It seems like there has never been a movie that has combined the monster/robot element. had success with the Transformers films, but met with critical failure. The Godzilla remake was a big budget failure in every sense of the word. It's pointless to fill an epic with special effects but forget the human element. What hurt those movies the most is that the adaptations failed to capture what made them popular to fans in the first place. In comes Pacific Rim, an original summer blockbuster with no A-list stars. By using plot elements from countless animes and sci-fi films, it combines them together to make a new kind of monster/robot movie for the 21st century.
Monster fighting robots manned by humans isn't out of the ordinary in anime and manga, even though it hasn’t been popular on American film. But it still felt refreshing to see it on screen. By taking the names for the monsters and robots from pop culture, it feels more relatable to fans of anime and classic Japanese monster movies. The robots are called 'Jaegers' and the monsters are called 'Kaijus'.
The story was very well thought out and written. It was the perfect anchor for the destruction and calamity that permeates throughout the movie. The human element and the awesome action balanced perfectly, with neither one overshadowing the other. The equal mixture made sure you weren't overwhelmed by the action or bored by the story. Many disaster/monster movies tend to forget that the human emotion is vital for any movie like this. In turn tend to go overboard with special effects and cheap gags to compensate. It may be satisfying at the moment, but it eventually leaves you hollow afterwards. I liked the underdog theme present throughout, as well as redemption, living with a tormented past, moving on and what one would do to risk ones' life. You care for the characters plight and wish they would succeed. It has heart in all the right places without over dramatizing it. It rightfully gets you amped up for the action and doesn’t let go. Because it's something that hasn't really been done on screen before, it's incredibly easy to get lost in whatever's going on on screen. With a screenplay by , he combines great surprises, laughs, and an endearing story. Having written the screenplays for Pans Labyrinth, the Hellboy series, and The Hobbit films, he weaves a rich fantasy world with original characters. Pacific Rim doesn’t get bogged down with unnecessary details. Sometimes a movies greatest asset is its simplicity and willingness to tell a straight forward story. Pacific Rim doesn’t complicate matters and just wants you to enjoy the movie.
I loved that you see how a monster invasion directly affects Earth and all of its inhabitants. It's never really been done in a monster movie. But it makes complete sense that you would see the after effects. Why have a country be destroyed by a Kaiju and not show how the culture coexists with it. It fits as I would think in the 21st century. Everything gets involved as you see the media hype up the pilots, wonder what happens to the monsters after they get killed and how they will be remembered for future generations. Certain movies need to be more self-aware, not just have something major happen and move on, like "nothing to see here". You feel more a part of the overall environment of the film and it feels more realistic. Or as realistic as a 2,500 ton robot fighting monsters can be.
No-Name Casting Choices
When you have a big budget summer blockbuster with larger than life robots and monsters, you'd expect the movie to star the biggest Hollywood names. But this went a different route which helped the movie overall. By going with TV actors, character actors, and B-list film actors, it proved that the image and persona of a big time star is not required to propel a movie. The story should be enough to grab your attention in the hands of a fully capable, but lesser known cast. And the ensemble cast delivered, all playing their respective characters perfectly.
I don’t watch Sons of Anarchy but played the tortured, redemptive soul down pat. It's a standard character development but it didn't feel like it was going through the motions. is an excellent character actor who's great in everything I've seen from him, playing the leader and trainer of the resistance. I haven't really seen any of Rinko Kikuchis work, but it's always refreshing to see a female minority with a chip on her shoulder kick some ass; not just a pretty face. Ron Pearlman is always awesome. He has one of the best tough guys on screen presences I’ve ever seen. Big or small he makes the role count and he has one of the most surprising moments in the movie. But the best parts belong to and as a duo of scientists. They had impeccable chemistry playing off of one another very well with contrasting comedic styles. Gorman has been in a number of British TV and film productions, but nothing in the states thus far that would elicit mainstream attention. I expect him to be in more American films. Day is most known for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and is generally hilarious. I know he has talent but it's comforting to see him play a smart ass, cocky scientist and not a bumbling idiot.
The special effects were some of the best I have ever seen on film. To see such huge figures on a large scale was unbelievable. They looked absolutely real and in no way felt like the special effects took over the movie. It was the closest it can get to a real life anime without it looking cartoonish. It makes Michael Bay's Transformers look embarrassingly pedestrian by comparison. The fight scenes weren't cluttered at all. You can clearly see who is punching whom and which part is getting punched. The fight scene in Tokyo was particularly amazing. Setting a clash among the brightly lit led rainbow background in the middle of Tokyo was a delight for the eyes. Even though fighting in the rain is a tad cliché, seeing it pouring down all around the Kaijus and Jaegers gave it a huge dramatic flair. Not that it needed more drama, but it just looked really cool. And the Jaegers looked incredible. Loved seeing all the different styles, variations, and combinations that made them each unique and they adhered to their own respective country. Seeing all the different types of weapons being used was like a boyhood dream. I’ve never seen robots look like that in various ways since I played Cyborg Justice for the Sega Genesis so many ages ago.
Re-Inventing the Wheel
I can't tell you how comforting and refreshing it is to see an original summer movie that isn't a sequel, remake, adaptation, or prequel. Too many movies rely on past incarnations for box office dominance. In a land that seemingly lacks creativity, Hollywood managed to make a creative movie for once. It's also noteworthy that there is no attention grabbing headlining star. It's rather boring to see Tom Cruise or Will Smith as the hero in every summer blockbuster. It won't make the movie any better, just more marketable so the studios can make more money to produce more unworthy remakes. Of course the audience is then given no reason to see it without the A-list star, and it isn't a remake, prequel, sequel or adaptation. It sucks because you don't see that many movies like this, excluding the completely intentional schlock on the Sci-Fi channel. Over time they become tired and boring like you've seen them all before. But I can't see how anyone can't be excited or at least mildly intrigued by the concept of inter-dimensional Kaijus battling manned robots. It's so clear in its simplicity that you can just dive right in. It's not trying to be anything that it's not.
I have always liked . Seeing his rich, twisted fantasy world come alive on the screen is always a pleasure. No one does it as good as Del Toro. With his rich history in comic book fantasy, he is the perfect choice to show different Jaegers and Kaijus among a futuristic war-torn world. He knows how to perfectly balance the world of fantasy and outer world realms, with the basic human element that is essential for driving along any monster movie. It's rather unfortunate that he isn't as well received as a director in America, seeming as he has directed an Oscar winning horror/fantasy classic in Pans Labyrinth and commercial hits like Blade II and the Hellboy series.
This is an excellent homage to the anime and monster movies of yesteryear. It takes the best parts from them to develop a different type of monster/robot movie. It harkens back to the first big monster movie epic 80 years ago with King Kong, fighting biplanes atop the Empire State Building. Movies like this usually sell well to a niche market but I'd think they'd be more popular. Definitely not as popular as I thought it would be. The technology is at its peak when it comes to special effects. It just takes the right filmmaker to put it all together with an engaging story and characters. And it has been successfully done here. Weather it gets the respect and attention it deserves is anyone's guess. This is a type of movie that hopefully won't become extinct and vanish without a trace.
Four and a half Jaegers out of five.