Note from Nick: Full disclosure being vital, Guillermo del Toro is a longtime friend of mine, reader of the site, and someone I co-produced a film with (Don’t be Afraid of the Dark). CHUD is a longtime fan of his work and definitely in the front lines in defense and anticipation of anything he’s involved in. That said, this review comes from the heart but originates in the brain.
Nick Nunziata: Pacific Rim is a game changer in all the positive and negative connotations of the word. It’s ridiculously bold and refreshing in its approach, a brand new intellectual property bringing with it a dense mythology and dozens of moments audiences have never before seen onscreen. Unfortunately it may be too bold, too big, and too unfamiliar to audiences who need to really have every number painted in to commit. Whether it changes the game for the better or worse is sadly a business decision but as a creative endeavor Pacific Rim is everything a Summer movie should be and more. Huge, bombastic, funny, crazy, and beautiful, it is finally the movie that peels back the potential and unleashes the juggernaut of what Guillermo del Toro is and can be when given the toolbox to let his imagination run wild.
Renn Brown: It’s bonkers how pointedly it contrasts with the messy, labyrinthine blockbusters that have become an unfortunate default. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a film of this scale based on a story rather than an escalating series of revelations and engineered Moments-with-a-capital-M. By virtue of its solid storytelling alone it become the best tentpole film in some time. Some may scoff as the film is laden with plenty of surface cliches, but it is not dumb. It functions the way a film should, and yet few at this budget-level do. The variables and elements all add up, all providing a fluid, awesome skeleton on which to grow the biggest, baddest, most boisterous action sequences to grace a movie screen this year. Guillermo del Toro has re-evaluated how scale and power are brought to the screen in the CGI age and the results are awesome in the most traditional sense of the word. The world is rich, the tone is dynamic, and the action is coherently spectacular. There’s a narrow wavelength of ambition here, but that shouldn’t be mistaken as a fault for it is the film’s greatest advantage. Focus is a beautiful thing.
In short, Pacific Rim is very nearly the ideal version of the very particular kind of movie it aims to be.
Nick Nunziata: When a fissure opens up in the sea’s floor and monsters from another dimension begin emerging the world humanity has two choices: die or come up with something that can withstand the attack. What they decide on is Jaegers, three hundred foot machines operated by neurally linked pilots that go toe to toe with the vicious and unearthly behemoths. There’s a percentage of the viewing audience who simply cannot swallow the pill of these two kinds of entities existing, let alone fighting it out on land, sea, and air. Partially because this type of cinema has long been pushed to the direct-to-video bin or deeply repressed into childhood memories. Partially because cinema has become different in recent years. Science fiction meant for the multiplex has become much safer, whether bound to famous properties or just dumbed down enough to be palatable. Pacific Rim is a truly unique animal because it’s playing by a set of rules no other major summer movie has in a very long time.One of the film’s most unique traits is that it enlisted one visual effects company to do all of its work. Industrial Light and Magic. The result is nothing less than the most eye candy laden movies in memory. The sheer amount of awe-inspiring sequences becomes impossible to track because the film is packed wall to wall with them. It literally is one gigantic wave of creative insanity.
Renn Brown: And all of it just gorgeously, stunningly photographed. Del Toro’s most important collaborator Guillermo Navarro takes the RED camera and breaks it in two- providing some of the flat-out most beautiful and rich digital images ever blasted on a big screen. The film is awash in deep blacks, bright spotlights stippling through rain, with neons and phosphorescent glows filling out the rest. It’s all coating beautiful production design, a cast with tons chemistry, and, of course, del Toro’s imagination unleashed in the form of inconceivably scaled warehouses full of robots and an ocean bursting with leathery monsters. The film is a true feast for the eyes, and even when it’s all CGI it has the feel of an classic epic- the kind that ten years from now you’ll still be noticing awesome little details or the cool thing that background extra is doing.
It’s not just a matter of beauty and scale, though. There’s a keen sense of how to make these events feel big, and yet personal. Sometimes we’re terrifyingly close and awash in the chaos of these battles, other times we’re wide and witnessing them in their full epic bigness. The directorial approach is dynamic- coherence and chaos are used as tools deployed at specific moments to achieve specific things. It’s safe to say that del Toro’s action filmmaking scales up very very well. Even better, the little details aren’t lost on the way.
Nick Nunziata: It’s a brave new world for event films. A game changer. People with a strong connection to del Toro’s work see that empowered fanboy coming out to full blossom here though it does come at the expense of some nuance. Pacific Rim is forced to make up for its newness with broad strokes. Strong characters are present but it’s not the kind of film where momentum can be sacrificed without creating yet another bloated event film. Bloated this is not. It’s a lean, aggressive movie. Atypical for a filmmaker who frolics in small moments with big payoffs. Part of that must be attributed to the fact del Toro is working without his usual co-writer Matthew Robbins but also because this film is keenly aware of its requirements to hit hardest in the market. There’s no doubt it’ll be a film that echoes for decades but one of its biggest virtues is how well it balances its set pieces and narrative. If ever there was a film that could arrive and inspire and flat-out blow people’s minds this is it.
Renn Brown: Lean is appropriate- Pacific Rim is all muscle, even in terms of character and story. Despite a richness that permeates the visual design and the story mythology the film is without an ounce of fat, occasionally to its detriment. By design the character arcs are hyper-specific, broad, and they all pay off like clockwork. Were such nuts-and-bolts storytelling
Mileage on the uneven tone and energy of the performances will vary but, personally, I appreciate the mashup of eccentricity and gravitas coming from people like Charlie Day and Idris Elba. Charlie Hunnam is a serviceable leading man but a revelation he is not, so it’s fortunate this really is an ensemble picture. The film weaves through a number of relationships –Raleigh and Mako, Mako and Stacker, scientists Newt and Gottlieb– with equal interest, and ultimately the connection between Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba takes center stage and gives the film a much needed heart beneath all that dented metal.
Nick Nunziata: The performances are mostly fine though I did have some trouble hearing some of the Charlie Day and Burn Gorman dialogue. Day’s style involves loud and manic delivery and Gorman really channels his inner Peter Lorre and there were times where a little of what I’m sure was hilarious banter was lost on me. Hunnam is a solid lead, though he’s never been the kind of actor who carries the project but rather serves as the glue. Elba is the centerpiece for sure, though there’s a way that del Toro films Ron Perlman that somehow borders on transcendent.
Ultimately this is a film about Jaegers and Kaiju and without a doubt the film delivers to the nth degree at making them both absolutely stunning. Each creature has its own personality and style and each Jaeger as well. There’s a fun bit of swagger to each machine and its crew of pilots and in another world an entire TV series could be based around that dynamic and competition. This is Gispy Danger’s story, though. As much as any human character this beat-up old machine that has already been through some rough years is the star of Pacific Rim and there’s no doubt in my mind that many a young person will not only have an effigy of the Jaeger in their collection but that the events of this film will do to many what Star Wars did for me: change their dreams.
Renn Brown: There’s no doubt the Hong Kong sequence is going to change some young lives. A jaw-dropping land, sea, and air extravaganza of everything the movie is most excited to show you, the sequence’s only problem is that it brings the film to an early peak, in terms of action. I can’t imagine many will argue the later climactic sequence –as cool as it often manages to be– quite lives up in terms of cheer-inducing spectacle. The idea is that character arcs and story themes are being paid off during this portion and that traveling to some unexpected places twists the conclusive sequence into something a little different, but it still sweeps by without sticking to the ribs the way so much of the rest of the film does. This is where the choice to keep the character’s restrained and one-dimensional bleeds the film out a little bit.
The paradox here is that when our heroes are in their Jaegers, they are fighting for us. Every punch and toss and ripping struggle is a wrestling match for the fate of millions of people, and the proximity to cities and intercut human material illustrates that constantly. Once the film finds itself diving into the big plans and paying off the interpersonal relationships, it weakens. There’s rarely a moment when one feels any fear that the team will fail in their wider mission, but it does create drama around who may or may not survive. That structure makes sense, but it’s just flat not as rousing of stakes as the fate of the world that we feel in every other battle.
Fortunately said conclusive sequence is not without some pretty mind-blowing images and cool moments- the film never fails to deliver, and most importantly it left me wanting way, way more.
Nick Nunziata: That’s the magic of this movie. In a world and season overflowing with escapism, this is the Heisenberg blue crystal version. It’s pure. Unfiltered. Unabashed. It’s a celebration of pulp and manga and a world free of bullshit. Even though it’s the least Guillermo del Toro of Guillermo del Toro’s movies, it’s the most that most wholeheartedly embraces the essence of why he’s such a big deal. The love is evident in every frame. The way he sneaks his style into the nooks and crannies of the Pacific Rim world, whether in the nuances of the Kaiju parts market, the steakpunk designs of the Jaeger hangars, or the equal love applied to the good guys and the bad guys. This is the kind of movie worth watching over and over and over again to appreciate all of the TLC given to the entire frame. It’s eye candy, but it’s eye candy you feed directly to your inner child.
I saw this in IMAX 3-D and am truly spoiled to see it in any other theatrical format. It is loud and it is fast and it is a movie that some people may just get too numbed by. But it’s next level shit and if you see only one movie this summer this is the one. Every monster movie that follows this has its work cut out for it. Every giant robot movie that follows has a really high water mark to aspire to. This is everything we’ve wanted and been promised and more, and it’s as close a time machine as there is. For a couple of hours we can be kids again in the purest sense. Where anything is possible and there’s vitality in everything. That this film exists is a miracle. I cannot wait to see this again and for a jaded film critic that’s the highest goddamn praise there is.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Renn Brown: I’m in love with the image of Gipsy Danger lumbering through an evacuated city, asphalt crunching beneath its feet as it searches for an enormous monster that just might sprout tentacles or wings or a spiked tail or some shit at any given moment. I could name a dozen moments that are sticking with me the same way. Sure it hits the Godzilla neurons for some or fires off some Power Rangers feelings for others (*achem*), but it’s tight, detailed science fiction with a big grin on its face and a heart on its sleeve. It doesn’t need nostalgia. Those are not characteristics on which I’m prone to giving bad films passes, so fortunately Del Toro and Beacham have their shit together on the other fronts as well. This is an experience for the big screen while we still have them, to be watched without IP baggage while Hollywood still allows it. It’s a gift. “Classic” is way too strong a word, but “timeless” and “awesome” fit just fine.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars