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The same thing happens every couple of years. Based solely on the internet echo chamber, it seemed like Pacific Rim might be the most anticipated film of the summer. A few weeks after release, Pacific Rim has languished in the box office and looks like it might never turn a profit for Warner Bros., let alone break even. This isn’t a unique occasion. In 2006, the same thing pretty much happened to Snakes on a Plane. That particular film had seen such big internet hype that New Line Cinema let director David R. Ellis go back and film additional scenes. That film ended up stalling at the box office as well. In 2010, Universal released Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a would-be summer tent-pole with immeasurable internet hype behind it. Despite a massive marketing push and loud internet chatter, Scott Pilgrim flopped as well. Whether next summer’s much-ballyhooed (in terms of an online presence) Guardians of the Galaxy can beat this trend remains to be seen, but the track record isn’t great.
Set several years into the future, after a rash of Kaiju, or monster, attacks on cities like San Francisco and Manila, Pacific Rim is the story of Raleigh Becket (a confusingly accented Charlie Hunnam), an ex-Jaeger (or giant fighting robot) pilot still dealing with the death of his older brother during a Kaiju assault five years earlier. He is contacted by his former superior Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, playing a gruff, Harrison Ford-esque character), who wants Raleigh to pilot a Jaeger once again and just maybe take out the marauding, fearless Kaiju once and for all. The story is exceedingly generic, but works, largely because the chemistry between the actors is pretty decent. Though Hunnam is something of a blank slate, his character largely works because he kind of should be a blank slate. Likewise, Elba works well as the gruff superior. Though shallow archetypes, the characters interact in believable and engaging ways. Rinko Kikuchi plays Japanese co-pilot Mako Mori, who like Raleigh has a tragic past to contend with. Their on-screen chemistry is one of the most engaging aspects of the film, notable and present in the earliest of their scenes. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman show up as Kaiju biologists/scientists, and their moments in the film bring levity and humor.
The special effects of both the Jaeger robots and the Kaiju are pretty magnificent. Each Kaiju specimen is unique in its own way, with one resembling a large crab creature (the assault on Tokyo) and another resembling a horrifying goblin shark gone wrong (the Knifehead creature outside Alaska). Others look vaguely croc or fish-like in nature, and each has their own special skill (with one being able to emit EMP bursts and another able to spew acid). The Jaegers are also unique, with the Chinese robot piloted by triplets and utilizing a third robotic arm, the Australian ‘bot (piloted by a father/son duo) having chest-missiles, and the American robot being basically a walking nuclear reactor (with a bad-ass sword arm!). It is clear special notice was taken in designing the robots and monsters of Pacific Rim. The set design is also fantastic, with sets having a lived-in look. I couldn’t help but notice the rust spots, the banged-up/gouged-up metal, and the overall dank atmosphere of the Jaeger facilities. Special praise must be given to the Hong Kong sets, especially the “mall” built into a Kaiju skeleton. That was pretty damn cool-looking.
The film is not without its flaws. As noted, the characters are incredibly stock. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but is something of a letdown. The film may have benefitted from some more character development. It’s also too bad that the Chinese and Russian pilots didn’t get more screen-time as well, as they were both interesting teams (particularly the brother/sister Russian tandem). It would have been good to see the Russian team some more if only to get another female on-screen as well. Also, the Russian team looked really fucking awesome. Hopefully there will be some deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray with more of them. I also had a difficult time following some of the fight choreography. I saw the film in IMAX 3D, but have heard others say that the film is easier to follow in a 2D format (presumably it wouldn’t be so dark – 3D features are almost always too dark).
Pacific Rim’s overall quality is fairly high. It is a very different kind of summer blockbuster moviemaking. It is clear that Guillermo Del Toro put a lot of love into this movie, from the sets to the robots to the monsters. I enjoyed the film in a fairly big way, though not as much a few other people I’ve spoken with since the movie’s release. This is the type of film I’m glad got made, because it’s something we don’t get all of the time. Pacific Rim is dumb summer fun as well as good to great blockbuster movie spectacle, but it isn’t original in really any sense of the word. Though it was obviously crafted with love (and a 190 million dollar budget, let’s not forget about that), Pacific Rim could have used a more creative touch where its characters are concerned. Damn, the monster/robot fights are cool though.