Saturday, 13 July 2013
Pacific Rim (Film Review)
Pacific Rim is one of those films where all you need to know really is in the trailers. There are giant kaiju rising from a portal at the bottom of the sea, humanity is making big robots called Jaegers to fight them, Idris Elba is their overall commander and they're on the verge of defeat. Anything you don't know you're told as a plot development and nearly all of the story is one big excuse to get huge fights.
The film knows exactly what it wants to be, what it wants to show audiences, and isn't under any illusions that it's anything grander than that. How does it stack up given this? Extremely well.
The term Power Rangers Grimdark has been thrown around a lot since people first learned of the film, and it's a pretty accurate description. Replace Zordon with the B.P.R.D. and remove the special finisher moves of the robots, and you've got your film. A long, visceral series of fights between huge opponents which continually spreads out into civilian districts, areas of commerce and such, allowing for fighters to be body slammed through skyscrapers. And pick up boats as swords.
The camerawork in these fights is steady, emphasising upon money shots and giving a real impression of not only their size but the physicality of their conflict. Something which is good given that a big concern was that the CGI would lack the presence and weight of the practical effects of the more traditional kaiju flicks.
More impressively is the sheer inventiveness of each battle. While there are only three fights in total, every one brings something new to the table at every turn. At one point a three armed mecha might start performing wrestling moves on an enemy monster. At another, a mecha might use its nuclear turbine as a chest cannon a-la Iron Man. At the next, a bigger kaiju has appeared, or another has gained flight, or the next one has attained the ability to spit acid.
The brawls are good, inventive and everything the trailers promised is the point; so what about everything else?
For starters, the film does a competent job at world building. While it unfortunately never stops long enough to really examine a lot of ideas, many good concepts are brought up. Chief among these is the government seeking more practical, cost effective methods to deal with the kaiju threat and others seeking to profit from the giant monster attacks. Cue Ron Perlman clip. Furthermore the actual supporting crew are as outlandish and colourful as you'd expect of a del Toro film, eccentric bordering upon insane and add character to those beyond the pilots.
There's also a genuine acknowledgement of how events progressed and the world reacted to the idea of giant monsters. After the first one was brought down after a staggering cost to conventional weapons, the world mourned but then moved on just as it normally would and only began to change once more began appearing. Relying upon so few people for protection, many Jaeger pilots became celebrities, their own styles and approaches to combat with the public celebrating them.
The problem is that while we see this, it's only to a very limited degree.
The film is set at the very end of the conflict with the kaiju and as a result, a lot of history is skimmed over. The opening narrative explains the initial progress of the war to protect humanity via news clips and narration, but very little of it is actually explored. We see brief moments of the history, how everything went to hell and the threat posed by the kaiju but there is visibly so much more potential which could have been utilised.
The same oddly goes with the mechas themselves. Gypsy Danger, the protagonist's mecha, is the only one we see fighting extensively against the enemy with the three others mechas Striker Eureka, Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha taking the backseat. Striker at least gets into a few fights, but Typhoon and Alpha are only briefly seen despite it being made clear these are the last Jaegers and with very experienced pilots. Each was unique and it's a real shame that in a film about mecha we see so little of very interesting designs.
The film's plot itself is also fairly predictable and the heroes' plan is almost beat for beat that of Independence Day, right down to the nuke. Just replace mothership with portal and there you have it. For a film with such an insane premise, it would have been good to see something more original as a fight.
What helps excuse the plot is the obvious love shown to the genres and inspiration by the film's creators. Many mecha anime and kaiju tropes arise within the film, right down to a number of factoids and character traits. The actors themselves are obviously in on that latter point, chewing though a gourmet of scenery and enough combined ham to occasionally register on the BRIAN BLESSED scale.
Many of the fights and settings themselves have brief elements of Godzilla battles which you can pick up on with enough knowledge, and most tellingly being the sound track and cues sharing very distinct similarities with the Godzilla themes, especially during the fights. You also know that a film team is devoted to their genre when the end credits teaser is left in to mock the one from Roland Emmerich's Godzilla.
Ultimately Pacific Rim is definitely big monster style over substance, but it doesn't try to pretend it's anything besides that or go that step too far. It's hammy, violent, over the top and everything people wanted it to be. The only unfortunate thing is that it lacks some of the heart and more recognisable characters of something like the Hellboy adaptations. Something admittedly more a problem with the giant monster genre as a whole than this individual film.
The point is that if you like what you've seen in the trailers, go see it in the cinema with 3D. You'll not regret seeing it and the eye candy on display, plus the rapid pacing, will keep you entertained for its 132 minute run-time.
Honestly, the only thing which would have had me love it more is if they threw in this guy somehow: