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Movie Review: ‘Pacific Rim’

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The world we know is being attacked by giant sea monsters called Kaiju, which enter Earth through a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. After seeing cities destroyed by these massive dinosaur-ish fish creatures, governments have united to come up with a solution: giant robots. These walking tanks, called Jaegers, are piloted by two people who are bound through a Vulcan-mind-meld-ish process called “Drifiting”. After all, commanding something that big has to be too powerful for any one mind to master, right?

Yes, all of this is really farfetched and kind of asinine. But just go with it. Pacific Rim is one of those pacific-rim-postermovies that requires your suspension of disbelief to be pushed to its limits; however, if you can manage to turn off your critical eye long enough to finish the movie, you’re probably going to find the idea of massive monsters fighting mega robots to be more fun than expected. In the same way that Godzilla trilled me as a child, it’s fun for the adult me to watch the Kaiju destroy a city.

These Kaiju come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and power levels, and they just seem to be getting stronger.  Their attacks are becoming more vicious and more prevalent with each passing day, and humanity is on the verge of being completely overwhelmed. The Jaegers are no longer the saviors of the world they used to be, barely able to keep up with the repairs in time for the next beast to emerge from the sea.

These monsters are planning something big, developing weapons of their own. Luckily Stacker Pentecost (Idris Alba), the commander of the Jaeger program, has a plan to close the portal for good – he just needs some new pilots. It’s here that retired former hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) comes into play. Raleigh’s last outing in a Jaeger ended with his brother’s death, something he feels every day, thanks to the whole Drifting thing. But with no one left to fight, Raleigh may be the world’s last hope – that is, if he can overcome his fear of having a new person enter his head.

There’s also a bunch of side stories about eccentric scientists looking to understand the Kaiju (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman), a mobster who deals in aphrodisiacs made from monster bones (Ron Pearlman), and a rookie looking to prove herself in combat (Rinko Kikuchi). Throw in an aggressive Jaeger pilot who can’t share the glory (Robert Kazinsky), and you basically have every action-movie cliché you can possibly think of.

Pacifc Rim Is shamelessly dumb, sacrificing depth for fun, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. This movie is self -aware of how ridiculous it is, putting all of its energy into providing unique visual panache, with just enough story to string the epic monster fights together into something that at least feels coherent.

There’s not a serious moment to be had. The mass death caused by Kaiju destroying cities goes unexamined, and the story is nothing short of completely predictable. Yet, somehow all of this works to the film’s advantage, thanks to a weirdness that only Guillermo del Toro can pull off. del Toro’s movies always operate just outside of reality, and in the case of Pacific Rim, that really is its saving grace.

There’s always this sense that what you’re seeing on screen isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. Pacific Rim never tries to sell you on its suspense or emotion, moving from one event to the next without stopping to soak up any reality. To put it another way, the action on screen always focuses on the present.

This is escapism at its finest, a larger-than-life blockbuster designed to provide a sense of awesome, featuring tempered CGI that entertains without numbing your brain completely. Pacific Rim is a welcome change of pace this summer, considering that most CGI spectacles this season have come packaged with a shallow character study and a fast pace that doesn’t leave your eyes time to focus.

Guillermo del Toro’s latest lacks the attitude and charm of Hellboy, but it feels surprisingly fresh, despite looking a little too much like Transformers at times. del Toro managed to bring all the epic battles of a Japanese anime to life on the big screen, only with real actors and a bigger budget. Surprisingly, it all works a hell of a lot better than I imaged when I saw the trailers. There’s something about watching a robot beat the crap out of a dinosaur that makes me feel like a kid again.

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About Chad Michael Van Alstin

Chad is an award-winning libertarian opinion columnist. He's done with that now. Having earned himself a B.A. in Mass Communication, Chad now spends most of his time as a wage laborer, killing the pain by consuming as many video games and movies as possible. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadVanAlstin
  • John Lake

    You actually enjoyed the movie, but you use words like asinine and dumb. Does the phrase “glowing review” kindle any ideas. This site never writes a favorable review; just loads of unjustified pretense. Having said that, I look forward to the movie.

    • Chad Van Alstin

      It is dumb, and the story really is ridiculous. I don’t necessarily think that has to be a bad thing — the phrase “dumb fun” comes to mind. In the same way, I may enjoy a video game like Pac Man for the fun factor, while acknowledging that it isn’t stimulating much beyond that.

      I don’t think it would be fair to praise Pacific Rim for depth that it doesn’t have. It really is just popcorn entertainment. That being said, it’s extraordinarily well done, largely because it seems self-aware of how absurd the concept is. It doesn’t want you to believe, it just wants you to enjoy.

  • John Lake

    How can you call this movie dumb. It’s more than fun. Did you even notice those red shoes? This movie rivals Avatar as best of the century. I am overwhelmed. I suppose seeing it in IMax 3D makes a difference. Nothing dumb about it!