Pacific Rim is Metal Gear Solid!

Pacific Rim PosterRating: * * * * out of five stars

Review by Luke Whitmire

Plot: In the year 2013 Earth was changed forever. The bottom of the Pacific Ocean opened up a portal to another dimension allowing titanic monsters called “Kaiju” to infiltrate our civilization. After many years of defeat and destruction, the governments of the world made the concerted effort to unite and use each others resources to establish the “Jaeger Program” (Jaeger is the German word for “hunter”). The program manufactures gigantic, mechanized battle robots to defend mankind from the Kaiju.

Writer and director Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos, HellBoy 1 & 2Blade 2, Pan’s Labyrinth, Devil’s Backbone) was exactly the right director for this, a filmmaker who has an unparalleled sense of epic sweep and scope when it comes to action, and a director whose eye for extraordinary imagery is among the best of his generation. Pacific Rim is a movie that is majestic in tone and exhilarating in action. Once again, Del Toro crafts a spectacularly vibrant, freakish, surreal and feverishly beautiful fantasy.

CHARLIE HUNNAM as Raleigh Beckett and RINKO KIKUCHI as Mako Mori

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Beckett and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori

Unlike many filmmakers, Del Toro doesn’t over-utilize the same techniques that permeate so many feature narratives these days: CGI, frenetic editing, orthodox story structure and over lighting. He prefers a style that allows the viewer to be engulfed by the visual detail, and to understand and follow shot framing and editing structure, without compromising the narrative as a whole. Every frame and every sequence in each of his films are cut and refined for impeccable exploitation, while the dark, saturated lighting amplifies the grim universe of grotesque horror and strong character archetypes. He once described himself as having “a fetish for insects, clockwork, monsters, dark places, and unborn things,” and all of these make his work unconventional, fantastical and phantasmagoric.You may not know this yet, but Pacific Rim is a love letter to the old Japanese Kaiju films about monolithic monsters. Kaiju means “monster” or “strange beast” in Japanese, and the Kaiju films were once extremely popular. I believe Del Toro will reignite that craze for the genre with this film.

Pacific Rim is far more quixotically nerdy and family oriented than it is misanthropic or complex. This visually opulent spectacle is unabashed, unencumbered cinematic warfare, free of over-plotting. Del Toro paints a rapturously beautiful adventure that’s just as richly imaginative as Blade Runner, and he constructs action that’s eye-poppingly inventive. He brings a punctilious artisanal attention to his work, suffusing it with high concepts and a mythic quality. Anybody can direct a movie about monsters-verses-robots, but it takes a special kind of creative and imaginative genius to do it in a way that’s cool, emotional and thrilling.

Del Toro focuses on the human elements just as much as he does on the Kaiju beasts, but these creatures are the most compelling thing about the movie. The prologue summates a compelling history about the nature of the Kaijus, and how the humans had to devise the Jaeger robot to counteract. What is really fascinating, though, these Jaegers are operational only when two highly skilled human pilots control from inside a cockpit while their synchronization within an engineered rig will telegraph their actions to the Jaeger operating system, allowing them to pilot the machine. With impeccable prop-building, practical effects, set-design, and vibrant splashes of colors within these scenes, the end result from Del Toro is unprecedented. Seeing giant, neon-colored robots activate into martial arts mode is a cathartic pleasure! When the Jaeger and Kaiju collide in chaotic force, we instinctively comprehend the two forces at war. Each fight evolves from the previous one and actually serves a Pacific Rimnarrative purpose.

In the midst of all the audacious chaos, Del Toro really shows his intelligence by injecting many subtle and subliminal moments of human kindness. Also, he permeates the film with a strong theme of love, trust and loyalty, which is clearly underlined as “The Drift,” the nucleus of the Jaeger. The minds of the two pilots are melded as one within The Drift, allowing infiltration of each others thoughts and feelings. Del Toro accentuates the core pathos of humanity by showing a strong sense of unity, faith and concord between the characters. The Drift is the core essence of the film, making the human struggles uniquely fascinating because we see how much they fear that sort of intimacy with someone, we also see the great importance to get past that issue. Everybody has to learn to work as one impenetrable unit in Pacific Rim. The central character (Raleigh) has a mantra: “The deeper the bond, the better you fight.” I’m elated that Del Toro injected a high dose of lionhearted ethos in this film.

There is also pellucid jungian imagery (Carl Jung), horrors of the collective consciousness, luculent human savagery. Del Toro does a fantastic job equating us (humanity) to the Kaiju race: ferocious symbols of depravity, residing in utter spiritlessness. These subterranean creatures from the dark abyss emerge to perpetrate great destruction, a reflection of our malignant psychotic desires we harbor deep within us.Pacific Rim Robot

Screenwriter Travis Beacham and Del Toro have populated the dense world of  Pacific Rim with compelling characters. We finally get a Summer blockbuster with characters that represent the best of humanity. What’s impressive is the characters do not sit around in fear and deliberate or debate, they retaliate. Now, some of the dialogue from the principals is a little drab and juvenile at times, but that doesn’t strip away their intelligence. Del Toro sculpts fascinating characters that are extremely courages and dynamic.

Bottom line:

This is Godzilla to the power of 10! Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a beautiful mythology that is loaded with images and ideas. Throughout his career, Del Toro has demonstrated enormous ambition, and has calibrated every film of his with a unique voice. This film epitomizes what a blockbuster can be and should be, and a filmmaker whom I trust implicitly.

Rating note: PG-13 for sequences of war violence and language.