FEATURE: Pacific Rim
"To Fight Monsters, We Created Monsters"
In the recent decade, Hollywood has been dominated by geek culture. Movie adaptations of novel, comic book, and even toyline properties have been coming out faster than before. And with the success of blockbusters like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Trilogy, it seems that the mainstream audience is more willing to suspend their disbelief in favor for the incredible stories and spectacles that these kinds of movies could offer. However, the same can’t be said with the giant robot/mecha and monster movie genres. Until now, the only robot franchise that the movie-going crowd knows is Transformers. Unfortunately, any attempt to create a story featuring giant robots will be simply brushed off as a derivative of said franchise. This is where director Guillermo del Toro and his passion project Pacific Rim comes in. Being a fan of fiction based on both mecha and monsters, he aims to reintroduce the audience to such genres and get the major producers to realize that stories from such genres can produce blockbuster hits and not just low budget B-movies. Will Guillermo del Toro be able to change the mindset of the mainstream audience and producers with Pacific Rim?
PLOT & PREMISE
The story and setting of Pacific Rim is very straightforward. While mankind was observing the heavens to answer the long running question of "Are we alone in the universe?", little did they know that it will come from the exact opposite. Deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, a portal has opened and through it, huge alien monstrosities (later known as Kaiju) started coming out and attacking cities across the globe. With conventional weaponry proven to be ineffective, the world’s nations came together and initiated the Jaeger Program, the construction and development of massive humanoid robots to counter this threat. Years after the program started, the Kaiju War is nearing its 11th hour and the Jaeger Program has failed.
This is when former Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) comes in. Traumatized with his last battle years prior, he’s recruited once again by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) together with rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to spearhead mankind’s last stand against the impending apocalypse.
For all intents and purposes, this is indeed a cheesy and shallow plot. But this is all the plot Pacific Rim needed to be honest. The movie is not marketed as the next Inception or anything, it is giant robots fighting monsters! That’s not to say that the movie is just 2 hours worth of mindless explosions, it is the basic story of mankind banding together in this last ditch effort to win a war. This is one of those stories that doesn’t need any complication, and not every movie needs The Dark Knight levels of introspection to expound on its narrative.
The gripe that most critics had with Pacific Rim is the apparent lack of character depth and development. Again, the argument is the same with the plot but a rundown of the characters would better explain how they were handled. Starting with Raleigh Beckett, he’s your reliable Jaeger pilot until the Alaska incident where he lost his brother in a battle. Others may see his issue as an inability to move forward, especially in wartimes where such occurrences are expected. But what complicates this issue is the Drift where pilots neurally interface with each other, sharing memories and thoughts. Imagine yourself inside the head of a person who’s about to die, feeling all the fear and helplessness, and you can’t do anything about it. This is where he comes from and his willingness to pilot a Jaeger once more shows that he’s gone beyond the past and looking forward to the future, as he told Mako himself.
Stacker Pentecost is your no nonsense commander who will do everything to get the job done, including making cheesy lines sound epic. Aside from his radiation sickness, his only issue was just about Mako Mori, who has been eager to pilot a Jaeger to avenge her family after dying in a Kaiju attack. Again, the lack of deep character issues doesn’t deprive room for development. Aside from being protective of Mako (with the reasons revealed later on) he also knew the dangerous implications if she were to pilot a Jaeger; Implications that endangered the entire base and almost got them killed. On the other hand, while Mako was proficient in theory, she has issues dealing with her past. That’s something she has to overcome if she wants to pilot a machine that basically lets her relive that dark past.
Raleigh and Mako’s development heavily relies on the fact that they have strong compatibility manifested in the Drift. Some may probably argue as to why they easily connected without showing anything on screen. Remember, each pilot basically goes inside the other’s mind, exposing everything. From the moment they enter the drift, they immediately understood where the other pilot is coming from. This allowed both pilots to have a bond that enables them to help each other, thereby resolving their conflicts in the process.
Finally are the two "over the top" scientists Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), the research team behind the resistance. From the get go, they are easily the comic relief characters and they do it in a very cartoon/anime scientist stereotype way. Their eccentric nature may be annoying at times but it doesn’t bring down their characters. These two started as rivals, with both not letting the other beat their research. But in the end, they were able to set aside their differences and helped each other know more about the Kaijus, which was very crucial in the final assault.
Many are comparing Pacific Rim to Transformers simply because both have robots, some have even gone as far as saying that the movie is basically Transformers VS. Godzilla. They can’t be more wrong, especially when talking about the visual effects. For starters, the most common fault Transformers had is that the action sequences were hard to follow. For the most part, it’s basically random shards of metal going against each other and then shoved to our eyes. While visual effects for both Transformers and Pacific Rim were made by the same company (Industrial Lights and Magic) it looks as if they’re from different sources.
The Jaegers themselves were well rendered and it shows with the clear silhouette and well defined aesthetics, even the little markings inspired by the fighter jets of World War II were easily seen. It also helps that both their movements and how the camera angles were frames really illustrate just how huge these machines are. There’s this scene where Gipsy Danger is walking towards the Kaiju while dragging an oil tanker like a baseball bat. The way it was shot at a ground angle effectively gives the viewer perspective of the scale these things are working on. This sense of scale also translates really well in battle scenes. Unlike Japanese mecha that often do dynamic poses, these Jaegers are slow and bulky but not boring to watch. In fact, their movements reinforce and makes one awe and wonder that machines of this magnitude could actually move, let alone run and throw punches.
Aside from the CGI, Guillermo del Toro also receives credit for using practical effects in the Jaeger cockpits. As a throwback to the older mecha shows, the cockpit is located in the head unit. The production team also constructed an actual interior of a Jaeger head to give a sense of depth and realism on how these machines are controlled.
The only minor nitpick for the visuals is how the Jaeger-Kaiju battles are often set at night when it’s raining. While not taking away any impact from the set pieces, it kind of makes one wonder how much detail would be seen if the battles were staged in broad daylight, like that earlier fight in Sydney featuring Striker Eureka. As for the 3D version, it wasn’t shot with 3D cameras and was added in post-production. Unfortunately, the post-processed 3D doesn’t add that much depth to the scenes when compared to the 2D version. Other than these minor issues, the visuals of Pacific Rim were outstanding to say the least.
Pacific Rim is a movie far from being perfect. In fact, it has several plot holes that can easily distract anyone from the overall experience. As mentioned earlier, Pacific Rim doesn’t have a deep plot that that doesn’t really count as a negative because the movie delivers what it promises, a spectacle of giant robots duking it out against monsters. That’s not saying that the characters and story here are useless. For one, the characters gave these behemoths attitude and personality that sets them apart from each other. Despite no big Hollywood names attached aside from Idris Elba and Guillermo del Toro himself, the actors provide decent acting to make the ride an enjoyable one. Heck, even Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori captures the sometimes-awkward nature of the Japanese spot on. It’s also much appreciated that while Pacific Rim’s demographic are young boys and teenagers, it doesn’t introduce pretenses akin to Megan Fox in Transformers or very recently, Alice Eve in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Overall, Guillermo del Toro made this made this movie clearly with fun in mind. Growing up to giant robot and monster influences from the east, he made sure that Pacific Rim honors those genres while making sure that western audiences will like it as well. The challenge now goes to the mainstream audience. Pacific Rim is cheesy yet new. It is not an adaptation of any existing fiction, nor a sequel to any previous movie. Many are complaining that Hollywood is getting boring and repetitive with the same stuff on the big screen. But if people are not willing to digest something fresh and full of passion like Pacific Rim, then the same people don’t have any right to complain.
Contributors: Elise Cruz