Pacific Rim Review
by Daniel Rester
Ready for a badass robots vs. monsters film? Because that’s what you get with Pacific Rim, the latest visual stunner from director Guillermo del Toro. The film isn’t the smartest sci-fi epic to come around lately, but it’s got quite a few original and imaginative ideas on its side. It also contains some of the coolest visual effects to grace the big screen in a while, and it respectfully pays homage to the mecha and monster genres as a whole – without trying to focus attention on singular works.
Rim revolves around the battle between humans and Kaijus, giant monsters that surfaced from the ocean via a portal. To fight the formidable beasts, the countries of the world band together and create Jaegers (“hunters”). The Jaegers are huge robots that are powered by two people who share thoughts through a bridge – because one mind is not strong enough to control one of the machines.
The hero of Rim is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a former Jaeger operator who is called back into action by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), a commanding officer in the Jaeger program. Pentecost is trying to gather together the last of the best fighters in a desperate attempt to destroy the portal and save the world from the apocalypse.
Also included in the program is Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a young woman with a haunted past and a close connection to Pentecost. There are also Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), two scientists who are trying to figure out the complications in destroying the Kaijus and their portal.
Rim is a big-budget sci-fi film with little complexity, but it’s also not as dumb as a film like, say, Transformers (2007). Del Toro and Travis Beacham wrote the script, and it is noticeable that they had great care for the material. The two have fashioned a diegesis here that feels exciting and fresh, and contains a number of likable characters to boot. They even fill Rim with emotion and a certain lightheartedness, and never resort to morphing the material into a brooding or mean-spirited piece. The script does contain its share of B-movie clichés, predictable moments, and underdeveloped characters (with the characters often delivering silly dialogue, and having questionable actions in certain situations), but it has enough creative and fun ideas to knock such flaws back a bit.
Del Toro really brings the script to life through his direction as well. Despite the film going on a bit too long (running over two hours), del Toro gives Rim a breezy pace. He also does a magnificent job with the action scenes — without ever sacrificing care for the characters. The fights here are highly entertaining, favoring the teamwork of characters and surprising battle moments over visual chaos.
The director owes much to the art direction, production design, and visual effects teams for making everything look so damn clean and dazzling (though I wish that more of the fights were in environments that were less dim). Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and Editors Peter Amundson and John Gilroy definitely deserve some credit too. Navarro applies great attention to scale and steadiness here, never letting the camera shake or swoop around too much. Amundson and Gilroy’s editing is also exceptional; they match the pace of del Toro’s displaying of scenes, but they never apply any headache-inducing, quick-cut tricks. Finally, Ramin Djawadi’s music score provides a certain liveliness to everything – but never becomes deafening.
Though the technical elements and story world ideas are the highlight of Rim, the cast does a fine job as well for the most part. Hunnam, who looks like a miniature Tom Hardy here, is occasionally bland and hard to root for, but at other times the actor does step up his game. Day and Gorman are amusing as the two scientists, though they come off as over-the-top at points. The standouts here are Kikuchi, Elba, and Ron Perlman, the latter clearly having fun as a black market dealer of Kaiju parts. Kikuchi and Elba’s characters are actually given the most depth in the film, which probably helped them out. Still, Kikuchi brings a toughness and sadness to her character. And Elba is great as Pentecost, commanding the screen by giving his character authority (even giving a ridiculous but entertaining speech similar to Bill Pullman’s one in the 1996 film Independence Day) but also shades of imperfection.
Rim isn’t in the league of “highly intelligent sci-fi films,” but it’s also more than just dumb-but-fun action entertainment. It’s actually a visual marvel, and one with enough passable attention to new ideas and characters to get it by. Sure, it is overlong and has its blemishes here and there, but the ride is worth it – and what a ride it is.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).