Whenever an auteur director does a big blockbuster film, it comes with big expectations. When a studio executive has enough confidence in the vision of a director that they give him $150- $300 million dollars to make a film, people notice. Look at James Cameron's Avatar. Look at Christopher Nolan's Inception. Some of the most successful films of the last few years were original, sci-fi action blockbusters that surprised people due to the vision of the director and the quality of the film (I beg to differ on Avatar, but that's for another time). Now, Pacific Rim (out today), is the latest film to have a massive budget and an original action property from a director who is well known in the art house world: Guillermo del Toro. While Pacific Rim doesn't quite reach the heights of Inception, it is a great bit of summer action fun and a much better film than Avatar, the other film I would draw comparisons with. It's storytelling ability is weak at times and the first half of the film really drags, but del Toro's vision completely immerses you in the story and the action scenes are the best ever done. But did it live up to my sky-high expectations?
Pacific Rim tells the story of what is essentially, World War III. While most assumed that alien life would come from the stars, in far out galaxies, they really came from the Pacific ocean, in a portal. These giant kaiju ravage cities and completely destroy the populations. As our hero says, it took multiple days and millions of lives to take down one in San Francisco. However, it didn't stop there. They kept coming and destroying more cities. So the governments of the world united to create the Jaeger program, in which we create giant robots to fight giant monsters. Flash forward several years to the final days of the war in which the Jaeger program is in turmoil. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) must rely on his four remaining Jaegers and pilots from Russia, China, Australia and hot-shots from America, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) to fight the monsters that are at our doors and CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE!
That's only a basic summary as there are several more characters and several more little touches that make Pacific Rim better. I will say this: the first hour of Pacific Rim is mediocre. There's little tension and a lot of it feels like useless exposition. But it does have it's moments. And those moments are spectacular. Whether it's a sparring match between Raleigh and Mako or just the great performance from Idris Elba or the hilarity of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Kaiju scientists, when the first half is good, it is great. And also, the set design and visual effects are probably the best ever. They are so beautifully created, so luscious, so cool to watch, that you can't help but be in awe at some of the shots.
However, the fact that there are some great moments and really great supporting characters doesn't mean that the first act doesn't have problems. It does suffer from the Man of Steel problem of rushing to its conclusion (despite its conclusion being MUCH superior to the superhero "epic") and it does suffer from a bit of narrative boredom. The first hour is mostly boring. I was fretting, I was worried that it wasn't living up to my expectations. But everything that is good in the first hour. The fist-pumping, awesome music score. The action scenes. The really good performances. The colorful, lush set design and occasional lightness. All of that is amplified by ten once the films reaches its stunning conclusion. My only complaint in the second half of the film is that the final battle isn't as good as the one before it.
Now for some comments on the action, which is probably the reason why you're interested in Pacific Rim. It's pretty stunning. The Hong Kong battle will probably go down as one of the greatest film battles of all time and the underwater one after that isn't too shabby either, it's just more of a conclusion than it is a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring sequence. The design of the Kaiju and Jaegers are great. You can tell that a lot of time went in to make them look that great. The set design is stunning, the robots are stunning, the monsters are stunning, everything in those final battles is stunning. It's all really cool. And epic. Those final battles made me really happy and I think that they work for everyone. When a Jaeger hits a Kaiju with a battleship, you can feel a shockwave of happiness ride through the theater.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the performances in the film. Charlie Hunnam is a serviceable lead but there isn't much depth to the character. Rinko Kikuchi, I felt was a much better addition. There was a decent love story between the characters, but once again, her character is slightly under-developed. Idris Elba gives the best performance in the film. He's rock-solid in his role and has a bit of interest and depth that none of the other characters have. In addition, he's just a commanding screen presence. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman also give great performances. They're quirky, and funny and make for a great team on screen. Ron Perlman is charismatic as usual.
Travis Beacham, the film's screenwriter, also wrote Clash of the Titans. No, not the one from 1981. The one from 2010. The one that was one of the most awful films ever made. With Pacific Rim, he proves that he can make an interesting film with characters that are funny and likable and deliver action that is distinguishable from other action scenes. And he also creates a lush and stunning world that can stand on its own. But he's still lacking in story and delivering a first act that isn't so full of exposition. However, it is a sort of necessity for a film this beautifully complex.
Pacific Rim is the sort of equivalent of a cinematic drug. It's entertaining, it's beautiful, it's fun to watch and you instantly want to be transported back to the world the film creates. Anyone who calls Pacific Rim a perfect film is out of their mind. It's got some major problems but I would see it again in a heartbeat and I just might, this time maybe in IMAX 3D. I just love the world that del Toro and Beacham have created here and can't wait to return to it.
THE FINAL GRADE: B (7.4/10)