Review – Pacific Rim

In the grim, dark future, there is only rocket punching

The Kaiju genre of movies hasn’t seen a whole lot of love; the most recent attempts have been relatively weak contributions to the field.  I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of the genre, to be sure, but the more recent entries haven’t been fantastic. 1998’s Godzilla doesn’t seem to have many fans at all, and even Cloverfield seems to split rooms of people into two very opposed camps.  At the same time, there’s something about massive creatures, sent by fantastic forces to destroy humanity, being beaten back by the very species they were sworn to destroy that has always been majorly appealing.  Between that, and the fact it involves gigantic mechs (another fan favorite), there’s been a lot of buzz about Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. While his films are generally always gorgeous, they’re not the strongest films either critically or commercially—sometimes even both. At the same time, he went into this fully aware of the genre and included pitfalls, trying to craft something that was both enjoyable and respectful of its origins.  So, how well did it do?

Cinematography

It’s not often any more that an action flick will feel substantial and thrilling during it’s more exciting moments. That isn’t the case here; the fights feel very visceral and believable, considering the on-screen subject matter.  This is partially due to the fact there’s no shaky camera going on here!  Many flicks rely on the “There’s an earthquake going on in the camera” school of action scenes; Pacific Rim instead relies on smart positioning and angling of the camera, all while keeping it stable.  This means you can see the actual blows on camera, which really helps bring forward the effects forward. As well, it lends weight to the blows; you can see the monsters recoil from the blows in a way that imparts just how much force a massive kaiju received via an elbow drop given by a nuclear-powered robot.

The effects themselves are incredibly well done, both CGI and set design. The world feels very cohesive; there’s not a difference between the mech design and fights compared to when the pilots are running about outside of the robots. It feels like a very authentic experience; the world was crafted as a backdrop of superior quality to the story, and it lends itself to the movie very well.  Regardless of it’s a lab scene or a fight, the artistic design is amazing, and it’s definitely one of the strongest points of the movie.

Soundtrack

Created by Ramin Djawadi, composer of the Game of Thrones soundtrack, the music hits all the right tones.  It’s intense during the fight scenes, and infuses the scene with an additional sense of urgency.  In addition, it often samples the same core theme in different ways, which helps create a singular, cohesive whole. (Noticing a pattern there?)  There’s synthesizer mixed with orchestral mixed with guitars, creating a series of tracks that are very characteristic of the movie as a whole.  The kaiju’s have themes that are fully of heavy brass and sound foreboding, where the Jaeger’s have a more guitar-riff heavy, triumphant determined sound—and the scenes where they interact mix both beautifully.

Story and Acting

The story would probably be one of Pacific Rim’s weaker points; while serviceable, it’s neither subtle nor nuanced.  Many of the events are something you spot the foreshadowing for miles away with almost 100% certainty.  At the same time, it’s not something that’s ham-handed or eye roll inducing in it’s execution.  The weakest part was the love story that seems more stapled on than anything else; it evolves in a predictable way, and ends in a scene that feels very “focus group wanted a love arc”. Other than that, the characters were well-established; while many of them fit previously defined archetypes, they aren’t horribly portrayed.  The acting was mostly above board; the most common offender against this is the previously mentioned love arc. Other than this, the interactions are well done, even if they tread well-worn paths.

The overall world’s story is one of the stronger parts, with a considerable amount of evident thought and effort put into crafting the world and timeline of the movie as compared to the character interactions.  You get a real sense of the heavy sort of history that you can see the weigh on both the world and the characters.  While it falls apart when you break it down to the way the characters move about, this IS a kaiju movie; story hasn’t typically been their strong suit, although Pacific Rim contributes quite a bit when it comes to creating a believable world.

Summary

If you’re looking for a good, substantial action flick, Pacific Rim should hit all the right spots.  The excellent pacing, music, and action scenes lends itself to an incredible theater experience.  It’s a well-crafted piece of eye candy at the very least, and at the most it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, robot-clobbering-monster movie. The CGI effects in motion are beautiful to behold, and it’s really nice not having action scenes that really on shaky cam to impart an action packed effect.