Pacific Rim Review: A Childhood Rollercoaster Ride

Since the first time I heard of it, Pacific Rim has been constantly nudging me with the promise of excitement. The concept of massive robots being piloted by humans was a peg that really piqued my interest, thus I had minimal expectations from it in terms of narrative. I’m willing to forgive it as long as it can give me the machines I kept seeing in the trailers.

Thankfully it delivered more than that. It made the kid in me gleefully run around; that twelve-year old that had so much faith in heroes and the way they always save the day.

(WARNING: very mild spoilers ahead)

Borne from the whimsical mind of Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos, Hellboy), Pacific Rim is a sci-fi film revolving around massive robots called Jaegers and their pilots, locked in a war against equally monstrous creatures called Kaiju. It has been years since the appearance of the first Kaiju, laying waste to society and threatening to drive mankind to an apocalyptic end. In an attempt to avert this, humanity decides to fight back, pooling its resources to enact the Jaeger program, a plan to construct immense manned humanoid machines as an offensive against the Kaiju threat.

Although the Jaeger program is a massive success, it has its share of consequences. In order to pilot the machines, one has to mentally interface with it leading to severe (and irreversible) cerebral trauma. To counteract this, the scientists from the bullpen devise the Drifting system: two pilots, linked together in thoughts and memories, man a single machine to control its left and right hemisphere, thus splitting the mental burden that would otherwise kill a single person.

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With the success of the Jaeger program mankind enjoys years of victory against the Kaijus. Enter Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), one half of the pilot tandem that mans Gipsy Danger, America’s forefront Jaeger. A routine Kaiju intercept with his older brother yields traumatic consequences, leaving him psychologically and emotionally unable to return to active duty. As time passed Kaijus begin to attack more frequently and simultaneously and are now taking down the mighty Jaegers one by one, once again pushing mankind to the brink of extinction.

This sets the stage for the film’s main plot, which I will leave to you to discover. The initial concept alone is the stuff great Japanese animations are made of, yet the film continues to present itself as a gift that keeps on giving.

Now for the review.

Let me begin by saying that I applaud the way Del Toro kept things simple. You won’t hear too much jargon in this film, nor would you be force fed with an abundance of backstories, pretentious topics or theories. It’s back to the good ‘ol days of youthful heroism: a ragtag band of irregulars join forces to face a threat much greater than themselves, pooling their courage to accomplish the mission against all odds. This is an underdog plot commonly seen in adventure films like Real Steel, Battleship and Independence Day, yet Pacific Rim manages to deliver it intact without sacrificing narrative quality.

I sat back. I watched. I forgot I had popcorn as I gaped in awe at the intensity unfolding before my eyes. It was that good.

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However, the visuals bundled with the aural hard-hitting grandiose of the soundtrack (composed by Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones fame) is joined by an abundance of cheese and cliches. The film is rife with classic heroic one-liners, cultural and societal stereotypes (Russians presented as Hollywood Russians, as well as scientists being eccentric geniuses), but it’s these things that allow the film to focus on its strong points. It won’t be seeing any Oscars in terms of scriptwriting anytime in the future, but I guarantee that you will remember and feel the lines long after you’ve left the cinema.

The acting quality is significantly negligible. Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori, while not as bad as how Devon Aoki is with her roles, was a typical yet extremely adorable Japanese geek fantasy with a healthy side of rebel. Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost was a generic football coach dressed in a military attire, always armed with an inspiring one-liner. Even Hunnam’s Raleigh suffers from rigid singular character deliveries. But like I said, despite this the film still manages to deliver that gut punch adrenaline rush that it parades itself as. Cheese is the only thing on the menu, and frankly I don’t mind dollops of it on my plate.

Let’s talk visuals. We’ve been treated to a lot of marketing material showcasing the Jaegers before the film’s release, but to see them in action is to see a celebrated basketball superstar drive through the court past halftime with that winning dunk. The designs of the machines are magnificent, each presenting itself as unique and with a charm that’s sure to develop its own fanbase. I’ve found myself rooting for Gipsy Danger’s variable design, but am unable to deny Cherno Alpha’s rugged demeanor. Even the pilots will have you picking favorites despite a lack of character development, which I hope will be rectified should the film become a franchise.

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With all that said, the star of the show is the action. It’s visceral, it’s straightedge. Massive against massive, colliding against each other as they towered over modern locales, that’s what Pacific Rim has to offer. Sometimes the battle scenes lack a feeling of size, and could have benefited from a few low angle shots to emphasize scale, but there are times that I felt awe upon realizing how huge these things really were.

The lines are clearly presented, with the Jaegers as the clean cut good guys and the Kaijus as the scary and ugly opposition. This visual dualism allows the viewer to focus on the adrenaline rush that the film has in abundance, as well as the cornucopia of heroics in each of the movie’s frames.

Overall, Pacific Rim is a delightful take on the hero genre: a treat for the senses, wrapped in bright wrapping as a present for your inner child. Watch it. Don’t expect much. Allow yourself an hour plus to enjoy, and you will leave the cinema with a childish smile on your face. This is a movie for kids and the kid in you. This is a story where the good guys take down the bad monsters with the promise that everything will be alright and heroes will prevail, so leave your adult at the door.

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