Reviewed by Galen Strickland
With just a few exceptions, I'm normally not a fan of what a lot of people call "popcorn flicks," those for which it is necessary to turn off your critical thinking and just enjoy what's on the screen. Pacific Rim happens to be another one of those exceptions, which is fortunate since I have been looking forward to it ever since del Toro announced it, and doubly so since I was disappointed he was not the director of The Hobbit. It's almost all CGI, but it's virtually flawless and realistic looking. Well, as realistic as giant robots battling giant monsters that come out of a spatial portal can be I guess. You've probably seen comments that compare this film to Rock'Em-Sock'Em Robots Vs. Godzilla, and that's fairly accurate. It's also what's so much fun about it.
It may be clichéd, it may invoke memories of similar movies from the past, but I'll bet anything most of those others were not as good as this one, and there are two reasons. First, del Toro co-wrote the screenplay and directed, and he was not about to release this film with anything but spectacular special effects. Secondly, the cast makes the most out of familiar territory and somewhat cardboard characters. Plus, you know they were having a helluva lot of fun doing it too. There are a lot of familiar faces, at least for me, although very few of them are that well known. The most prominent is Idris Elba, whose talent is put to good use here unlike the way he was wasted in Thor and Prometheus. His gravitas is just the right note for Field Marshall Stacker Pentecost, former pilot of the giant robots known as "jaegars," German for hunter. Lesser known names include the top-billed Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as Raleigh Becket, and Diego Klattenhoff (Homeland) as his brother and pilot partner, Yancy. Another team, a father-son duo, is comprised of Max Martini (The Unit, Revenge) and Robert Kazinsky (True Blood). I know I should have placed Clifton Collins Jr., but I had to go to IMDb to find out I knew him from The Event from a couple of years ago. Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) provide the requisite comic relief as two dysfunctional scientists. And of course there's Ron Perlman, making his fifth appearance in a del Toro production. Wait for an extra scene mid-credits for his best line.
Special recognition has to go to two great Japanese actresses. Rinko Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for 2006's Babel, plays Mako Mori, the assistant to Marshall Pentecost, with whom she also shares a special bond. She later becomes the pilot partner of Hunnam's Raleigh since his brother is deceased. Mana Ashida plays Mako as a child in a couple of flashback scenes. She is only nine years old, probably just eight when those scenes were filmed, and I expected this to be one of her first roles, but I was wrong. In just three years she has already compiled twenty-three acting credits, and I am sure that is just the beginning. In today's film making, even more experienced actors have problems being convincing with the green-screen method, but young Mana is very convincing, exhibiting fright, sorrow and anger in a very short, but very powerful perfomance.
There is an end credit dedication to two legendary film figures, pioneering FX wizard Ray Harryhausen and Japanese director Ishirô Honda. Neither ever had the budget or computerized resources today's film makers enjoy, but it is apparent their spirit is alive in del Toro's creation. Unlike in several other recent CGI heavy films, I had no problem following the action here, even though it is fast and furious, and the majority of those scenes are in or around the ocean, or during heavy rain. All of the effects wizards, as well as the set designers and the costumers, were at the top of their game. Pacific Rim is beautiful, exciting and awe inspiring.
So what if it's only a giant monster movie? What more do you want?
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