Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Unleashed 11 July 2013
Guillermo del Toro has made the best Godzilla movie Godzilla never starred in.
Finally the summer has its biggest, brashest spectacle. This is the one to see on the largest screen possible. The special effects are superb and – gasp – it’s actually worth kickin’ in a few extra bucks to see it in IMAX 3D. Excellent 3D and floor-rumbling sound make this more than a mere movie; it’s practically a theme park ride.
The perfect international blockbuster, this one is designed from the ground up to appeal to a global audience – and make it easier to recoup its $180 million budget. Given the money that’s been thrown around on this summer’s extravaganzas – and the middling results achieved – the mega dollars spent on Pacific Rim is a bargain. Every single penny is seen on screen.
The story incorporates locations around the globe and the war of man versus giant monsters is the war that finally unites mankind worldwide. And, aside from a couple jerks and shady characters, there are no truly evil humans in this movie.
Here’s where this movie’s heart is: Pacific Rim’s dedicated to the late legendary monster mavens Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts among many other classic stop-motion animation meshed with live action spectacles) and Ishiro Honda (director of the original Godzilla and other Japanese monster flicks). The end credits also include a thank you to James Cameron, who brought back 3D in a big way with Avatar, and David Cronenberg, known for his quirky horror sensibilities.
It’s quite a kick to watch Pacific Rim bask in enormity. An attack against humanity by a giant sea beast (Kaiju is the Japanese word for this genus of gargantuan monsters) is the catalyst for a war in which man’s ingenuity is once again put to the test. How do you fight a monster? By building a bigger monster. Man’s giant mechanical Shogun warriors are called Jaeger and they’re controlled by a team of two men who merge minds and memories in order to create a unified, cohesive trinity of man, man, and metal.
Guillermo del Toro is already well known for visually stunning movies. Both of his Hellboy adventures offer exquisite eye candy, although the humor and stories found limited appeal outside of the comic book’s pre-existing niche of fans. Here del Toro has stepped it up a couple notches and has elevated his craft to a wholly new level of hugeness and cinematic splendor. His affection for the genre is clear. The roar of the giant beasts, so reminiscent of Godzilla, is good old-fashioned fun wrapped up with modern movie magic. And so is watching entire cities get wiped out by the fantastical monsters.
And then there’s the butt-kickin’ scene wherein a Jaeger drags a huge sea freighter down the streets of Hong Kong and pummels a Kaiju with it.
Summer. Movie. Nirvana.
Adding to the fun is a very clever background concept to help explain the origin of the monsters. Instead of a “simple” nuclear accident, the conceit has been upgraded a bit for modern times. The beasts are the product of intergalactic colonists who were here before; they experimented with dinosaurs as a way to exterminate mankind but Earth’s environment wasn’t suitable at the time. Thanks to man’s mucking up the planet with pollution and bad behaviors, the resulting global warming and all those other environmental hot buttons have effectively terraformed Earth to ripeness for the return of those colonists.
That’s slick. It’s explained in merely a few lines of dialogue and it’s hardly enough to make Pacific Rim a preachy environmentalist movie. It’s simply a darn good idea to explain how those monsters got here.
The Bone Slums
Some of the human dramatic elements are superfluous if not silly. Tensions between the lead hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, TV’s Sons of Anarchy), and one of those jerky characters, Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky, Red Tails), doesn’t really go anywhere. Their clashes amount to a low-calorie beefcake and testosterone side dish.
But that type of fault, which is itself practically a staple of huge spectacles, barely registers amid the grand scale of the movie’s action.
Top: Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau
Bottom: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori
Photos: Warner Bros.
On the flip side, there are plenty of interesting characters populating this salute to a bygone era of monster mayhem. Among them are a stoic marshal (Idris Elba, Prometheus) who manages man’s war efforts; a petite Japanese hottie (Rinko Kikuchi, The Brothers Bloom) who is fully capable of standing toe-to-metal-toe in the headspace of the Jaeger; and a couple quirky scientists who spout out the science babble. One is eerily reminiscent of Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters (in this case, it’s Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses) and the other is anal behavior incarnate (Burn Gorman, The Dark Knight Rises).
But the scene stealer among the humans is one of del Toro’s favorite actors and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman. As Hannibal Chau, he’s the closest this movie gets to an “evil” human; he’s a colorful gangster type who’s found a lucrative business in selling beast bits on the black market.
Set aside any sort of irony in noting that del Toro’s co-writer, Travis Beacham, wrote the abysmal remake of Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans. This movie serves as an apology, and it most certainly should have Gareth Edwards hitting the Tums pretty hard. Edwards is currently working on his follow-up to Monsters. It’s one of next year’s tent pole releases. It’s yet another remake of Godzilla.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.