We at Fanboy Confidential are massive Guillermo del Toro fans. Our appreciation for his output is one of the things that holds us together as a team despite our geographical separation, so while this is our first review of Pacific Rim, you may yet hear what the other boys have to say on the subject… but until then you’re stuck with me.
Years ago, a dimensional rift deep in the Pacific birthed the onset of the Kaiju, massive monsters bent on planetary destruction. As a reaction the nations of earth created the Jaegers, human controlled robots on a scale to equal the Kaiju, with a strict mandate to take them down. In recent years the Jaeger program has been failing, and the world powers have decided to cease funding in favour of building a colossal wall, a strategy many find foolhardy. And so the generals and pilots of the Jaeger program scramble a final and desperate plan to end the Kaiju threat for good.
The word ‘Kaiju’ represents many things in its native Japan. Originally translated as ‘strange creature’, kaiju soon became the catchall phrase for monsters in movies, then the term for monster movies themselves and eventually for any films with giant things kicking the crap out of each other, be they monsters, robots or superfolk.
The kaiju have been a pop culture staple in Japan since the early days of cinema and comics, much in the same way that superheroes have been in America, and similarly, though others have dabbled in the ‘genre’ from time to time, it is their birth nations in which they see the most continued success.
Though, as with superheroes, to call kaiju a genre would be undervaluing the movement, because ‘movement’ may be the only way to describe it, as kaiju fiction doesn’t sit still within any one genre. Some are grown-up and allegorical (Godzilla), some are child-centric (Tetsujin 28), some are pulp nonsense (Ultraman), some are crime related (Patlabour) and some even explore the very nature of reality (Neon Genesis Evangelion).
If there were any justice in the world it would’ve been the Japanese given the first stab at a mega-bucks incarnation of a monsters Vs. Mech kaiju, but in our heart of hearts we all knew it would never be realised to its fullest potential in live action if Hollywood wasn’t leading the way.
It could’ve been a disaster (pun intended) if the writer and director cared little for the playground in which they were entering (see Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla), but with Pacific Rim we were blessed with director Guillermo del Toro, one of the true mainstream bastions of geek culture and a creatures fan in all their forms, and with this blessing has come a film that has set a new benchmark in cinematic scale.
Okay, so let’s not get too gushy about the film up front, it’s not perfect, it works on a very straightforward, some would say shallow and predictable, premise; which is to say that if you’ve seen the trailer you’ll pretty much be aware of every beat of the movie already. It’s not a bad story by any means, it’s just not original and there isn’t much meat to it.
Audiences of a more high-brow disposition my find this especially irksome, and that’s fair enough, but it has to be said, the simplicity, even predictability of narrative, to some degree, seems engineered so as not to distract from the outright visual spectacle; and in all fairness a simplistic storyline, in this time of overly convoluted blockbusters, is a small breath of fresh air. Also there are enough nods to kaiju stalwart plot-points and conventions to keep the enthusiasts more than happy.
Be that as it may, the fact that only one or two of the none-over-the-top characters puts in a memorable performance (that’s right, I’m talking about Idris Alba), does little to add credence to the proceedings.
Guess what though? No one’s going to see a film where skyscraper sized robots punch gargantuan monsters in the face and shoot them with chest canons for subtle nuance of plot or stellar performances, they’re going to see it to witness skyscraper sized robots punch gargantuan monsters in the face before blasting them with a chest canons. So how does it fare in that department?
Pretty wonderfully, as it turns out. Pacific Rim is an absolute visual treat. Del Toro flicks traditionally have excellent design teams, so the fact that the sets, the creatures, the costumes and the in-film graphics are astounding should be no surprise, but here they’ve gone above and beyond, learning from films of the same ilk. I’m more specifically referring to the design of the Jaegers, which cool and huge they may be but also put together with just enough detail to illustrate their scale while keeping as solid a mass as to keep them clear and identifiable during action sequences, unlike the Transformers, who would often become an indecipherable and blurry mass of spinning cogs and pistons in action set pieces.
The choreography of the action too is excellent, even if a terrible sin of action filmmaking has been committed, where the best battle is carried out in the second act as a Jaeger takes down two Kaijus in the streets of Hong Kong to breathtaking and eardrum bursting effect, rather than at the climax of the film, which afterward is rather left wanting.
The CG is near seamless throughout, as it should be with a film of this nature, but extra care has been put into the ‘gravity’ of the movements, insofar as the kaiju and Jaegers are concerned, so that you aren’t just seeing the actions of these massive things, you also seem to feel them.
The subtle genius though really stems from del Toro himself along with his regular cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro, first for creating a permeating and singularly stylish colour scheme which creates a uniformising effect that makes the cuts from the giant robots to their regular sized pilots and ground crew none too jarring at all, which is quite a feat.
Secondly supreme care has been taken in camera positioning, both live and virtual, for maximum effect in almost every scene, which in the case of the kaiju battles makes for the illusion that you are genuinely seeing some of the biggest things you have ever witnessed on a cinema screen. It’s really quite mind boggling, and a very distinct reason for why people should make the effort of visiting the cinema rather than watching a download.
Pacific Rim is a film that will never truly be the same once its theatrical run is over, so may be destined for regular cinematic revivals. It’s no writing or acting tour de force but it doesn’t need to be, films have never come any bigger in look, sound or feel, it’s a game-changer of cinematic scale and a contemporary zenith of visually geared blockbusters… If that’s your thing.
See it on the biggest damn screen you can find.
B- grade – for storytelling
A grade – for visuals
A grade – for action
B- grade – for acting
A grade – for scale
Overall grade – B+