By Brian Lafferty
July 12, 2013 (San Diego) – The scariest story I’ve ever read was Stephen King’s The Mist. Made into a 2007 Frank Darabont film I’m too frightened to see, it told of a band of New England survivors trapped in a grocery story by a dense fog and a horde of horrific creatures from another dimension. At the end, the remaining survivors encounter a monster so humongous, that it would make a blue whale – the largest animal in Earth’s existence – look like a trout.
Apply that comparison, and the perspective it brings, to the experience of watching Pacific Rim, and you get a mammoth of a film. Like any blockbuster, its sole intention is to entertain, but after a while, it really made me consider the vulnerability of mankind.
Pacific Rim is esteemed director Guillermo Del Toro’s take on the Kaiju subgenre. A Japanese cinema staple that originated with Godzilla in 1954, Kaiju movies typically fall into two categories. The first involves giant ticked-off monsters that destroy major cities, with Tokyo frequently bearing the brunt. The other centers on combat between two or more Kaiju (giant monsters), like Godzilla vs. Megalon and Gamera vs. Gaos (Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans should have more than a passing familiarity with the genre; the Gamera franchise was a major highlight of the cult show’s third season.)
Pacific Rim integrates both the destruction and fighting characteristics with a most respectful eye to craft and intelligence. The solemn opening relates the first wave of Kaijus (the term characters use to describe the monsters) that annihilate San Francisco and other major world cities on the Pacific coast. To combat them, the entire world pools their resources and creates Jaegers, giant robots controlled by two individuals. Brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam of TV’s Sons of Anarchy) and Yancy Becket (Diego Klattenhoff) are two of the best. Raleigh becomes distraught after a Kaiju kills Yancy and quits, leading a quiet life as a construction worker.
Years later, humanity is on the brink of extinction. Raleigh reluctantly agrees to join the last-ditch effort to stop the evolved and seemingly unstoppable latest wave of Kaiju. Aiding him is Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, whose credits include Babel and Norwegian Wood) and two scientists, the stuffy Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and the excitable Dr. Geizler (Charlie Day).
The many TV ads promote Pacific Rim as an action-packed “Giant Robots vs. Giant Monsters” flick, with much fighting and destruction. It is so much more than that. Co-writers Del Toro and Travis Beacham shroud everything in mystery. Their screenplay reveals only little bits of detail at a time about these monsters and drop tantalizing clues like a trail of Reese’s Pieces.
The Kaiju in Pacific Rim are so huge, there’s never enough room in the frame to show them. They are also downright creepy, their faces freaky-looking; I hope the little kids in the theater didn’t get nightmares. I’m not kidding. Right now I’m trying to form a mental picture and describe it for you, but I keep pushing it away.
The fight sequences are surprisingly few. I count maybe three or four off the top of my head, but no more than five. My knowledge of physics is quite limited, but I believe it’s fair to say the robots’ and monsters’ movements are in line with actual physics. The robots and monsters move languidly. The Jaegers’ punches are slow-moving, but forceful and very believable considering the machinery must weigh tons. Once the first skirmish off the Alaskan coast commenced, I realized how silly and unexciting the Transformers fights now looked. The physics render it more exciting because there’s more to take in, and much to relish.
Four years ago, Roger Ebert riled Transformers enthusiasts when he panned Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and followed it up with a scathing blog post about it. The movie certainly had some ardent defenders back then, as a quick glance at the comments indicates. Now I’ve learned that Michael Bay once again is working on a fourth Transformers film, due out next summer. The last two were extraordinarily terrible, to put it mildly, although I found Dark of the Moon slightly more tolerable. I’m not one to pass judgment on a film I’ve yet to see, much less one that hasn’t even completed production. But if Transformers 4 will be as bad as the previous two films, Del Toro has provided film critics and lovers of quality action films a perfect rebuttal.
Pacific Rim is now playing in wide release.
A Warner Bros. release. Director: Guillermo Del Toro. Screenplay: Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beacham. Original Music: Ramin Djawadi. Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro. Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, and Ron Perlman. Runtime: 132 minutes. Rated PG-13.