Pacific Rim surprises with actual plot and characters, amid exploding alien bodies
Every summer, Hollywood clocks in its requisite hours of mindless, over-the-top action sequences in which you can hardly tell who is clobbering whom, accompanied by a symphony of ambient explosions and gunfire.
Pacific Rim is not one of those films. Obviously there is an action component—you are going to see giant robots fight sea monsters, after all—but, surprisingly enough, a solid chunk of the movie is actually devoted to building up a solid plot and fleshing out the characters.
Pacific Rim opens with aliens (known as kaiju, meaning “monster” in Japanese) popping out of the Pacific Ocean, and humankind retaliating with giant robots, called Jaegers, that can only be manned by two pilots. It’s a simple enough story, yet, the writers are successful in escalating the plot at each level to continuously develop suspense and intrigue.
The protagonist is Raleigh Becket, your stereotypical American hero, played ironically by the British Charlie Hunnam (Green Street Hooligans), who adequately fills both the strong-jawed and muscle-bound criteria. The other main protagonist, Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi of Babel fame), is also fairly stereotypical, hovering in that gray zone of demure vulnerability and ninja-esque badassery that Asian women are often relegated to onscreen. Idris Elba plays the tough military general and father figure, and it is nearly impossible to go wrong with casting him. The best casting decision was Charlie Day, from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as Dr. Newton Geizler, bringing the laughs in this 2-hour action film.
Despite the use of recognizable cultural tropes, you can’t help but like the characters enough to become invested in their partnership. Though not all the actors played particularly original characters or even particularly well, all of the characters were developed enough to be likable rather than typically bland and forgettable.
Pacific Rim scores high for innovation in the science-fiction and fantasy sector. The neural technology behind the Jaegers is intriguing on a technical level but also on an emotional one, especially because it involves two people thinking and fighting as one. It’s great stuff for a blossoming romance, as well as for some hardcore fight scenes. Each kaiju is uniquely imagined, letting director Guillermo del Torro (Pan’s Labyrinth) do what he does best: making grossly terrifying monsters. His imagination must be a morbid playground, and Vox enjoyed getting to play in it for an hour or two.
Del Torro shows remarkable restraint—none of the fantastical elements of the movie are overblown, and all of the fight scenes are different. The Jaegers kill each and every kaiju in a different way, from splitting them in half with a sword to ripping their face off (although Vox was really hoping to see a Jaeger drop a bomb at some point). Pacific Rim doesn’t lack in the action department, hopefully showing Hollywood that you can have a plot and characters and still succeed in making stuff look cool.
At the end of the day, you’re probably going to go see Pacific Rim to see aliens and robots. You go in with low expectations, expecting to be mildly entertained, and walking out afterward with some half-processed images of flesh and metal. This movie pleasantly surprises you by being a lot more. With a combination of campy but interesting characters, a solidly workable plot, and the coolest aliens Vox has ever seen (can we have the kaiju apocalypse already?), it’s an unexpected summer hit.
Pacific Rim opens in theaters today.