Note: Yes, yes, I know Fantasia started yesterday, rest assured I’m probably writing my account of the first day right now, but in the mean time, I’d be remiss if I talk about this one….
Pacific Rim is a hard movie to stay unbiased about, mostly because I’m pretty sure the director, Guillermo del Toro, was thinking of me the whole time he was making it. I mean look at the premise, for crimminy’s sake. Some years in the future, a dimensional rift opens up in the Pacific Ocean, and giant monsters dubbed kaiju begin spilling out and attacking major cities. To defeat them, the nations of the world ban together to implement the only feasible and realistic solution: giant robots called Jaegers, controlled by two mind-linked pilots. This is basically Thomas the Movie.
So going in, there was a fair bit of apprehension about whether the movie would live up to the promise of its premise. Two and a bit hours later I emerged from the theater with all that apprehension burned away like a Popsicle on a Montreal summer’s day, because holy SHIT this movie rocks.
The best way I can describe it is as the best animated movie I’ve seen all year. Because for all intents and purposes, this really is an animated film. Not just because of the massive levels of cgi, but because how readily it throws itself into the kind of exaggerated, cartoonish (and I do hate using that word) fantasy that most grim n’ gritty sci-fi these days does its level best to avoid.
Make no mistake, this is a movie that throws itself with all cylinders firing and all guns blazing into the fantastical. Everything that can be exaggerated is, and with gusto. The Russian Jaeger pilots are bleach-blonde golems who barely talk and go into battle with a full Russian choir blaring through the soundtrack. The support crew and scientists behind the Jaegers sport bow ties and suspenders and outrageous accents. Every costume design and set is a marvel, with all the detail and color punched up to eleven, and Ramin Djawadi is a symphony of pounding drums and grinding guitar riffs. The female lead, Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, seems to be channeling every Anime heroine ever, with her giant eyes, partially blue hair and ever-shifting personality. Hell, there’s a goddamn lunch room scene where she and Charlie Hunamm’s Raleigh Beckett, stare at each other across a crowded cafeteria holding trays of food. It’s like for two seconds the film becomes an episode of…I don’t know, what high school drama anime is popular right now, I don’t have time to keep up with this shit.
The upswing of it is, the film is a love letter to the outlandish, the fantastical, the absurd. It revels in its own absurdity, it molds it into a crown and wears it with pride. It knows it isn’t here to make you think, or make some kind of statement, it’s just here to make sure you spend two hours having the time of your goddamn life, and if you let it, it’ll do just that. It’s the best kind of summer popcorn movie, the kind that knows it’s silly, but doesn’t confuse silly with stupid.
One side of this that a lot of people may not appreciate, however, is that the acting and dialogue are almost always leaning toward stilted and hokey. In some cases, like Ron Perlman’s gloriously scenery-chewing turn as black market Kaiju organ dealer (I’m not even fucking kidding) the actor clearly is just running with it and having a blast. Other cases, like Charlie Hunamm, seem to be struggling to walk the line between over-the-top and actually good. Kikuchi seems to have a better time of it, though a lot of her role is just staring wide-eyed at things. Idris Elba, who is no question the biggest name on display, of course does an excellent job as the generic military leader/father figure/retired badass/inspirational figure.
Now, all this isn’t to say the movie is perfect. While the massive, theater-shaking Kaiju fights are often spectacular to look upon, sometimes it seems like we’re a bit too close to the action, and what exactly is going on is a bit of mystery. The ending fight scene, which takes place entirely underwater, or the opening scene, which happens during a tidal storm, are good examples of that.
The best fight scene by far, the one you practically know beat for beat from the trailers, comes at the end of the third act, and the movie never quite comes back from that high. Get it? High? Ok, you’ll get it if you’ve seen the movie. To put it in layman’s terms, the movie blows its load a bit too quickly, and while the third act is pretty good, it never quite matches that one fight.
Of all the big, loud, effects-laden summer blockbusters to hit this year, Pacific Rim is easily the best. While most of its competition has been preoccupied with moody, gritty drama and wants desperately to be taken seriously, Pacific Rim wants none of your seriousness, and even less of your grit. This is a movie which is committed, with every frame, to just being fun. Sure, when you start thinking too hard about it, you start plotting holes and inconsistencies and vagaries, but Pacific Rim isn’t the kind of movie so stuck up its own backside that that shit even matters. This is the pure, illogical joy of a kid playing with his action figures in the sandbox, put on screen with a painter’s eye and a great, passionate gusto for the fantastic. This is the kind of movie that makes summer blockbuster season worth it, despite all the Star Treks and Man of Steels with their too cool for school sense of self-importance that just makes you want to throw a pie in their faces and tell them to lighten up and enjoy themselves.
Pacific Rim is that pie.