Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Film Review - Pacific Rim

Present day, a fissure opens in the earth core in the Pacific Ocean. Out from the fissure comes a monster that goes straight for the heart of San Francisco. Continuing the trend of San Francisco replacing New York as the city that movie makers most want to destroy. The government fights back but it takes too long and requires too many resources to take down the monster. All is quiet then another appears after 6 months, then another and another in shorter periods of time. To fight the monsters called Kaiju the world unites to build 250 foot robots named Jaegers. The Jaegers are effective and begin to turn the fight against the Kaiju.  In 2020 Alaska we meet a brother team that run a Jaeger, they make an error and loose a fight as it is clear that the Kaiju are adapting. They are learning the strengths,weaknesses, fighting style and capabilities of the Jaeger Robots.  More defeats follow and the Jaeger program falls out of favour with the world leaders. Instead the new plan is to build a wall to protect cities on the Pacific coast.  The Jaeger program will have a little more funding for the hong Kong base after which it wil be decomissioned.  The remaining robots are moved to Hong Kong where the program goes underground for 5 years until the wall plan fails and the Jaegers become the last line of defense.  

Director Guillermo Del Toro takes us into his vision of apocalypse on earth along with screenplay writer Travis Beacham.  The governments of the world put aside their differences when faced from a threat from outside. They are able to work together, share technology and create weapons in all regions of the planet to fight the enemy. The alien presence does not come from outer space as one would expect but through a portal from another dimension through the crust of the sea. Del Toro's creative eye for monsters produced several different multi layered creatures all with different characteristics ready to inflict as much destruction as possible on earth's cities.

The action picks up again in 2025. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) the surviving brother of team from Alaska is brought back into the fold by project director Staker Pentercost (Idris Elba).  Beckett meets the rest of the Hong Kong team. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who works with each team of pilots and on the Jaegers,  along with the pilots of the other three teams. Triplets who pilot the Hong Kong entry, a brother and sister team that pilot the Russian entry and a father and son duo that guide the Australian Jaeger who were the last successful robot to defeat a Kajiu that broke through the wall in Sydney. The thread thorugh these and most of the prior successful pilots is a close family relationship. The neuroload to pilot the machines proved to be too much for one pilot. The solution was to employ two. One to control the right and the other the left side of the Jaegar in a process called drifting that accessed the corresponding hemisphere of each pilots brain. The shared memories and experiences between family members melded the pilots into one to operate the robot. Mako's other task was to locate a co pilot for Raleigh to replace his brother. She assembled a list of candidates but in the end the best match was Mako herself.

Visual and special effects are superior. The film has several fight scenes between the Kajiu and Jaegars.  Perhaps the best is the battle between two Kajiu that attack simultaneously that eventually involves all for of the remaining Jaegars. It's an extended battle in nigh-time Hong Kong.  The neon look of the city skyline is breathtaking. The battle between the monsters and robots harkens back to the best Godzilla battles from the 60's and 70's classic films. Del Toro does an excellent job of showing the scale of these creatures as they pick up oil tankers and storage containers to use as projectiles and tanker ships as baseball bats during attacks on their foes. The story even manages to infuse a bit of comic relief in the middle of the battle as a punch delivered by a jaeger goes right through the floor of skyscraper destroying everything in its path the robotic fist extents the left of the floor to a desk with a Newton's Cradle touching it just enough for the balls to start moving then retreats out of the building. The fight really shows how the Kajiu learn, adapt, change as they use new weaponry to defeat the strategy and defenses of the Jaegers.

The sound department did an admirable job with the material. This is the loudest Del Toro film that one is ever likely to hear which is fitting for a titanic monster robot battle. The sound hits the right level it acentuates the action on the screen and does not over power it. A departure from the normal earsplitting films that populate the summer.

The project features a strong cast of actors that are non blockbuster or network names. Charlie Hunnam is strong as the narrator and lead Jaeger pilot. Rinko Kikuchi puts in a memorable performances as the conflicted Mako. Adris Elba is the rock at the centre of the film playing the project commander.  Elba delivers the speech ahead of the final mission including the line We are cancelling the apocalypse that is quoted in all of the trailers and promotion for the film. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play the comic relief parts as two scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler and Gottleib diametrically opposed but come to work together at a critical part of the film.  Look for Del Toro muse Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau an underworld figure brandishing a switchblade and a short temper. Chau reports that he took his name from his favourite character in history and his second favourite chinese restaurant in Brooklyn movies.

Costume designer Kate Hawley had a hard task with the pilot suits. They had to look tough enough to protect the pilots as they absorb blows from the monsters while they also had to be flexible for the abundance of physical activity the pilots have to do in the cockpit.  The crowing wardrobe in the film belongs to Perlman's Hannibal Chau decked in a Hellraiser red and black velvet suit and welder cutter spectacles.  The signature piece of the attire are his gold plated shoes that are used as an importan plot device in the film. Ilba's Pentacrost  is clearly a military leader in his best Ranger dress blues with rows of stars lining each shoulder of his jacket and both collars of his shirt.

The set designers had an abundance of locations to create. Two stand out above the others. Hannibal Chau's lair featuring the passage way in and the various shapes and sizes of continues used to house the black market Kajiu finds. The other is the confined space below the city where a group of civilians including Day's Dr. Geiszler take refuge. The space is large enough for a large group of people but the ceiling is low to make the space claustrophobic. The ceiling is decorated with many hanging articles so when the Kajiu stops above and begins to stop the tension in the space is incredible.

Pacific Rim is a fast paced bigger than life original summer movie that stands out in a summer of sequels and reboots. Del Toro and Beacham created a world full of characters, robots and monsters that the viewer is happy to spend a couple of hours in. It's a film that I can highly recommend and one that should be seen on the big screen to appreciate the scale of the project.

**** out of 4

Pacific Rim | Guillermo Del Toro | U.S.A. | 2013 | 132 Minutes.

Tags: The ocean, apocalypse, Robots, Monsters, teamwork, Aliens, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Alaska, Sydney, Manilla,  World Government.

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