Pacific Rim (2013)

“Dumb fun” is about the best way that I can describe Pacific Rim. It doesn’t have a whole lot of intelligence, and many scenes and lines of dialogue will have you placing your palm on your forehead, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a film which is a lot of fun and I’d recommend seeing just for the spectacle of watching $200 million of the very best CGI depicting giant monsters and robots punching each other up.

In fact, if I have one complaint about the actual battles between the aforementioned monsters and robots, it’s that they often do little more than punch one another. Sometimes there’s more to the fighting than that, but it’s rare and makes you wonder why, for instance, the Superpowered Sword of Doom wasn’t pulled out earlier on. I suppose that goes back to the intelligence of the screenplay. It’s true that there are some very interesting concepts included here, but most of them function not to do or say anything of importance, but to attempt to reinvent and hide clichés.

Take the central premise of how the robots are controlled. It’s explained to us that they need two operators who must “drift” with one another in order to effectively pilot them. The more effectively they do that — in which they link their brains and “act as one,” so to speak — the better a fighter they make. That allows the film to directly attribute character dynamics into its action scenes; if the pilots aren’t in sync, then that’s going to factor into the battles. It’s too bad that this doesn’t actually wind up being important.

In fact, in a later scene in the movie, when one character who hadn’t piloted one of these robots — called “Jaegers” in the film — in years decides to suit up, he’s asked how he will be able to drift with someone he doesn’t know. His answer essentially amounts to “because I can.” And then, off they go. But, hey, you’re not going to a movie like this one to think, are you? You want to see skyscraper-sized monsters and robots fighting each other, destroying entire cities in their wake. You get that.

The story involves alien creatures called the Kaiju emerging from the ocean and destroying our cities. The nations of the world unite and build the aforementioned Jaegers, which are initially successful at beating back the aliens. But they keep coming, and start getting bigger. The decision is made to decommission the Jaeger program, and instead built a wall around the Pacific Ocean, even after we see a similar wall getting destroyed early in the movie. Logic isn’t something world leaders can be expected to use, I guess.

A plan is cooked to stop the Kaiju from warping into our dimension. It involves using the remaining Jaegers to deliver a bomb and destroy the passage they use to get here. The main hero is a once-a-hero pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who had his brother killed and his robot destroyed a few years prior. Now he gets brought back into action, teamed with a rookie pilot (actor hidden because of spoilers), and sent to assist in this mission.

Pacific Rim looks gorgeous. Some of the best CGI I’ve ever seen is in this movie. The Jaegers and Kaiju look about as real as they could. It’s a really impressive technical accomplishment. The film is a spectacle, and is something that should be seen first on a very large screen with a strong sound system (read: the cinema). The fantastic score and sound design won’t be nearly as impressive on a laptop or wherever you’ll watch the DVD. This is the type of summer movie you should actually leave your house to see.

The film’s director is Guillermo del Toro, a saint among film geeks. You can tell that he loves the material, and that he’s not doing this movie just for a paycheck, which might be said about at least one other person who makes movies about giant robots. This movie is a lot more Hellboy than Pan’s Labyrinth, meaning that there’s not a lot to it on an intellectual level, but like the superhero movie, it’s a lot of fun despite this.

You might be surprised not to see a whole lot of stars among the cast list. Names like Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman and Rinko Kikuchi are certainly known, but none of them are box office draws. Presumably this was done for a couple of reasons. The first is to keep the focus on the robots and aliens, while the second is to keep the budget down, allowing for more resources to be spent on the CGI, which is the focus. For what it’s worth, Hunnam is really bland, Elba is great, Day is funny and has a manic energy which works well in contrast to the rest of the cast, Perlman is fun but is barely in the film, and Kikuchi reminds us that she needs more movie roles.

I liked Pacific Rim. It was fun. It was also nothing special, save for the gorgeous visuals and fantastic score. The monster fights are fun but not all that inventive, the characters are bland and the lead actor is flat, and there’s nothing to intellectually stimulate you, save for finding all of the silly and stupid things found within the screenplay. But, you know what? It’s dumb fun, and that’s perfectly okay sometimes. This is one of those times.

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