It’s the near future and the world has seen the rise of giant beasts called the Kaiju that terrorize the planet and the populace. Military forces succeed in taking down the initial beast, but taking days to do so at and suffering devastating losses to life and property. The nations of the world have put aside their difference to fight their mutual enemy and have created their own mechanical monsters that they call the Jeagar, the German term for hunter. The Jeagar are immediately successful in taking down the Kaiju, but now the Kaiju threat is escalating. New and more potent beasts walk the earth displaying powers and abilities that they haven’t displayed before and now, the final shreds of what’s left of the Jeagar stand ready to be the last line of defense for the planet.
That’s the premise to Pacific Rim the latest movie from director Guillermo del Toro who’s best know for his work on the Hellboy movies and films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. This epic love letter to Japanese giant monster movies and anime is without a doubt, del Toro’s biggest film yet and it’s also, at least for me, the BEST movie that I’ve seen this summer.
Last week, I saw The Lone Ranger a film that really could have been a contender had it been in the hands of people that were willing to tell a genuinely heroic story that didn’t feel the need to laugh in the face of it’s source material. Pacific Rim is the exact opposite of The Lone Ranger in every respect; delivering action at great clip while also telling the story of true heroes who believe in their cause and doesn’t for a moment make a joke of it’s inspirational source material, being anime and giant monster movies. If you’re a fan of these things, you’re in for a big treat with Pacific Rim.
The movies characters may seem a little simplistic in comparison to how complicated that they can get in some anime series, but the basics are all here and above anything else, there’s true heart in their portrayals. There’s certainly humor to be had as well, primarily with two scientists who are Kaiju experts, but again, the humor here is true to various anime sources, and it doesn’t laugh at the material but with it.
del Toro has always been know as a great visual stylist with his movies, and I tend to think he’s hit a new peak with Pacific Rim. This is an extremely bright and colorful film even with some of it’s epic night battle sequences. The production design is absolutely first rate; everything here just looks too cool and the visual effects are without a doubt the best that I’ve seen thus far for the year. When the trailers for Pacific Rim first came out, I’d heard some complaints that the battle scenes were just going to be these fast disjointed clips that didn’t give you any scale, but that’s not the case at all with the final product. There’s real scope here and the battles exemplify that at every turn. As first rate as the effects are, again they don’t betray their source and there’s still this feel of watching guys in suits do these battles, but with all sorts of polish that make them truly epic. I chose to see this in 3D and while it’s not essential to see this in 3D, I think it really does enhance the experience. Pacific Rim wasn’t shot in 3D, but del Toro planned carefully for it’s conversion and it’s certainly evident.
The cast is absolutely top drawer. Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba lead this cast as Raleigh Becket and Stacker Pentecost respectively. Becket’s one of the great Jeagar pilots and Pentecost is the head of the Jeagar program and also one of the great Jeagar pilots of the past. Both Hunnam and Elba are terrific here and it’s really fun to see Hunnam in this sort of heroic role considering that he’s best known for playing Jax on FX’s excellent series, Sons of Anarchy. Rinko Kikuchi plays Mako Mori, who becomes Hunnam’s partner in piloting a Jeagar. Mako’s backstory is the most touching of any in the movie, and Kikuchi does very well bringing it to the screen.
Charlie Day, of FX’s excellent comedy series, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Burn Gorman provide the comic relief as Doctor’s Geiszler and Gottlieb respectively and their performances are just pure fun. Yes, they are the broadest of characters in the movie, but again they are very true to the inspirations for the film. Hunnam’s Sons of Anarchy co-star Ron Perlman (who’s also a perennial favorite actor of del Toro’s, he was Hellboy after all) plays Hanibal Chau, a black market dealer in Kaiju organs and pieces, is also here for comic relief and right in line with Day and Gorman’s performances. The only regret here with Perlman is that it would’ve been kind of cool if there had been a scene with him and Hunnam together just to see them in something different than Sons but all of Perlman’s scenes are with Day. Closing out the main cast, we have Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky as the father/son Jeagar pilot team of Herc and Chuck Hansen. While these guys are support, it’s nice to see a father/son team in a big movie today that doesn’t have the tired and strained father/son issues that you see in most movies. In addition, Chuck Hansen first is against Raleigh Becket even joint their team thanks to Becket’s past, and a rivalry is played with here that in another movie would probably have Hansen being seen as another “bad guy” in the film, but it’s not the case at all here. This is really an excellent cast and they’ve certainly given themselves over entirely to del Toro’s vision.
I’m 50 years old and have certainly been out here reviewing movies for awhile. I’ve seen others say how some movies have made them feel like a kid again and have taken it with a grain of salt, but still certainly appreciating their enthusiasm for the film. Well now I have to eat those words, and basically say the same thing; Pacific Rim made me feel like a kid again and gave us a world full of a huge sense of wonder populated with heroic characters and some of the coolest visuals that you’ll see in a movie all year. When I’ve talked to a few others in advance of this, I’ve seen some eye-rolling thinking that they’re just going to be getting a different flavor of Michael Bey’s Transformer films. I’ve only seen the first of those and that was quite enough, their visual effects were fine, but their human characters were insulting. That’s not the case at all with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. This is amazing and inspiring spectacle that I just want to watch again and again and so far, for me anyway, this is the best movie of the year. Do not miss this…