Rating: 4 stars out of 5
In Guillermo del Toro’s new movie ‘Pacific Rim’, the Mexican filmmaker plays with giant monsters and robots and clearly has fun doing so.
The result is a hands-in-the-air two-hour ride unlike anything we’ve ever been on. In a summer blockbuster season full of disappointments (like ‘After Earth’) and near-misses (‘The Lone Ranger’), del Toro’s ode to Japanese monster movies and manga is refreshing and will leave you breathless.
In the not-too-distant future, kaiju, extra-terrestrial monsters of gargantuan scale, rise from the deep through a trans-dimensional portal and promptly wreak havoc on humankind. They face man-made giant robots — Jaegers — which are piloted by teams of two who are linked via a neural connection called ‘the drift’, with each pilot controlling half the robot.
The year is now 2020, and ace Jaeger pilots Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, ‘Sons of Anarchy’) and brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff, ‘Homeland’) respond to a kaiju attack off Anchorage, Alaska, and get more than they bargained for. The kaijus, it turns out, have been waiting, adapting and evolving, and are stronger than ever. The Jaeger machine is downed and Raleigh loses his brother.
Fast forward to five years later where the kaijus have gotten even smarter, bigger and scarier, and are destroying Jaegers with every attack. Man decides to abandon the project in favour of an ‘impregnable’ sea-wall, and it is here where the main thrust of the movie begins.
‘Pacific Rim’ details man’s last stand, documenting our descent from a fierce army to a rag-tag band of resistance fighters with only four Jaegers left to hold the fort.
Led by Stacker Pentecost (a commanding Idris Elba, ‘The Wire’), this resistance force bands together at a facility in Hong Kong and conjures up a last-ditch plan to bring the kaiju to their knees.
The plan includes roping in former-ace-pilot-now-drifter Raleigh, and Pentecost’s young Japanese protégé Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, ‘Norwegian Wood’), who team up to pilot a Jaeger.
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What makes ‘Pacific Rim’ work is more than just the epic scale of the movie or even del Toro’s sheer inventiveness. There is a human element that revolves around characters with back stories that all point towards the destruction of the monsters.
There’s even some comic relief by bumbling scientist duo Dr Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day, ‘Horrible Bosses’), Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’) as well as frequent del Toro collaborator Ron Perlman who plays a conniving black market kaiju parts dealer Hannibal Chau.
Monsters have always been part of del Toro’s oeuvre, and include ‘Cronos’ (1993), ‘Mimic’ (1997), both ‘Hellboy’ films and his Oscar-nominated 2006 masterpiece ‘Pan's Labyrinth’. For ‘Pacific Rim’, the monster-obsessed director went back to his childhood to conjure up forbidding creations of unfathomable scale with nicknames like Knifehead, Leatherback and Otachi. The Jaeger robots themselves are even cooler with names like Gipsy Danger and Striker Eureka. Obviously, they and the kaiju are the stars of the show.
Quite a serious amount of investment is taken to ensure that whenever the two sides meet, their battle gets increasingly complex — from the first kaiju sighting in San Francisco and the blitz in Sydney to the stand-off in Hong Kong and the climactic undersea battle thereafter.
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The battles move from buildings to wharves, above the sea, under the ocean and even to the edge of outer space — each one never missing a beat, and each Jaeger elbow-rocket punch leaving you fist-pumping for more.
Like in many of his other movies, del Toro creates a world so detailed and complex that any location could have its own spin-off (like Hong Kong’s Bone Slums, for example). In a movie season that has been filled with mediocrity, this story from the creative minds of del Toro and scriptwriter Travis Beacham (‘Clash of The Titans’) stands out.
‘Pacific Rim’ is everything a monster/robot (past, present and future) should be. And del Toro once again shows us what a visionary filmmaker he is.