For the past few months I've really been looking forward to Pacific Rim. Guillermo Del Toro is one of the best directors currently working and seeing him just go all out in a robots v. monsters film just sounds amazing. Good to report then that Pacific Rim more than meets the extremely high expectations I had and that I think it's the best pure action film released this year.
The plot of the film is deliberately simple in that monsters, called Kaiju (how brilliant is it that a big budget Hollywood film calls the monsters by the Japanese name) rise up from a portal in the Pacific and humans build giant robots called Jaegers to take them down. Years have passed and the Jaegers are being abandoned in favour of just hiding behind a wall and the last remaining Jaegers launch an all out assault on the portal to prevent more monsters coming through. The thing is, the plot is not the main focus of the film and is deliberately simple so as to both pay tribute to the plots of the classic monster films and to make the audience focus on the real strengths of Pacific Rim, the technical aspects and the world-building.
This is the perfect example of how to build a world for a film. In the first 5 minutes we get a quick introduction to the world and how the Kaiju and Jaegers have become ingrained into the pop-culture and how many aspects of life have been altered by them. We see cities being built around Kaiju skeletons, religious cults based around the Kaiju, all the parts of the Kaiju being sold on the black market. The opening also gives a good show as to how useless conventional weapons are in the long term with it taking a week to kill a Kaiju conventionally and even then, nuclear missiles had to be used. You get a real sense that the world of Pacific Rim is so huge and we've only seen a small fraction of it.
The technical aspects of the film are incredible. The effects, direction and cinematography are all excellent and present the Kaiju as more of a natural disaster than terrorism allegories that over films would have done and the designs for everything are just gorgeous, especially the Kaiju with a lot of care going into every detail, showing them to be beautiful yet ugly creatures and never letting you forget just how powerful the creatures are. The level of practical effects involved for the Jaeger cockpit just screams of Del Toro and the designs for the Jaegers themselves are incredible, each of them having a great, unique design that lets you see the evolution of them, from the bulky Russian Jaeger Cherno Alpha to the more sleek Australian Jaeger Striker Eureka. The action scenes are also incredibly executed with a great sense of fun about them. The film shows that, while it is incredibly dangerous to pilot a Jaeger, it's also incredibly fun to hit monsters with oil tankers and swords. The highlight is a fight in Hong Kong which gets the best balance of well directed action and a great sense of fun, with some really great gags spread throughout the scene.
The acting is also excellent and really helps with the world building of the film. All the characters are essentially stock characters, but everyone knows it and so is having a lot of fun. Charlie Hunnam is really good as Raleigh Becket, really showing the pain he feels over losing his brother and trying to rebuild himself and Rinko Kikuchi is great as Mako Mori, who we can see is a great pilot but may not be ready for it. With the concept of the two pilots, the actors playing the pilots need to have great chemistry with each other in order for this element to fully work and, in this case, Hunnam and Kikuchi have brilliant chemistry with each other. The other Jaeger pilots are not as utilized as they could have been, with the exception of Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky as the Hansen's, the pilots of the Australian Jaeger, they work really well together and you can see Martini showing pride in the achievements of Kazinsky while Kazinsky plays the egotistical jerk really well. The characters of Newt Geiszler and Herman Gottlieb could have become incredibly annoying but Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are excellent in the parts, they work brilliantly off of each other and their personalities show the sense of fun throughout the film. It's really nice to hear Ellen McLain do her GLADOS voice for the AI of the Jaegers, even if it was just a few lines. Ron Perlman is a ton of fun to watch as Hannibal Chau, with all of the brilliant world-building in Pacific Rim coming full circle around him. The standout actor though is Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost. Elba is just a badass in the role, he commands the screen every time he's on, he delivers the cheesiest film speech since Independence Day and makes it completely sincere and awesome. Elba has been one of the best actors working today and it's great to just see him cut loose and just have fun.
Overall, Pacific Rim is probably the most fun I've had watching a film in a long time. Yeah it's simple, cheesy and over-the-top but all of that stuff works in the service of breathtaking action scenes and some of the best world building I've ever seen in a film. In a perfect world, Pacific Rim would be the new benchmark for how to make films like this, in this world people would rather see Adam Sandler being pissed on by a deer, with the deer later castrating Taylor Lautner (seriously, what is wrong with you America). This is a brilliant piece of summer entertainment and fully establishes just how good Guillermo Del Toro is as an action director. Here's hoping that he'll be able to do more really fun films like this in the future.
My Rating: 5/5