This movie is one hell of a ride. Pacific Rim has been marketed interestingly. There have been many trailers preceding movies in theaters, along with billboards, but I’ve noticed nowhere near the same attention on TV ads as other summer blockbusters. At least that’s me. Maybe I don’t watch as much TV anymore. Nevertheless, audiences had an expectation; another summer tentpole, large action, but this time with the respected and very creative del Toro at the helm. He was behind the fan favorite, “Hellboy” series, as well as “Pan’s Labyrinth,” in addition to a writing credit for the inaugural “Hobbit” film. Del Toro is known for unconventional themes and effects work. It is seen throughout his other work. But this movie here is a wonderful creation. Not only is his direction well done, but he co authored the story.
Our film begins with a prologue. Deep in the Pacific Ocean, another dimension has unearthed itself. Through this, monsters known as Kaiju rise and attack Earth. These things are a spectacular visual creation. Think every monster movie ever made and combine those beasts, and you get the Kaiju. In the first attack on Earth, the monster is defeated by armies. But over time, more keep appearing. The solution of sending our armed forces and units is too much destruction. So, the world powers all gather and come up with a new plan. Jaegers. Giant robots. Inside these robots are two pilots who are connected neurologically with the machine and each other. Due to this, called “drifting,” the pilots are in each other’s heads bonding, and they fight with technology that controls the robot. These pilots are treated like Gods, because the Jaeger program is initially successful in defending against the Kaiju. The Becket brothers, one of which is our main character, Raleigh Becket, (Charlie Hunnam) are two of the best in the business. But when they are called into battle again, they disobey an order. Raleigh’s brother is killed by a Kaiju while still being connected to him. This leaves him horribly traumatized, and he quits the program. Hunnam’s performance is the crowd favorite. He’s the guy you root for, the everyday Joe who made something out of himself, lost it, and needed to get back on the horse. He fits the mold fine in this picture, he’s likable.
The Kaiju continue to come back, each time more adapted and stronger to fight our machines. So much so, that eventually we start to lose the war. It is decided that the Jaeger program is to be scrapped in favor of a new plan, with the remaining robots to be relocated to Hong Kong for their final 8 month run. It is then that Major Stacker Pentecost, played by the rising Idris Elba, decides to bring back Becket. Elba plays the role with a commanding presence, with both the calm, cool demeanor, but the authoritative assertiveness when need be. He continues to make appearances in more well known projects, on all scales and outlets. He was once just a major TV guy, but has grown over recent years into a big film player. I remember one of his first noticeable film roles was as Denzel Washington’s rival in the urban favorite “American Gangster.” My favorite scene was his character Tango getting his head blown off in the middle of a crowded street. Aside, I do like Elba as an actor. He’s got chops. Also appearing are Charlie Day from “Always Sunny in Philadelpia,” as a scientist studying Kajiu, his partner Burn Gorman, and Ron Perlman as a Kaiju organs dealer. They provide the comic relief for the movie. Once Becket is brought back into the game, he is eventually paired with Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. She is a rookie, who was rescued when she was a child after her parents were killed during a monster attack. The film builds as the Kaiju eventually reach their strongest abilities, where the Jaeger pilots left are pushed to the wall. There is the triplet brother team, the Hansen father and son combo, and Becket and Mako. When two Kaiju are attacking Honk Kong, the brothers and Hansens are sent out. The brothers are killed, and the Hansens on the verge of defeat. Against his own choice, Pentecost has no choice but to send out Becket and Mako, even though they failed to mesh and be effective earlier. Once they head out, the epic battles begin. It should be noted that all the fight sequences in this movie are a dazzle to observe. Of epic proportions. Watching these machines, reminiscent of the Power Rangers “morphing time” machine guy take on these beasts is a spectacular viewing. Every fight brings out some new tool that just takes you by surprise. You’re too much in visual awe to nitpick. After the Becket team defeats the two recent beasts, they return. As they do, the scientists locate the monster corpses to study them. Here, they discover a crucial piece of info. By bonding with Kajiu brains, they learn how the monsters are created and sent. They also learn how to destroy them.
Back at the Jaeger HQ, our soldiers are prepping for the latest invasion, a category 5 Kaiju. Yes, they are ranked like tropical storms. Pentecost is faced with a tough decision. One of the Hansens is too hurt to fight. It only leaves him with one team. He decides to suit up once more, as we learn he was one of the original Jaeger pilots, and the one who saved and fathered Mako. Before embarking, he gives a speech to all, a direct ripoff of the Bill Pullman Independence Day speech. But hey, the film borrows and relates to many sci fi favorites of the past, in many ways. In the underwater fight, armed with a nuke, team Pentecost and Becket engage with the Kaiju. In the nick of time, the scientists show up and tell them how to win. They must gain access to the Kaiju bridge, fooling them to think the Jaegers are indeed Kaiju, and detonate the bomb. It becomes increasingly difficult in the midst of the battle. So, Pentecost sacrifices himself with the nuke to kill the Kaiju, and Becket heads for the bridge. In a last hope effort, he ejects Mako, and uses his machine’s self destruct on the bridge. He manages to eject himself as well. In the end, he and Mako surface, and embrace victorious.
What del Toro has done here is created a modern blockbuster with heart. These machines and beasts are a marvel to watch. But the characters we watch are human, they have pasts, they have pain. They have arcs. And del Toro gives just enough action to keep everyone entertained yet caring about what is going on with the people, as opposed to other robot or monster movies. He balances it out brilliantly. His direction of the action sequences are nothing short of awesome. And the themes here have depth as well. This film is about camaraderie, and heart. The pilots are paired together based on values, beliefs, and mental toughness. It is either we fight or we die. Watching them grow together is satisfying. I’m referring to Becket and Mako. The beauty of their relationship is that is isn’t a love story. It’s two broken individuals connecting and healing together. Thank God del Toro didn’t hit us with the cliché kiss at the end. Just embracing. Gained trust. Accomplishment. That is what this film is. Accomplishment. A great, new, exciting summer blockbuster with heart, as opposed to the so far decent tentpole season.
RATING: 3 stars