By Patrick Guera – Staff Writer
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Guillermo del Toro is a geek. Every ounce of that statement is a compliment. When his name is attached to a project, the geeks collectively breathe a sigh of relief. It gives a project the Nerd Seal of Approval, if such a thing exists (it most certainly does). So imagine my delight when I first heard that out of the blue del Toro would be helming a project from completely original material.
Not since 2006’s fantasy- drama, Pan’s Labyrinth, had we seen something entirely original from him. But his new summer tentpole, Pacific Rim, was far from the quiet, independent drama that was Pan’s. Trailers showed impossibly mega-sized sea beasts grappling with enormous robots- and did I mention Jax and Clay from Sons of Anarchy were in said trailers? Needless to say the geek in me was hooked, even if I knew very little of what to expect. When I finally saw Pacific Rim I learned something very important: Guillermo del Toro is faithful to the geeks, perhaps even to a fault.
Pacific Rim is a war film of sorts. Giant, otherworldly creatures, referred to as Kaiju, rise from a dimensional rift deep within the Pacific Ocean, hell-bent on destruction. The human race put their differences aside and create Jaegers, badass giant robots powered by two human pilots who must create a deep bond in order to effectively fight off the monsters.
Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, Undeclared) plays Raleigh Becket, a maverick Jaeger pilot who plays by his own rules. When the Jaeger project is deemed no longer effective, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba of The Wire and Prometheus fame) gathers the last of the great Jaegers and their best pilots to show the world that it still needs Jaegers. Without a co-pilot, Raleigh leans on Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel), a skilled, but untested wannabe pilot with her own deep connection to the Kaiju.
Where this film really shines, and why every true geek must see it is simple: it is without question, the best and truest attempt at making a live-action anime, ever. Guillermo said that he was influenced by Anime when making Rim, and he was not kidding. Macross, Gundam, and Neon Genisis Evangelion are but a few of the mech- themed anime that make their presence felt in the film. And yet, del Toro’s real genius wasn’t that he copied these beloved anime classics, but that he respected their influences and made something completely original. None of the robots feel ripped from a certain anime, nor the beasts for that matter.
It felt like a completely new world with anime sensibilities. The sheer scale of the film is very much a nod to anime. When you aren’t watching Kaijus and Jaegers battle it out, our characters are engulfed in massive, colorful, endless backdrops that are reminiscent of Neo Tokyo in Akira or even your favorite stage from the Street fighter video game series. And in true del Toro fashion, every inch of production design is laced with intricate detail, a carryover of his already lush artistic styling that compliments the detail overkill in your average anime.
Anime also lends itself to the personalities that inhabit the film. Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood, The Dark Knight Rises) both play Kaiju experts that deliver the often ham-fisted comic relief. Average moviegoers would find their roles ridiculously, even embarrassingly, over- acted. But the initiated anime geek will know the archetype well: the overly excited professors that no one listens to and who constantly fall on their faces. Think Master Roshi from Dragon Ball Z.
All the actors in the film clearly did their anime homework, dialogue almost seemed like it was translated to English from Japanese and was delivered in rapid-fire pace or in a brooding tone; facial expressions contort for emotion or sit stoically when in deep thought depending on the mood and situation, but it’s all there, anime to the core.
At its heart Pacific Rim plays much like Top Gun.
A bad boy pilot plays by his own rules and puts a few wrinkles in his commanding officers finely pressed suit, all the while stepping on the toes of other hot shots and winning the affections of his equally badass female love interest.
It’s a fun thrill-ride and visual feast that makes going to see movies on the big screen so much fun. The films biggest weakness comes from its very loose story structure. The plot is much like Starship Troopers, or the aforementioned Top Gun in that the bad guy isn’t someone who interacts with the audience, the conflict comes from within the ranks of our beloved antagonists.
This can backfire however, as you start to forget what you’re rooting for exactly. Rim is wall-to-wall action, explosions, and destruction with sprinklings of laughter and very effective drama. But without someone to truly root against (the Kaiju are very cool), the action becomes monotonous and the ever-present threat of the apocalypse doesn’t quite feel…present.
Hunnam’s character also suffers from this issue. He is really good at being a Jaeger pilot, but he’s almost too good and never really suffers from the shortcomings that make him human and relatable. He tends to float around and help out the other, more interesting character arcs of his supporting cast. That leaves the audience feeling a little left out of the story.
If you’re in the mood for action, Pacific Rim delivers in Kaiju-sized portions.
One of the many (many) great things about Guillermo del Toro is that he’s an honest filmmaker. He promised big action that is fueled by a passion for anime and he delivers in healthy portions. Even the (gasp) converted 3-D is likely the best I have seen in a live action movie since My Bloody Valentine, better in fact. As a staunch opponent of 3-D I was actually impressed at how immersive it felt and its presence persisted throughout the movie, unlike most “Real 3D” that tends to fade into the background after 20 minutes.
The movie going public may not latch onto this film despite its placement as a summer blockbuster, but make no mistake: it’s there for the geeks and nerds. The verdict: Pacific Rim is a movie made to be seen on the big screen and with real and true respect for anime and action fans its just plain fun despite its shortcomings. Go see it.