Big frakkin’ robots fighting big frakkin’ monsters. What else to you need? I got out of Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM two hours ago. I’m still giddy.
I will straight up admit I was pre-sold on loving the hell out of PACIFIC RIM. 1) I love Kaiju movies. 2) I love giant frakin’ robot stories 3) Most of all: I’m a HUGE Guillermo Del Toro fan. Sometimes I think he makes his movies just for me. But that’s silly. Everyone knows he makes them for himself. Luckily for film lovers, he’s great at it. (I also loved his produced movies, THE ORPHANAGE is one of the few movies to freak me out, MAMA was great, … okay DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was hit-or-miss but had a lot to like). Yes, nitpickers the giant frakkin’ robots (Jaegers) are human controlled but giant frakkin’ robot is much much more fun to say.
Call it confirmation bias. Call it unleashing my inner-12-year-old. Just call it pure awesome. Not only did PACIFIC RIM deliver on the advertised GIANT FRAKKIN’ ROBOT VERSUS GIANT MONSTER, but it brings so much more. Truly, Del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham (I’m going to put much of stock into Del Toro as Beacham’s only other big credit is the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake) kept surprising me with new ideas, sequences and design. O! The design of everything – from the Kaiju, the Jaegers, the uniforms, the sets and great Caesar’s ghost!: parts of New Hong Kong built around bones of a fallen Kaiju.
I won’t spoil the awesome moments and many of the ideas. I will mention the human dynamic. The trailers show each Jaeger is a two-person team. This creates not only the trust and companionship of two soldiers in a war but allows for drama and character moments of how the team works together and how the “Mental Handshake” that mentally links the users. The characters are well built if not a little cliched. Our leads are a bland-but-likable Charlie Hunnam Washed-Up-Lone-Wolf-Loose-Cannon-With-Nothing-To-Lose and relative newcomer Rinko Kikuchi is Newbie-With-Something-To-Prove. The always awesome Idris Elba is Grumpy-Sergeant (Marshall in this case). We even have bickering comic relief scientists by way of the immensely entertaining Charlie Day (don’t ask me his character name, he’s just Charlie for me. Thanks IT’S SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) and Burn Gorman, doing much better here than as John Daggett’s assistant Stryver in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES last year. Ron Fuckin’ Perlman shows up as Guillermo Del Toro staple Ron Fuckin’ Perlman – earning a cheer in my audience which made me so happy. It’s always nice to see Clifton Collins Jr (STAR TREK) as well. Even if he borrowed his wardrobe from the Eleventh Doctor (and Burn Gorman from TORCHWOOD).
Guillermo Del Toro is a man who loves geek cinema. And we geeks love him. Del Toro wears his influences on his sleeve. One of the first lines spoken to another on screen character is a quote from STAR WARS. GlaDos is the voice of the computer. I will swear up and down that in one scene when a Kaiju makes landfall the ’54 GODZILLA score plays. A beat is straight from JURASSIC PARK. Speaking of JP: this may be post-show hyperbole but when I was 11, JURASSIC PARK came out and blew my mind. I can image some 11 year old boy in the audience of PACIFIC RIM getting the same feeling that I did 20 years ago.
Plotting wise, PACIFIC RIM movies an an excellent pace. While there is nearly an hour between the first action scene and the second big battle, it does not feel like it at all. In that time, we build the universe and the characters making the more action heavy second half have an emotional weight to it. Kudos to Del Toro and Beacham for front loading the “origin story” bits into the opening exposition monologue so we can get to the good stuff. Many filmmakers would spend the whole movie with a pre-Kaiju world, have an attack or two and build up to the Jaegers first-use being the climax. Of course this brings the question of after 12 years of this war why people still live on the Pacific Coast?
And stay a few minutes into the credits for a great extra scene.