Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Film Review: Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim

Most of what you would call, your monster movies, have a set pattern.  The first third of the film establishes characters, and lets you in on who's who.  After that, we get the onslaught of monsters, be they a giant ape from a mysterious island, a fire-breathing irradiated giant lizard stomping through Tokyo, or any other kind of gigantic, mutated creature from ants to moths to the dinos of Jurassic Park.  Well, apparently Mr. del Toro ain't havin' none of that, for he starts his film out with one of his monsters taking down the Golden Gate at about minute two (maybe even one and a half).  You see, Guillermo del Toro, though paying great respect to the Kaiju genre as a whole, was never trying for your typical monster movie, or some extension of such a thing.  No sirree, del Toro wanted to capture the artistry, the poetry of the monster movie.  Del Toro wanted to make a living, breathing Kaiju movie, but one with a humanistic approach to its storytelling.  What del Toro got was exactly that - a movie which in its awe-inspiring look and feel, captures not only a great respect to all the Kaiju that have come before it, but also something relate-able, something filled with humanity, but not in a way that diminishes the story, or makes its characters act out in any ridiculous way.  

The film, starting at a high pace, and only getting higher and higher and higher as the film moves along, is the story of a world partially destroyed by giant monsters from another dimension, and the Jaegers, giant metal monsters that the world creates in order to stop the real monsters, the real Kaiju.  But perhaps I should, as an explanatory note to the uninitiated amongst my readers (and I cannot fathom that there are really any such uninitiated among you), talk a bit about just what the hell is a Kaiju movie anyway.  Basically, Kaiju, a Japanese word best translated as 'Strange creature' but having been co-opted into anything describing a giant monster, is what Godzilla is, or Mothra, or Rodan, or Gamera, or even Ultron.  All of these strange creatures are inspirations to del Toro's Pacific Rim, but del Toro, is not just paying homage to the genre.  The director has said,  "I didn't want to be postmodern or referential, or just belong to a genre. I really wanted to create something new, something madly in love with those things. I tried to bring epic beauty to it, and drama and operatic grandeur."  Del Toro has based his film's look just as much on the Kaiju of the past, as he has on the art world of the past.  Using such disparate works as Goya's The Colossus and Hokusai's ancient woodcarving, The Great Wave of Kanagawa as a visual basis for his film, del Toro has paved his own way, and has created a genuine kick-ass monster movie, a Kaiju movie if you will, with an artistic bent, and the proverbial heart of gold.

Del Toro, always a director with a sense of dangerous artistic style (I mean c'mon, just take a look at Cronos or The Devil's Backbone or the Hellboy films, hell, just look at Pan's Labyrinth!) imbues his film with a brilliant, and darly sinister look.  Never a big fan of CGI, I was still blown away by the effects put forth by del Toiro's FX team and all the folks at ILM, and it is this dystopian realism (think Blade Runner meets Godzilla) that makes Pacific Rim such a deep and resonating film, especially for a Summer blockbuster.  The cast, led by Charlie Hunnam as a bad boy pilot, Oscar nominee for 2006's Babel, Rinko Kikuchi as his co-pilot (the Jaegers are manned by two pilots, sharing a neural connection), The Wire's Idris Elba as their commanding officer, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day, stealing every scene he is in, as a Kaiju groupie-cum-scientist, are all a blast to watch, but let's face it, it is the monsters and the action we are here for, and del Toro (a pacifist making damn sure he never actually glorifies the action in the way someone like Michael Bay does) gives us those monsters and action in proverbial spades, and at the same time manages to make us emotionally bleed as well with a series of flashback scenes involving a toddler version of Kikuchi's character that will seriously devastate you with their imminent horror and poetic beauty.   A fun, exciting, adrenaline-pumping sci-fi spectacle of a movie, that is easily one of the best Summer blockbusters in years.

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