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Pacific Rim Review: ... And Then I Clapped My Hands With Childish Glee

By TK | Film Reviews | July 12, 2013 | Comments ()


jaeger.jpg

Back when Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel was released, there was quite a bit of hullabaloo about the sheer destruction that took place in the film, wherein Metropolis was essentially leveled during the battle between Superman and General Zod. Well, after watching Pacific Rim, I’m here to tell you that the bar has officially been raised. Guillermo Del Toro’s giant robots vs. giant monsters film is a glorious, ridiculous, beautiful disaster of a film, with battles that reduce whole cities to nothing but crumpled shells of steel and ash.

Yes, there’s a story woven into that destruction. In the not-to-distant future, an interdimensional rift opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and gigantic monsters, dubbed “kaiju” (literally Japanese for “strange beast,” but often re-defined as “giant monster”) come crawling out of the depths and begin laying waste to the world’s major cities. In an effort to combat them, the nations band together and design “jaegers” (German for “hunters”), giant robots (mechas, really) outfitted with massive weapons, piloted by a pair of rangers who go through some sort of mind-melding process because the mechanics of the robots are too complex for a single mind to successfully manage. Over time, humanity and the jaegers begin to turn the tide. Everything changes when all-new, even bigger and more dangerous kaiju begin to show up — and in greater numbers — just as the jaeger program is about to be scrapped. And so, of course, the rangers must band together in a last-ditch effort once and for all, to try to destroy the kaiju and find a way to close the rift forever. Massive, gorgeously devastating hijinks ensue.

Pacific Rim is everything you’d expect it to be — everything you want it to be — based on that description. It’s huge and loud and bombastic and cheesy as hell, and it’s riddled with weird plot holes and crazy and Jesus goddamn Christ, it is so much fun. How much fun you’ll have may depend on your appreciation for the several genres that influenced it, and the myriad source materials that it pays adoring homage to, borrows from, and yes, sometimes outright steals from. For people like me, who grew up devouring the old Saturday morning “Creature Double Features” (Bostonians and Philadelphians will appreciate the reference), the old Toho Studios giant monster films, and alien invasion stories and movies, it’s a bonanza of loving homage. It’s clearly a weird, crazy passion project for Del Toro, and for those reasons alone, it’s a ton of fun. It borrows heavily from everything from Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla to Journey To The Center Of The Earth to Independence Day, but it never feels too much like copycatting (although, there are a couple of big, sweeping dramatic moments that are a little too close to Independence Day.

The cast is surprising in both their anonymity and their eagerness to embrace the cheese, replete with absolutely preposterous names. Idris Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, the gruff and demanding leader of the rangers who, shockingly, has a heart of gold. Charlie Hunnam (“Sons Of Anarchy”) plays the prodigal Raleigh Becket, a jaegar pilot scarred and exiled after a terrible accident, who represents the last hope. Rinko Kikuchi (The Brothers Bloom) plays the up and coming rookie. All of them deliver enthusiastic, enjoyable performances that will never be nominated for a damn thing, but man, they sure seem to love what they’re doing, and sometimes that’s just enough. Particularly enjoyable is Charlie Day as an energetic, wacky scientist named Newton Geizler and Ron motherf*cking Perlman as Hannibal Chau, a black market profiteer whose name has a history that literally made me cackle. Perhaps the ultimate bit of homage was the hiring of Eileen McLain, best-known as the voice of GLaDOS in the Portal video games, to voice the Jaeger computer systems.

What makes Pacific Rim such a solid, satisfying experience, however, is that it’s big and brash and deafening and silly, but unlike so many of the modern blockbusters, it’s also legitimately fun. There’s a genuine appreciation for its roots, but also an effort to draw in new fans by making the film relatively breezy . There’s a conscious effort to not bog it down with too much dark, gritty seriousness, yet also giving it just enough sturm und drang that there’s something to root for. While the destruction is huge and devastating, there aren’t any graphic depictions of human suffering (in fact, the film makes a point of noting how humans evacuate and shelter themselves during the chaos). As a result, you get to enjoy focusing on the story of the people and the fights, without feeling vaguely sick about the widescale calamity you are seeing. But there’s also a breathless, childish glee to the film, making it one of the more enjoyable trips to the cinema I’ve had in a long, long time. Its pacing is fast and fluid and packed with action, and as a result, its more than two hour running time slips past you almost unnoticed.

That said, the plot holes are occasionally gaping, but there’s a sort of joyous goofiness to it that allows you to get swept up in it. Example: the best Jaeger pilots are born out of close, complex relationships, which is why the most successful pairings have been familial or marital. Mako and Raleigh decide that they’re meant to be paired after what is basically an afternoon of conversations followed by two minutes of kendo exercises. And I remember thinking, “the hell with it. I’m all in at this point, so I’m just going to sail right past that bit of ridiculousness”. Before people start with the “how is this any different/better than Transformers, let me tell you. Because Guillermo Del Toro may not have told the most deep, intellectually stimulating story, but he absolutely cared about it. There’s nothing insulting or denigrating, no unnecessary exposition and moronic history. There’s an elegance in the film’s simplicity, and he allows the characters and the setpieces to carry it along and let the humor feel organic and genuine, instead of bludgeoning you with tired riffs and puerile jokes.

Yet what separates it most from the Transformers and Battleships of the world is that the action pieces are actually quite wonderful to watch. One of Del Toro’s gifts has always been an understanding of space and how action should be set up within the physical environments he’s working with. If you watch his more fast-paced films, like Blade II or Hellboy, the action is often massive and dizzying in its intensity, but you never lose track of what is happening. It’s never mindless or extraneous. In Pacific Rim, every piece is clearly identifiable, you can tell what they’re doing and where they are in relation to not just the other players, but the environment as well. In Transformers, everything was just a blurry mishmash of clanging and groaning and explosions, yet here, despite the utter havoc being wreaked and the vast scale, despite the elements that are frequently in play and the massive structures being torn apart left and right, you actually know what is going on. It’s aided by some inspired design work — the robots are massive, weird-looking creations with a combination of firepower and fighting moves, while the kaiju are a gnarly mix of classic monster movie archetypes that have been garishly modernized. The effects are terrific, bright and stunning and infused with an impressive liveliness. It should be a study guide for future blockbuster directors.

Pacific Rim is not going to be the best movie of the year, and I can’t even guarantee that everyone is going to like it. But for those of us who were raised on Godzilla and Rodan and, on Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion, on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, it’s a breath of fresh air, a huge and cacophanous visual spectacle that gets much more right than wrong and as a result is wildly enojyable. Hopefully, there will be enough of to draw in new fans as well, because while Pacific Rim doesn’t always have much of a brain, it’s got a hell of a lot of heart.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Guest

    +++++SPOILER+++++

    When that sword came out, I screamed GUNDAM silently. My friends had the same look on their faces, unabashed glee. I love this movie. LOVE!

  • VohaulsRevenge

    To repeat what I posted on another board: This is the film I didn't know I'd been waiting to see for my entire life, until I saw it. A funny, taut, deafening, amazing retinal orgasm, it will nonetheless be financially buried by the next Michael Bay installment featuring daisy dukes ass shots and farting robots. But man, am I glad to be in on this.

    Will abuse my credit card again for this movie, and soon...

  • VohaulsRevenge

    Interesting aside: Apparently unique among this crowd, I was reminded most of Robotech / Macross, which I had by far the most familiarity with growing up as opposed to Voltron, Evangelion, Gundam, etc.

  • John G.

    barely any mention of Charlie Day? HE was the main reason I saw this movie, and I don't regret it, even if the monster/robot fights get tedious.

    And the biggest plot-hole for me was also the most interesting, barely explored part. They have this amazing mind-meld to run the damn robot, where they see everything inside each other's brains all the way back in time, all memories, all secrets, experiencing the other body as your own, yet they still have to shout what they're about to do at each other before they do it.

    That technology is amazing, and I want it desperately, to be able to share thoughts and memories with someone. That would be far more binding than any blood relationship or marriage. I would love to know all the other uses being able to "drift" would bring to society beyond piloting big robots.

  • GDI

    Filling in the details of the mind drift was a brilliant, possibly accidental, idea. Rather than bog it down with unnecessary exposition and pseudo-scientific jargon, it was an expected occurrence in-universe.

  • John G.

    Yeah, I just want the tech for myself way more than I want a giant robot, way more than I want VR tech, being able to merge with someone else like that would be so amazing.

  • Mrcreosote

    I feel a need to mention that there are two scenes that are nearly identical to scenes in Sharknado. Great minds think alike.

  • BobbFrapples

    I will see this again a dozen or so more times in the theater. It was a neon colored smackdown that made my inner teen do backflips.

  • BlackRabbit

    Anyway, my review? Plot and characters were crap (really? giant robots and walls were the best idea we had? The monsters are immune to bunker busters?). But the battles were spectacular.

  • BlackRabbit

    One thing did bug me: isn't "Gipsy" spelled with a Y? Or are they winning one for the Gipper?

  • cicatricella

    'Gipsy' is an accepted variant spelling. I believe it may be more common in the UK, not sure.

  • toblerone

    Saw it, didn't love it. 6 out 0f 10. Thought the story seemed incomplete ( the wall (s), the shutdown, and political motives weren't explored ). Too much wacky scientists and most of the rest of movie is throw away except when the robots are fighting.

    Plus the Trailer ruins the Elba's speech, when it finally happens in the movie it has no impact.

    Spoilers:

    They make a big deal introducing the robots but you don't actually get to see them fight. 2 of the 4 are out in the first battle.

  • John W

    Saw it today and all I could think was OH BOY IS THIS GREAT!

  • Green Lantern

    Dunno when I'm going to get to see this, but I cannot gorram wait. Thanks for the review, TK!

  • Ben

    I could not stop smilling while watching this movie, it's one of those movies were the awful bits acutally make it better, like the absolute cringe worthy australian accents (Is it that hard to find australian actors? Realy?) But with how dumb and ridiculous the movie is it just works.

  • Nicolae

    Every trailer just screamed Evangelion. The fact you mention it in your post makes me happy.

  • Drew's Mom

    Just saw it with my10 year old. We loved it. And thr female charcter is very strongly written. The story with her and Idris Elba when she was a child was beautifully filmed. BTW, I love Idris Elba. Just saying. Can he please be the next James Bond. Not that I don't like the current James Bond. But if Daniel Craig bows out after doing this next one, Idris Elba has to be the next James Bond.

  • annie

    I read that there was meant to be a romance between Rinko and Hunnam's character, and that they even filmed a kiss but decided to take it out so because they didn't need it and so as not to downgrade Rinko's character from "badass" to "love interest."

    That kind of told me everything I needed to know about the movie. Well, that and giant robots fighting giant monsters.

  • BendinIntheWind

    I literally clapped with delight when they didn't kiss at the end - I adore that they went with the deeper friendship connection instead of forcing a love story.

  • GDI

    They were already inside each others minds. That transcends common bonds.
    A surprisingly fitting touch to a mecha/kaiju tribute movie.

  • annie

    In the same article, Hunnam said that he absolutely saw their journey together as a love story, and having just come back from seeing it (OMGTHATWASTHEAMAZINGEST), I can see where a kiss would've gone. On the one hand, just another movie where they cockblocked sterilized an interracial romance. On the other hand, there really was no place for a smushy lovefest in the movie, and it really would've sucked if they downgraded her from baddest radass to... kissy-face.

  • apsutter

    The bf and I saw a double feature of this and Monsters University(it was a good day and, funnily enough, Charlie Day was in both films) and I freaking loved it. We both kind of expected it to be a stupid guy movie but it was just so enjoyable. The fight scenes were awesome, Idris Elba's wonderful ass in those black suits, the great names of the jaegers and kaiju, all of it was awesome. It was also oddly funny and cheesy at times(one of the characters used the phrase "funning" and I couldnt help but laugh.) Overall it was just so damned enjoyable and fun.

  • Alberto Cox Délano

    Time for some overthinking: Seems like the passion and declared war we the geeks have been waging over 'Pacific Rim', in particular against fucking 'Grown Ups 2', is the ultimate projection of the geeks vs. jocks war. The fate of Del Toro's ATMM is just as important as defeating the movie made by the proverbial obnoxious jerkery of Hollywood's high school, made up by Michael Bay (the 'bad boy' without a heart of gold, just assholery), Will Smith's posse (the condescending and narcissistic popular one), and Adam Sandler's posse (the kunckle-headed, idiotic bullies). If GDT succeeds (and pray Synchronicity he does), is the ultimate revenge of the nerd [insert your own fantasy here]

    Here's to all you nerds:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • "Stacker Pentecost"? Oh God yes...

  • junierizzle

    I was underwhelmed by it. I don't know about you guys but I'm tired of saying- "Yeah, it was dumb but it was fun." We are settling too much as an audience. And yes I expected more from a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    Excellent, now I can justify the price of a babysitter. This looks like the Robotech movie my seriously nerdy 12 year-old self was praying for!

  • Amy Love

    Thank you for giving me hope for when the time comes that my husband drags me to this movie.

  • And thanks to the advances in CGI over the years, in this movie it can be safely said that the giant robots do indeed have the moves like Jaeger(s).

  • stardust

    Dude. I am so excited. Idris Elba and giant 'splodey monsters and mechas? All over it. And him.

  • Anna von Beav

    I had absolutely no interest in this movie until I read this review.

  • Same here. Just now my best friend back in Texas fangirl-texted the shit outta me that I need to go see it. Her + Pajiba endorsement = okay okay, I'll do it!

  • emmalita

    Oh you should! And when you do you can say "in my pants" after many of Idris Elba's lines and make them better.

  • Strand

    Saw it last night and loved it but those accents... my god. Maybe it's my being an Australian, but every time that 'Iceman' guy opened his mouth, I cringed and a different person in the audience laughed. I'm not familiar with the actor, but I'm guessing he watched Crocodile Dundee as preparation because there were some serious "Oi, ya daft moight? Kick 'is arse!" style clunkers in there.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Bring on the robeats - Voltron is ready.

  • Dan O'Neill

    Good review. Despite being painfully stupid in terms of it's script, it's still fuin and that's all there should be to it.

  • Yeh on film drunk, Vince was complaining the characters were paper thinner. They can't be as bad as all the characters in Battleship! That's my baseline, so if main characters are smarter than Taylor Kitsch's character, I'm sold.

  • Tinkerville

    Saw it last night and freaking loved it. Anyone who grew up adoring the mechas in Gundam Wing or Neon Genesis Evangelion will feel like Del Toro made this movie for them. Some of the action sequences were just flat-out beautiful to watch, cinematically speaking. I went to the midnight showing and there were several moments when everyone cheered. Ron Perlman and Charlie Day might have made the movie for me.

  • GDI

    My love of Neon Genesis Evangelion is what attracted me to this movie. I was certainly not let down.
    I was hoping that there would have been a nostril flaring scene between Jax and Clay. That would've cemented this movie in the annuls of film history.

  • apsutter

    Ron and Charlie were glorious.

  • emmalita

    Part of me was waiting for Dennis, Dee and Mac to show up.

  • apsutter

    They would have been thrown off by a smart Charlie lol...Seriously he looked great in his little dressy outfits and skinny ties. It was weird seeing a professional Charlie

  • Maguita NYC

    I just mentioned Gundam upthread! It was my bread and butter while growing up. My father opted to indoctrinate my youth with anime. I miss him so much, we would have enjoyed watching this one together.

  • DeltaJuliet

    You had me at Creature Double Feature.

  • Erin S

    As someone who has battled many demons with jaeger, I can't conscionably recommend it.

  • PDamian

    Aw, shoot ... for a moment, I thought you were referencing San Francisco's "Creature Features," hosted by Bob Wilkins in the 60s and 70s and one of my formative/transformative influences. Its slogan was, "Watch horror movies -- Keep America strong."

    Ron Perlman is in Pacific Rim? I'm so there!

  • Simulacrum 1138

    I have "Watch horror films, keep America strong" tattooed on my arm. Seriously.

  • Anderbot

    Hey! I watched Creature Feature out of San Francisco in the 70's and early 80's as well. I was crushed when they quit/cancelled it.

  • Isn't it like a requirement for all Guillermo Del Toro films? Like he won't do the picture unless he can bring his pal, Ron. I love him, so works an added bonus for me.

  • E

    Are there any female characters in this movie? I already have tickets to see it, but that fact will annoy me throughout unless I'm prepared beforehand...

  • Daisuki

    Rinko Kikuchi is one of Japan's most badass actresses. I have serious girl crushes on her and Bae Doona. They are extremely strong women.

  • AnnaKendrick'sLoveMuffin

    One of the Russian pilots is female. She does all the talking for the pair, so I assume she's the boss.

  • toblerone

    They reminded of Dolph and Bridgette from Rocky 4.

  • apsutter

    She reminded me of Jane Lynch's kick ass character from Wreck It Ralph

  • Genevieve Burgess

    Rinko Kikuchi is a lady, so there's at least one!

  • IngridToday

    She's a co-pilot.
    Del Toro said in an interview:
    "I was very careful how I built the movie. One of the other things I
    decided was that I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the
    male leads. She's not going to be a sex kitten, she's not going to come
    out in cutoff shorts and a tank top, and it's going to be a real
    earnestly drawn character".

    I think she's the only non-white female lead character we've had in a long time.

  • crispin

    What's funny is... She DOES wear a tank top in the movie.

  • Maguita NYC

    One more of the many reasons why Del Toro deserves our love, and even our patience with his not-so successful experimenting with other genres while honing in his skills.

  • Henchman 21

    She's not going to be a sex kitten in cutoff shorts and tank top.... so no Megan Fox

    This movie is basically the bizarro Transformers

  • GDI

    Which translates into it being actually watchable, if not great. Sure, a bit hyperbolic, but for a blockbuster, it certainly exceeds.

  • apsutter

    The whole time I was watching I was thinking that that PR is the movie that Transformers wishes it could be.

  • I have been waiting SO LONG FOR THIS.

    AAAAAH! MECHAS! GIANT FUCKING MECHAS!

    You don't even KNOW. Back in the glorious 80s and 90s, Honduran television would get almost all of its children's cartoons from Japan, dubbed into Spanish. So we'd get maybe 5 or 6 shows about teenagers who...controlled giant mechas and battled monsters, and they were amazing. So pretty much ever since then I've been waiting for THIS. This goddamn movie. When I first saw the trailer, I think I screamed. And I've been waiting to hear how it is, and to hear that it's bombastic, awesome fun? I am ecstatic.

    I'm screaming and waving my hands like Lucille Bluth meeting Gene Parmesan.

  • Tinkerville

    I was obsessed with mecha anime for a very long portion of my childhood (and still am, if I'm being honest). I saw this last night and can say that you won't be disappointed.

  • Maguita NYC

    I can still draw Grendeiser by heart.

    Escaflowne, Grendeiser, Macross and Gundam were all part of my father's VHS anime collection. I've watched them all so many times when I was young, and I have been yearning to watch them again ever since the first trailer of Pacific Rim.

  • Tinkerville

    Do it! I've been rewatching a lot of childhood favorites lately, including Gundam and Escaflowne, and I'm seeing now how much went over my head the first time I watched them. I still want to give Relena Peacecraft a smack upside the head though.

  • PDamian

    ¡Tambien en Guatemala! ¿Te acuerdas de Kimba, Ultraman y Marine Boy?

  • Seriously, yeah, the character names in this flick... Deserves its own award.

  • Salieri2

    STACKER. PENTECOST. I'm in, just for that.

  • From TvTrope's Awesome McCoolname

    Brawler Yukon (USA)
    Cherno Alpha (Russia)
    Chrome Brutus (Canada)
    Coyote Tango (Japan)
    Crimson Typhoon (China)
    Diablo Intercept (Chile)
    Echo Saber
    Eden Assassin (Russia)
    Gipsy Danger (USA)
    Horizon Brave (China)
    Hydra Corinthian
    Mammoth Apostle
    Matador Fury (Mexico)
    Nova Hyperion
    Puma Real (Panama)
    Romeo Blue (USA)
    Shaolin Rogue (China)
    Solar Prophet (Peru)
    Striker Eureka (Australia)
    Tacit Ronin (Japan)

  • Alberto Cox Délano

    Diablo intercept for us? Boring! We should have gone with Lautaro Omega or Salvador Prime. Peru's one is the awesomest.

  • thatstrangewoman

    Wasn't Romeo Blue the stage name for Lenny Kravitz in the pre-fame days?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Ha, I thought the same thing. Pentecost? Hannibal Chau?

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    yeah it is pretty ridiculous how casually badass the names of the humans, jaegars and kaiju are, and i mean that in the best way possible

    the countries that make it to world cup next year that also have a jaegar featured in Pacific Rim should change their fight songs to whatever their mecha's name was. Australia yelling STRIKER EUREKA! at every goal to Mexico's MATADOR FURY!

    oh man, i can't wait to watch this tomorrow.

  • apsutter

    The best part was how fast they threw out new names. A new kaiju would show up and they would have a fancy badass name for it in like 10 seconds. I want that job

  • BendinIntheWind

    I like to imagine that the dude responsible for assigning the Kaiju codenames was hungover during the first battle: "Ugh, fuck, I don't know... looks like there's a knife sticking out of his head... How about Knifehead? Somebody get me some goddamn Tylenol."

  • calliope1975

    That was hilarious. And awesome. I figured it was like Hurricane names; someone sat down and wrote up a big list of awesome names and they just go down list one by one.

  • Guest

    "Rinko Kikuchi (The Brothers Bloowm)" Halfway between The Brothers Blow and The Brothers Bloom?

  • BWeaves

    .

  • Cazadora

    I kept trying to read that as "brothers blow 'em".

  • Well, good.

  • Ian Fay

    Aw man, Creature Double Features (and Star Blazers) are probably the two biggest contributing factors to my geekhood.

  • CptCrckpot

    "...We must be strong and brave
    Our home, we've got to save
    If we don't, in just one year
    Mother Earth will disappear..."

    I still love Star Blazers, as well as the old giant monster movies, so I am so going to see this!

  • Had my then-7-year-old watch it last year (it was streaming on N*tfl*x then), and he still loved it. I think I first became aware of girls because of Nova and Princess from Battle of the Planets.

  • Ian Fay

    Yeah, about a year ago I got super nostalgic and wanted to buy the DVDs.

    Which were insanely overpriced, so I got the show, through, er, other means.

    And it was still awesome. It amazes me that a kid's show back then would have a serialized plot like that, with the super-ominous countdown to the literal destruction of all life on Earth slowly ticking down as the show went on.

    So good.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    Yes, but do any of the robots have nutsacks?

  • Maguita NYC

    They were modeled after the Ken template.

  • A. Smith

    Thankfully, no.

  • Krissy

    Exactly what I was expecting (demanding) from this film. Cant wait! Already have my tickets for 8:20 tonight. I am pretty sure this movie will bring my Godzilla loving husband to climax in his seat...he is so excited about it.

  • As my wife, 19th century hoop skirt loving gothic romance writer put it, "That was AWESOME! Like watching Godzilla on five espressos." Loved the shit out of some Kaiju.

  • Fredo

    The difference between this and Transformers? I don't think I'll see racist stereotype kaijus.

  • NateMan

    Not only were there no racist robots, the multi-ethnic and international cast really sold it for me. It was so nice NOT to have it be America saving the world.

    And I appreciated the little things, like white people pronouncing Mako's name with the proper inflection, rather than bastardizing it. I liked it a lot.

  • Fredo

    Just saw it tonight. Long and short of it: there will be better movies out this year, but I doubt there'll be any movie as fun as Pacific Rim this year.

  • emma852

    what Howard replied I am dazzled that a mom able to get paid $7365 in four weeks on the internet. have you read this page w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • I think 'The Difference Between This And Transformers' could be one of those multi-page Pajiba lists.

  • pissant

    Well, now I just look stupid. Could you delete my comments, too? I refuse to sign up for Disqus.

  • pissant

    emma852, Phillip Stephens hasn't written for this site for years!

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