Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Guillermo Del Toro has made a career out of creating fantastical creatures that look real.  With a resume that includes Mimic, Hellboy (1 and 2) and the excellent Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro is always able to utilize visual effects to help enhance his stories.  In Pacific Rim, he takes on the difficult task of not only creating original giant lizard-type creatures but also rendering intensely intricate, extremely large battling robots.  What comes out on screen is a sheer delight for the senses and some of the best cinematic visual effects in movie history.

The movie tells the tale of a full-scale global attack by a giant species of monster known as the Kaiju.  The Kaiju attacked from a crack in the ocean floor and every few weeks or so, a new one emerges to lay havoc on cities around the world.  In response to this emerging threat, world leaders came together and funded the Jaeger project which consists of the construction of giant robots specifically engineered to battle the Kaiju.  The Jaegers are piloted by two humans who use a mind-drift to synchronize their thoughts.  Del Toro does a great job of telling us all of this up front at the start of the film so we can jump right into giant Kaiju/Jaeger combat.

Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Idris Elba (Thor, The Wire, Prometheus) lead the adequate cast that supports the amazing special effects.  Hunnam is a Jaeger pilot who goes through adversity at the start of the film.  He finds redemption in working with a new co-pilot (Babel's Rinko Kikuchi) to battle an emerging wave of bigger and stronger Kaiju.  Elba serves as the leader of the Jaeger project and gives a commanding performance similar to the role Bill Pullman played as president in Independence Day.

There are actually a lot of similarities between ID4 and this film, but the effects here are just leaps and bounds better than anything we've seen before.  It's incredible to see how much detail is in each effects shot as we see all the gears, flaps and inner workings of each Jaeger move with purpose as the giant robots lumber across the screen.  Del Toro makes sure to convey the epic size and scale of these behemoths by shooting at angles that depict the immense scale of human-to-giant.  A quick scene that shows us a newsreel clip of a Kaiju destroying Sydney helps define the grandiose nature of these beasts.  The sound design supports the gargantuan size of the combatants as each boom and smash is amplified to an extreme.

The few weak links in this movie are some of the side characters (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman especially) who try to add a little bit of comic relief to the plot.  I viewed their scenes as an unnecessary escape from the extreme action and I could have done without their characters.  Ron Perlman as Kaiju-body-snatcher Hannibal Chau was unfortunately under-utilized as well (really shining in a hilarious post-credits scene though).  I also wish we had more battle scenes in daylight so we could get a better look at the Kaiju creatures.  All in all though, these negatives are FAR outweighed by the positive of what we get to see and hear during the action sequences.

Despite a preposterous plot (really... two people controlling a giant machine through melding their minds?) and some silly side scenes, this movie is a smash for Del Toro and a thoroughly entertaining thrill ride.  A near-perfect 4.5 out of 5 JRs for the best movie of 2013 so far.  The talents of Del Toro and his amazing effects team (Industrial Light and Magic) need to be seen on the big screen.  I would recommend seeing this in IMAX 3D (thanks Richard) as the post-production 3D conversion is actually extremely well done.  Sit up close and marvel at the giant monster/robot action which is enhanced by the excellent water effects.  You'll feel like you need to wipe water from your 3D glasses in some scenes.  I fully expect a sequel assuming box office results are profitable.  I'd love to see what the next level of Del Toro's giant robot wizardry looks like.