Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013) movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Original screenplay not based on an existing franchise, explores a rarely seen deeper understanding of the human relationship concept, astounding giant robot vs monster combat scenes, flawless special effects, numerous references for fanboys, memorable side characters, brisk but satisfactory character development.

The Bad: Predictable plot, mediocre performances of main characters, forgettable monster designs, soundtrack too familiar.

3D Readiness: post production 3D conversion
IMax-ability: wide angle combat and large scale destruction may contribute to IMAX enjoyability

Welcome to the ultimate giant monster and mecha fanboy's dream come true. A mysterious rift under the pacific ocean allows giant monsters (termed "Kaiju") to enter our world. When conventional weaponry proves ineffective, the Jaeger programme was launched to create massive metal titans with the sole purpose of protecting earth's surviving cities. As years pass, the war shifts. A stalemate turns into a losing battle as each subsequent monster seems to evolve to better tackle Earth's defenses. With the Jaeger programme at risk of being discontinued, and a startling revelation about the nature of the monsters, Marshall Pentecost (leader of the programme) brings in former pilot Raleigh Backett for a perilous final strike against the Kaiju. Now Backett must learn to work with his new pilot partner Mako Mori, as well as the last of different country's Jaeger teams, and literally "cancel the apocalypse".
 Yes, we have seen this plot before many times. It is Independence Day. It is Battleship. It is every single alien invasion/end of the world scenario. You have people of clashing personalities made to work together, the hot headed rookie, the cynical veteran, charismatic military leader, racial stereotypes, everything. Yet with the giant monsters and mecha, Director Guillemo Del Toro not only gives a fresh take on a tired old genre, but he ups the ante on action and entertainment. Pacific Rim is steeped in a palpable air of hopelessness as seen in the increasingly brutal beatings the Jaegers take at the hands of the Kaiju. To realise these battles, the special effects  by ILM and Legacy Effects are flawless, realistic and breathtaking to behold. Action is awesome, epic in scale and scope.

 The creative team tackled the film with the mind of a fanboy. For instance, the numerous monsters seen are obvious homages to famous monster movies of old and new. A lumbering beast that moves like a fat ape is no doubt a homage to King Kong. This crustacean based Kaiju seems to evoke memories of a monster from the Godzilla films called Ebirah. And an agile, skinny, long armed creature with parasites on its skin seems to be a reference to the similarly designed monster from the movie Cloverfield. Other references to the winged Rodan, split tailed King Ghidorah and more abound.  The Jaegers themselves seem to reflect qualities of their countries of origin with Russia's looking like a nuclear cooling tower and America's having a typical superman physique with it's wide chest and "Y" shaped body.

 Still, beneath all the eye candy and behind the seemingly unoriginal plot lies some rather unique themes rarely expounded upon in film. We delve into some philosophy of war with regards to the Jaegers being on the losing side. When a weapon fails, is it the fault of the weapon or the one using the weapon? And what about hope? Can hope truly unite people of different ideals?The Jaeger are piloted by two pilots who have to be joined through what is called the "Neural handshake". The pilots, be it complete strangers, best of friends, brothers or father and son open themselves up to each other and share their most intimate memories and everything that makes each individual who they are. They can feel each other's pain if one is hurt, they know what each other is thinking. They become "one" and work as one, connected physically, mentally and emotionally. This concept is very similar to a deep concept about the nature of love. Brotherly love, family love, romantic love, it is all about that connection between individuals. This film is a clever metaphor for such a connection. It is a movie about love without any actual physical display of romance: Not a single kiss in the whole movie.

 Who needs sappy romance anyway when you have such "larger than life" characters. All of them are given little character arcs that are developed fully. A champion learning respect for his superiors, a father letting go of his child to walk her own path, a soldier nursing scars of the past, all of them come to satisfactory resolution. Idris Elba steals the show as the bada55 commander Pentecost. His performance is so memorable, as is his "cancelling the apocalypse" speech repeated in almost every trailer. Oh, and the almighty Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, the leader of a black market syndicate selling Kaiju parts is marvellously cast in this surprising role. Special mention also goes to Charlie Day and Burn Gorman who are hilarious as the bickering Doctors Newton and Gottleib. Incidentally, it is the side characters that end up more memorable than our main characters. Rinko Kikuchi does her best but her command of english makes her character Mako Mori's dialogue sounds almost dubbed in some scenes. But the low point of the show is Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Backett whose monotone droning narration just comes across as bad acting.

Well, nothing can be perfect. A more original soundtrack would have benefited this show though. Ramin Djwadi does instill the Kaiju themes with a classic giant monster movie feel but the rest of the soundtrack sounds like a retread of Iron Man with its electric guitar and heavy metal vibe. Still, Pacific Rim no doubt succeeded at what it intended to do. Guillermo Del Toro took two floundering genres and gave them a much needed face lift in the minds of movie going audiences everywhere. Mecha CAN be realised in live action, convincingly and awesomely without power ranger style puppetry. Giant Monsters can be taken seriously with none of that rubber suit crap. Pacific Rim also brings hope of more original screenplays and actually world-building in an industry dominated by movies based on pre-existing franchises.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A-
Story: B+
Acting: A-
Characters: A-
Music: C+
Replay value: A
"Brains": A-

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