I remember when I first saw Independence Day. It was the weekend of July 4, 1996, and my friends and I were packed into the Stuart Theater in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. the place was crowded, the floor was sticky, and the excitement was palpable. This was in the days before the internet went mainstream, and movie trailers could only be seen on TV. Nevertheless, in the weeks leading up to ID4′s release my school was buzzing with all kinds of talk about what would surely be one of the coolest movies we had ever see. Spaceships. Aliens. Explosions. Jeff Goldblum. Will Smith. Brent Spiner! Could this movie be any cooler? And there we sat, riveted to our seats as the massive alien spaceships began settling over earth cities causing pandemonium in the streets below. We cheered when Smith punched an alien, took out a cigar, and said with cocky John Wayne-confidence, “Welcome to earth.” We gaped as enormous fireballs engulfed buildings, streets, and entire metropolises. We jumped when an alien popped out of its biosuit inside the Area 51 laboratory. And when the movie was over, we clapped, cheered, and rose to our feet in exuberant jubilation. Independence Day not only lived up to the hype, but blew my mind into the stratosphere. No, it didn’t have the most compelling storyline or complex characters. The dialog was cheesy. The aliens weren’t all that scary, and the comic relief was a bit too corny. But none of that mattered, because the movie was just so much fun. It gave me and my friends exactly what we were hoping for: good guys, bad guys, aliens, and tons of explosions. And it was awesome.
So why bring all this up in a review of Pacific Rim? Because the two are so similar in tone and substance they might well have been cut from the very same cloth. This story, about robots called Jagers fighting monsters called Kaiju, is one that has been rehashed innumerable times on the big screen. The characters are about as one-dimensional as can be, and any description of them requires no more than three words each (including the article): The reluctant hero. The grizzled leader. The plucky scientist. The plucky jock. The wise father. Any standard action movie character checklist would be full of marks, but these cliches are part of what makes Pacific Rim such a fine achievement. Director Guillermo del Toro, whose previous films include Hellboy 1 and 2, Mimic, and the freakishly outstanding Pan’s Labyrinth, foregoes deep, layered plots and complex subtexts for a straight-out, full-on action flick that caters to the little kid in all of us. Just like Independence Day and countless others before it, Pacific Rim knows exactly what it is and delivers on that promise in spades. Audience members are treated to some of the most gargantuan battles to ever grace a movie screen, with clearly delineated bad guys to jeer and good guys to cheer. It’s summer popcorn fare at its finest, and a joy to behold on as massive of a screen as possible.
Charlie Hunnam plays Raleigh Becket, the reluctant hero with a past that haunts him and a future that looms as bleak as his haircut. A former superstar Jager pilot, he’s recruited for one last-ditch attempt at stopping the Kaiju invasion (something about a rift in spacetime that opens a portal between dimensions…but it’s really not that important) by the no-nonsense tough-as-nails director of the Jager program named…wait for it…Stacker Pentecost played by Idris Elba, who will soon no doubt be showing up in an Old Spice commercial near you. (If there’s a hierarchy of manly names out there, Stacker Pentecost would rank one notch above John St. John and right below Bigg McLarge Huge.) Together they and their team of international, interracial, and intergenerational Jager pilots must take down the Kaiju or else risk the end of humanity as we know it. Toss in a dash of Ron Perlman as the shady but hilarious Hannibal Chau, mix in two parts awesome CGI and one healthy dose of ear-busting digital sonic punishment and you’ve got a recipe for one of the coolest movies I have seen on a big screen in a very long time.
What makes Pacific Rim so enjoyable isn’t necessarily what it contains, but what it lacks. There are no scatalogical one-liners, no apocryphal political maneuverings, and no complicated explanations trying to shoehorn real-life physics into a sci-fi story. The female gender is, sadly, woefully underrepresented, but Becket’s co-pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is a tough, capable woman who easily holds her own in a fight and remains 100% clothed the entire movie–just as a PG-13 action flick marketed towards kids should be. In fact, there’s no romantic subplot at all which may or may not be a boon to the wives and girlfriends who will undoubtedly be dragged to Pacific Rim. Though I daresay they might enjoy the movie for what it is just as much as their male counterparts. The special effects on display here are as good as it gets, and the camera wisely lets many of the Jager/Kaiju bouts play out like violent watery ballets instead of a mishmash of quick cuts and closeups that render all the action well-nigh incomprehensible.
Del Toro has crafted a fantastic love letter to Godzilla movies of yesteryear, while exchanging their men in rubber monster suits for blisteringly realized CGI and intricate miniature work. Pacific Rim is a movie that reminded me what it felt like to be a kid, wide-eyed and full of wonder, marveling at what I was seeing unfold before me. And sometimes that’s all I want from a movie.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
- Mission: Impossible III - November 1st, 2013
- House of Cards - May 9th, 2013
- Academy Awards 2013 Liveblog - February 23rd, 2013
- Why JJ Abrams Will Save Star Wars - February 19th, 2013
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - December 19th, 2012