There are few filmmakers who can declare themselves as a true geek. Directors such as Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy), Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) and Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) have undoubtedly made their everlasting footprint in the annals of geek filmdom. But they aren’t geeks themselves, they are talented filmmakers, but far from geeks. Their films, as great as they are, are always tethered to some form of reality or are deadly serious, sometimes to a fault.
Because of that distinction, it has always felt like they were more making their films for themselves and we had to simply appreciate the moments where it felt like they were paying fan service to us geeks. As much as we loved Nolan’s take on the Joker or how perfectly Singer cast Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine, there is still that divide between geeks who either hate it or love it, which is because those decisions were made based on their role as a filmmaker, not a comic or film enthusiast, but a true film artist.
Then you have the true film geeks, the guys with the same amount of talent behind the camera that make their movies based solely on their love for geek culture. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-man) are two such individuals who have a certain love and affinity towards all things geek related and aren’t afraid to show it. You can tell this simply by their willingness to take into consideration what the fans want. They look at the material as a fan first and a filmmaker second (which most studios aren’t a fan of), but the fans love them for.
But the most important factor is that even though they also make their films for themselves (which filmmaker doesn’t?), their work always seem tailor made for you, even if it isn’t. Just like a best friend, their likes and dislikes always seem in tune with your own. The difference is that somehow, their tastes are shared by nearly every geek in existence. It is a rare gift that should never be taken lightly, as these filmmakers are a rare breed and the fact that they are allowed to make these films for us is a true blessing.
Well, that is what spawned the awesomeness that is Pacific Rim, the latest and greatest film from geek approved director Guillermo del Toro.There are so many influences under the hood powering del Toro’s cinematic opus about giant robots versus giant monsters, that it is beyond staggering. The most obvious of which are Godzilla and nearly every single anime to come out of Japan in the past 3 decades. While big monsters and giant robots aren’t exactly an original concept, chances are that if you are or aren’t a fan of the genre, you have never seen anything quite like Pacific Rim.
Del Toro starts things off quickly, giving some much needed backstory as to the events that led to the creation of the Jaeger’s, giant mechanical monstrosities created by the world’s powers to combat the Kaiju threat. The Kaiju are creatures that for over a decade have been surfacing out of the ocean after coming through a mysterious rift that opened at the bottom of the Pacific ocean.
Each Jaeger is roughly the size of a skyscraper, heavily armed with an assortment of weaponry and most importantly, piloted by TWO pilots (called Rangers). These rangers act as one, connected through a procedure called a ‘neural handshake’, which links their minds together with the Jaeger to help share the immense load it takes to pilot them. Each country across the globe has a unique Jaeger to help patrol and keep their shores safe from Kaiju attack, which is needed due to the spontaneity of the Kaiju appearances. Speaking of the Kaiju…
These mysterious creatures which come forth from the abyss to wreak havoc on the human race are the film’s, and del Toro’s, crowning achievement. While the Jaegers in all their complex mechanical splendor are undeniably cool, the Kaiju in their many incarnations are the wildcard of the film. We pretty much know what to expect each time a Jaeger takes the battlefield, but the unpredicatability of the Kaiju not only make them a huge threat each time a new one emerges from the rift, but also makes them the most interesting movie monsters to come along in decades.
The Kaiju and their threat level are based upon which category they fall into. Each time a new one arrives, they are given a category (ranging from 1 to 4) and a codename of which seems to be random but unsurprisingly represents each Kaiju’s physical appearance rather well. For instance, the Kaiju with a giant spike for a head is referred to as ‘Knifehead’. Not original, but memorable and to the point (pun intended).
The designs of each Kaiju is just as memorable as their names, if not more so. While they won’t likely gain a following like many of the classic Godzilla monsters, they each make a lasting impression, even when only on screen for a few minutes. The designs of both the Jaeger’s and the Kaiju are without equal, but the one thing that topples their imaginative designs are the throwdowns that occur when Jaeger is pitted against Kaiju.
The first time you see a Jaeger engaged in battle with a Kaiju is one of those movie moments you won’t soon forget and one of the most impressive sights you are likely to see on the big screen for the immediate future. Seeing the hulking Jaeger’s airlifted out to sea amidst a raging sea storm and then dropped into the crashing waves below, is just an awesome sight to behold. But when the fisticuffs begin, watch out, because you are in store for some of the most bad ass brawling you have ever seen between a giant robot and a towering monster. The backbone of the film’s many Kaiju encounters though in relation to both the Jaegers and the Kaiju, is in its overly aggressive sound design.
From the sound of the Jaegers stomping through the brilliantly lit multi-colored night time Hong Kong cityscape, to the unique sounds of each Kaiju as they rip into their attackers, you NEED to see this film in theaters simply for the audacious soundtrack that will have you gripping your armrests for the duration of each and every battle. Then you add in the geektastic voice of GLaDOS from the Valve video game series Portal as the on board computer to the Jaeger’s…instant auditory bliss occurs.
Likewise for the visual effects of the film. The attack on the Hong Kong harbor, which is clearly the showpiece of the film, is simply gorgeous with the aforementioned lighting of the city mixed with the superb water effects. There hasn’t been this perfect of a blending of sound and effects work in years and this perfect melding of each component combines to make this the most visual stimulating film experience of the year (if this doesn’t at least garner a nomination come awards time next year, it will be a crime).
Sadly (and you most likely saw this coming a mile away), the story and human side of the coin isn’t nearly as engrossing as the large scale brawls happening around them. Starting things off in the wrong direction is the tired cliche of the knocked down hero who must find his will to fight again and eventually save the day. It’s a decent enough structure to frame his monsters versue robots concept, but can only be viewed as a let down for del Toro to take so much time and effort in creating such a beautiful canvas to paint on and provide the minimal amount of colors to complete it.
The hero of the film, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) looks as though he came off the hero-for-hire assembly line and his would-be girlfriend Jaeger co-pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is relegated to a half-baked vengeance story arc that never truly gets to be fully realized or even paid off in a satisfying manner. Add in a bunch of cliche-ridden background characters (we never really get to know the other Jaeger pilots) and you have yourself a recipe for cookie cutter story contrivances that leaves almost every single scene on the ground level exhaustively underwhelming.
There are a couple of bright spots in the background though. First and foremost is Idris Elba as the head of the Jaeger program. Commanding every scene he is in and making nearly everyone else he is on screen with pale in comparison, he single handedly saves the film during the non-battle scenes. Then there is Charlie Day as the eccentric and loud mouthed scientist (basically the same character he plays on “It’s Always Sunny…”), who adds some much needed levity to the proceedings.
There-in lies another possible issue with the film, it’s tone. Most audiences have been getting hit over the head with these deadly serious films in these fantasy based worlds and those people in particular may have a hard time adjusting to the goofiness of Pacific Rim. Day is responsible for most of the silly antics going on, but he is also joined by a perfectly cast Ron Perlman as a black market Kaiju organ dealer. He provides just the right amount of scene chewing tenacity to make you crack a smile when you need it most. The lack of a serious tone may rub some potential fans the wrong way, but there is not denying it is a perfect fit for this style of film.
Hopefully audiences can make the adjustment necessary to become fully engrossed into this amazing world that Guillermo del Toro has crafted here, because it would be shame to miss out on it. Watching Pacific Rim, one can’t help but picture del Toro as a child in the backyard playing with his Jaeger and Kaiju toys, making them battle it out in these epic arenas that only a child could dream up, or at least a child at heart, which is exactly what del Toro is. This is the type of film that your 8 year old self would love to make if given the tools, it’s just kind of cool that we live in a world where at least one person like us can actually make that dream a reality.
Geeks the world over now have a new fantasy world to become fully immersed into. The world he has created just begs to be fully explored by either future sequels (which NEEDS to happen immediately), fan made fiction or other savy internet bandits. See Pacific Rim in theaters now, tomorrow, next week, the week after. See it multiple times, get your friends to go see it, and then get them to go see it again. This is a film that must be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. Find your local IMAX, make sure it has a good sound system, and prepare yourself for the most epic battle of the century!