Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pacific Rim ~ Apocalypse Canceled

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Guillermo del Toro never grew up.  I can say this with some confidence based on the body of work that he has put out, either as a producer, writer, or director.  Guillermo del Toro's latest offering, "Pacific Rim," harkens back to the early 1950s when creatures like Godzilla and other Kaiju destroyed Tokyo repeatedly.  Mr. del Toro isn't ashamed that he is bringing back the Saturday afternoon Creature Features that he watched as a kid on television.  In today's modern world of high-tech electronics, he adds a new twist to the old tale of monsters from the deep.  “Pacific Rim” is a hackneyed, if not a sentimental look at the past, while giving it the full CGI action film treatment.  “Pacific Rim” is impressive and big.  The film stars Charlie Hunnam ("Cold Mountain," "Children of Men,” and TV's "Sons of Anarchy"), Rinko Kikuchi ("The Warped Forest"), and Idris Elba ("Prometheus," "Thor").  "Pacific Rim" runs just under 2 hours and is rated PG-13.

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After a long exposition, narrated by Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) explaining that while he was a child he looked to the skies in search of alien life.  However, alien life came from deep below the sea, from a rift in the tectonic plates in the Pacific Rim (Ring of Fire) that a time-space anomaly has formed and these giant alien creatures are coming from another world.  These creatures, which look like a mixture of various earth creatures melded with prehistoric dinosaurs, are called Kaiju, which is the Japanese term for monster.  Becket goes on to explain that after sending conventional weapons to battle the creatures and failing, the major countries of the world got together and built giant mechanical "Iron Man" like robots that they call Jaegers. The term Jaeger comes from the German, and it means hunter.  Unlike the robots of the 2011 film "Real Steal," two pilot's minds tied together by a neural link between the two drives the giant mechanical robots.  The two will share memories and will have to work together.  Jaeger pilots became like rock stars as they did battle with the giant Kaiju.  All this is shown from the point of view of television news footage, which is mostly from Asian countries, however, not all.  Apparently, the first creature attacked San Francisco, and many other cities followed over the years.  Raleigh leads the story up to the point, where he explains that he and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) fought their last battle against a giant shark like creature with arms and legs, and that it beat the crap out of their robot and killed his brother.  Then finally, with all the brassy pomp and ceremony, the title credits start.

General Stacker Pentecost (Elba), the man in charge of the Jaeger program, finds out in a video conference, with heads of state, that the rim countries have decided to go with the inane idea of building vast seawalls along the seacoast of the Pacific.  Becket has retired from the Jaeger service and has spent the last five years as a construction worker helping building these futile walls.  Understanding that this is a Science Fiction monster movie, allows one to suspend belief to a certain extent, but building a giant wall to stop these creatures is completely unbelievable.  Yes, humans do stupid things; however, I think Guillermo del Toro doesn't give humanity any credibility in this choice in plot point.  It's silly.  Obviously, del Toro agrees, as he shows the walls easily breached.  

Typical of the "pull the has-been out of retirement" school of storytelling, Pentecost, now on his own, finds Becket in Hong Kong and talks him into coming to work for him as a Jaeger pilot.  Idris Elba is a formidable actor in the role of Pentecost (a comic bookish type of name).  Although he is only an inch and a quarter taller than Hunnam, Elba seems to tower over him in both size and personality.  His presence on screen overshadows Hunnam, in every scene they are in together.  Enter Mako Mori (Kikuchi) as Pentecost's aide in charge of finding Jaeger pilot candidates.  Mori has issues, and those issues turn out to be predictable, and unpleasant.  Writer Travis Beacham along with del Toro, aim to put human faces, personalities and flaws inside these giant robots, and he does so by pairing Becket and Mori together.  Being linked neurologically is almost like a marriage, you share memories and emotions, and in the case of Mori and Becket, they both have emotional tragedies that bond them together at a more primal level.

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Bringing "Pacific Rim" into focus musically is composer Ramin Djawadi (pronounced "Java-dee").  Currently he works on HBO's "Game of Thrones," Djawadi has worked on "Safe House" starring Denzel Washington, the remake of "Fright Night" with Colin Farrell, and Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" to name a few.  Working with guitarist Tom Morello the duo exhibit the musical sensibility that the film of this sub-genre of Science Fiction demands with a mixture of orchestral and rock that reminds one of your favorite Anime show.  Big and brassy sometimes, driving rock in others, Djawadi blends the two effortlessly.

When asked about the acting, one can say that Hunnam does his job and is a focus of the film.  However, he is not the main star.  Yes, he narrates the opening of the film, but there is so much happening, that the camera returns to him from time to time.  Half of those times, Hunnam is in a pilot suit, face covered.  Kikuchi is the other star, whose character, Mako Mori, although has an interesting backstory, falls prey to her own introverted character and it is the fears of her characters that make her role less substantial.  Idris Elba commands the spotlight from the beginning of the film to the point where he makes his Cancel the Apocalypse speech near the end.  He does this short speech almost as Bill Pullman does in "Independance Day," and the reference is not lost.

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Let's talk about monsters.  The real stars of the film are the various forms of Kaiju that del Toro and crew have developed.  These creatures make the current Master of Disaster, Roland Emmerich's 1998 "Godzilla" look outdated, and immature compared to those depicted in "Pacific Rim.”  They rise from the deep from time to time in unseeingly never-ending types and variations.  Why do they come?  Well, that is up to Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler, and Professor Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) to find out.  Geiszler, played by FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" actor Charlie Day, reminding one of Rick Moranis as the kind of mad scientist stereotype as he runs around squawking about the entrails that he is dissecting.  His partner, or nemesis, Gottlieb, on the other hand is the other side of the sci-fi intellectual scientist trope with his short-cropped hair, his halting British accent, his stiff gait, and walking a limp and with a cane, gives us the mathematical analysis of the Kaiju.  If one can actually reduce the attacks of these creatures to a mathematical formula?  Somehow they do.  Geiszler does a neural link with the creature and determines that this is in fact an alien invasion, and the creatures are the alien's version of the clean-up crew.  Gottlieb determines that soon there will be two and three incidents of these creatures at a time, and that they will get bigger.  The goal of these creatures is the total takeover of the planet Earth. It is up the humans, with the help of the Jaeger Robots, to stop them.  Sounds like a worthy goal.

Talking about del Toro's love of the past and what is familiar, Ron Perlman from "Hellboy" and "Blade Two" makes an appearance in "Pacific Rim" as the character Hannibal Chau.  A ridiculous name to say the least, but with his gaudy excessive outfit, gold capped teeth, and gold plated giant shoes, courtesy of costume designer Kate Hawley, it seems to work in making Perlman's Chau an interesting semi-antagonist in the world where the real monsters are, uh, monsters.  What keeps "Pacific Rim" from being overly serious and lacking humor are in fact the three actors mentioned in this paragraph.  Between Day, Gorman, and Perlman, their interplay and antics bring this film in to perspective, not to be taken seriously as story about humanity against monsters, but how humans, can work past their differences and work together for a common good.

Guillermo del Toro is a complete fan boy and loves to bring stuff from his childhood to the silver screen in bold new ways.  From "El Laberinto del Fauno" ("Pan's Labyrinth"), "Hellboy," "The Devil's Backbone," and the films that he has produced such as "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," and recently "Mama," all depict a certain sense of Guillermo del Toro's longing for the days of his childhood and his sense of philosophical justice that he brings to his films.  "Pacific Rim" is not epic, but it is impressive and awesome.  He and Beacham bring action and adventure, characters designed to be liked and sympathized with, and in some cases, unexpected comic relief that brings to mind the days before our innocence was lost.  Overall, "Pacific Rim" is that movie that the whole family can enjoy and not feel guilty about having to watch a completely mindless action film.

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Year:  2013
Staring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day, Clifton Collins Jr.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Producer(s): Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull
Writer: Guillermo del Toro, Travis Beachamt
Rating: PG-13

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