cities. Widespread devastation became avoidable with the creation and development of Gundam-like war machines called Jaegers. These Jaegers are piloted by two well-trained humans who link their minds together to create a single-unit brain pattern that allows them to command the enormous robots.
Of course, the world has gone to hell, and the Kaiju are appearing in larger numbers these days. Like all good social commentaries, “Pacific Rim” attempts to put on display just exactly how a world like this would handle the appearance of these aliens: action figures, talk shows, commercials, etc. It’s entertaining, and a bit of a wake up call for anyone who hasn’t realized what capitalism and marketing to the mass media are yet. Also included is the idea that Kaiju remains are sold on the black market for cold hard cash. It’s an interesting reality that doesn’t seem all too disconnected from ours.
We follow some strange storyline, littered with plot points that don’t really seem necessary or don’t quite add up in a satisfying way. There is an attempt at a main character, named Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam). He sort of has a love interest, but more like a battle companion in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Oh, and an over-zealous commander in Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). It’s all good and well, but we need comic relief to provide relief from the dreadfully painful and obviously missing character development. We turn to two extremely over-the-top scientists named Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day). Gottlieb’s character tries to be smart, but ends up more like a Saturday Night Live sketch played by Bill Hader gone terribly awry. For me, every moment Day is on-screen is a moment that I wish he wasn’t on-screen. He has a little side quest of sorts, and while he’s pithy, it seems altogether pointless. I should mention Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) as some black market commander-in-chief or something, but maybe I shouldn’t.
I must give credit where credit is due however. I don’t think these actors are awful, just their characters. This all goes back to the screenplay. The story could have potential for being interesting, and let’s face it: giant robots fighting gigantic aliens over the ocean and in cities is very entertaining. I haven’t seen Del Toro’s “Hellboy” to comment, but the other writing credit goes to Travis Beacham, a man hailed far and wide for his engaging and fascinating character study in 2010’s “Clash of the Titans.” (Please note the sarcasm oozing from your computer screen.) “Pacific Rim” is absolutely rife with cliche plot development, one-liners, and characters. It’s not a pretty script, but it sure as heck is an interesting topic.
But perhaps I am being too harsh. Despite the fact that my viewing of “Pacific Rim” felt like the first time I watched “Transformers,” (which means cut any shots with humans, and keep only shots with robots fighting) there is something amazing here.
From the first time we spy a Kaiju emerging from the ocean surface, we are captivated. When a Jaeger is heli-dropped into the sea to begin combat, we gasp. As the buildings crumble and cars explode, we are lost in the action. It may seem like something we have seen before, but is it? This is a feat in visual effects. Shall we do anything but marvel at the screen as a Kaiju effortlessly tosses our heroes across an offshore docking bay? Remember the first time we saw the Death Star explode in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”? I think people will long remember the very exciting action pieces laid out before us here. There are a lot of things to engage us, and it would only be foolish to ignore them, or refuse to acknowledge them.
It’s pure entertainment, and ignoring the poorly developed characters, there is something positively breath taking here. I don’t expect the Academy to start giving out “Best Actor” awards here, but if awards are always the point, are we missing something here? Not to get into a deep ethical discussion all of a sudden, but can we always expect every film we watch to be the greatest film we have seen up to that point? When we are brutally honest with ourselves, we are reminded that film exists to entertain. If I told you “Pacific Rim” fails to entertain, I would be a bold faced liar.
Don’t get me wrong, “Pacific Rim” is definitely a feat. The Academy had better smile upon the long list of beautiful visual effects. It is a lot of fun. I only wish I could remember the names of any of the characters… (SPOILER) or at least felt an ounce of sympathy when they died.
Hey, and Tom Morello worked on the score alongside Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones”). So that’s pretty cool