Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. First off, let me get a little something off my chest. It's confession time. Minus a few very notable exceptions, I'm not super crazy for Japanese monster flicks. I'll let that sink in a minute, but before you guys determine whether or not to take my geek card away let me just say that I always loved the monster designs and the imagery of men in suits destroying little model cites... it's just that a great many of those films seemed to be about 10% monster action and 90% scientists standing around tables talking about monsters and that didn't quite capture my imagination as a youngster.
I'm kind of a backwards geek when it comes to this particular subgenre. I didn't care for these films at all when I was a kid, but I grew to appreciate them as I got older. Now, naturally a movie like Destroy All Monsters I always loved because that's like monster porn and doesn't fall into the “dudes standing around cheap sets talking very seriously about atomic radiation for half an hour at a time” movie that I described above.
The reason I'm revealing such embarrassing information about myself is to say that even though I tend to love Guillermo del Toro's movies (as I type these words I have a Pale Man statue standing guard over my right shoulder), Pacific Rim was not an automatic slamdunk for me just because it was giant monsters flighting giant robots. Of course I'm a geek so I like both of those things, but the genre itself didn't automatically trigger my nostalgia center the way it does for a lot of my peers.
Even though the trailer doesn't quite highlight the emotional aspect of the movie, I have to say that what you see with the promo materials is what you get: big monsters, end of the world stakes, truly epic action and a crazy universe that is meticulously detailed and photographed.
By the way, if you or someone in your family is a skyscraper I strongly urge you to stay away from the summer movies this season. Your people are being brutalized by Hollywood!
Where was I? Oh yeah, big action and emotion. I guess because it's not as sexy as a million dollar money shot of a giant robot being knocked across a bridge, the connection between the two pilots of the Jaegers (that's the robots if you don't know by now) was largely left out of the marketing materials, which made it one of the more pleasantly surprising aspects of the movie.
The idea is that these robots are so advanced and so huge that the neural connection required to pilot one is too overwhelming for a single human brain to handle, so there has to be two pilots at all times. The trick is that these pilots have to be compatible with each other because their brains are connected via some fun sci-fi doohicky in a process called “drifting.” The two pilots each essentially become one hemisphere of the brain, left or right. They share thoughts, memories and reflexes so they can act as one.
It's a clever way to not only make these pilots more interesting, but to also give these Jaegers a weakness. Pure nuclear powered awesomeness wrapped up in a few thousand tons of heavy metal is fine and all, but if you have a weak connection with the pilots or just one of them gets distracted for a split second then these creations might as well be play toys for the monsters from another dimension.
It's not good enough to have one Captain Kirk, essentially. You need to have a Kirk and a Spock working in unison at every moment or this amazing piece of technology doesn't function.
So the emotional side of this is you have your cocky young lead (Charlie Hunnam) suffer a loss and then be forced into action for one final push to keep these creatures from destroying the world as we know it. That means he needs a co-pilot and building that relationship is the heart of the movie.
Guillermo's filmmaking is incredibly cocksure here. You can feel he's built up to this movie his entire career. I don't know if he could have made this film 5 years ago. He's confident and, even better, he's not afraid to explore his own fetishes. If you love del Toro's movies, every little trademarked Guillermo-ism is here. There's a particularly interesting fetus, jars filled with gross shit, Ron Perlman being weird and awesome and an autopsy scene I don't think he can ever top... I mean, it's one thing to cut open a monster on a table to see how it works, it's another thing to step inside a dead Kaiju and walk around in it as you're peeling back the layers.
I dig big budget Guillermo and of his big budget stuff this is far and away his most complete film. That said, I hope small budget Guillermo doesn't go away because his intimate movies like THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE and PAN'S LABYRINTH are still my personal favorite.
So, Guillermo's doing great studio work here, but is it all roses and puppies and shining rainbows? Not quite. There are a few little things that nagged at me after watching Pacific Rim. Don't worry, they're nitpicky. First of all, Hunnam's a great actor, but his character here doesn't get much meat. He's the typical reluctant hero and has to be the strong, steadfast boy scout for most of the movie while he's surrounded by crazy folks like Charlie Day's Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman's Gottlieb, but we'll get to the science geeks in a second.
Hunnam's Raleigh Becket is not a bad character, he's given some stuff to do, but most of the weighty emotional stuff is actually given to Rinko Kikuchi's Mako Mori.
The second thing I couldn't shake is a bit more important. It feels like there was one point in the writing process where someone was worried the cheap seats might not be able to swallow this crazy world infected by giant monsters and crazy concepts like “drifting” and there was a pass made to clarify things for the slower audience members.
Clarity is a good thing, but there are multiple instances in the movie where things are repeated about 3 times in about 40 seconds in a way that pulled me completely out of the movie because it almost sounded like the actors were going “hey, stupid... yeah, you... the one not paying attention. Remember when we told you what drifting was? Probably not, so we're going to tell you again a few more times until you get it.”
I realize it's a delicate balance creating a whole brand new world with crazy new rules and having it make sense, but I think they erred a bit too much on the side of the lowest common denominator audience members at a few key moments.
For being such an insane universe, writers Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro do a surprisingly good job at simplifying everything, which is probably why the few times they underline and highlight something to make sure everybody gets it irked me so much. The stakes are established, we are literally shown a ticking clock, we see how fucked humanity really is and the goal is as direct as you can get. The complications arrive in achieving that very simple goal. Mostly those complications are huge goddamn monsters, but there's also a bit of a social message going on in the background. The rich seem to be running off to places unknown and leaving these last remnants of humanity to have fun with their new neighbors. It's almost throwaway it's so far background, but if the film should do well I have a feeling that stuff is laying some seed for a sequel.
Viscerally, the movie kicks ass. The monsters and the robots alike have weight, are beautifully animated and the sound design is so great that you feel each punch (unless you're in a shitty theater, I guess). I think only the most jaded and stuck-up critic could find the battles without merit. Guillermo makes sure to add character to every creature and makes every fight count for something.
But the fight against the monsters isn't just metal on scales fisticuffs. That's important to mention. Day's subplot is all about figuring out how these creatures work, where the portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean leads and why the hell their bombing runs on it have failed. You have movie star handsome Hunnam getting into brawls and the geeks are doing their job at the same time.
Maybe one of the reasons the movie is doing so well with the blogging press is because it is total geek empowerment. The geeks get to be as much the heroes as the “check out my six-pack abs” star and even the movie star guy is doing his thing using tried and true geek imagery.
I could go on about the set design and some of the bigger monster battles and I really, really want to, but that's more of a conversation to be had after the film comes out. I got a few good surprises and I wouldn't want to ruin that for someone else. I'll just say that Guillermo's weirdness is 100% intact and that makes for a big budget summer film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Pacific Rim isn't trying to show you it's important or that it can trick you with a twist ending or something. It's exactly what it wants to be: an authentic geeky sci-fi/action spectacular made by geeks for geeks. If you're new to AICN (or the internet as a whole), that's a good thing.