Smashing action, mayhem in ‘Pacific Rim’

Carljoe Javier
Film revamps the Kaiju genre for a brand new generation of viewers

ROBOT ACTION. Jaegers deliver the mech combat badassery. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

MANILA, Philippines – Gigantic monsters come from the sea and make their way to human populations, destroying urban centers, crushing buildings, and decimating anything in their paths. Humanity is helpless in the face of the Kaiju, the size of them could dwarf even the largest dinosaurs. And then humanity starts building Jaegers, mechs whose sole purpose is to combat the Kaiju. 

So basically, you get gigantic beatdowns. Which are awesome. 

Fans of Kaiju flicks, the most famous of them being movies in the Godzilla series, will go wild over what “Pacific Rim” has done. It takes that film tradition and modernizes it, making it new and exciting for a brand new generation of viewers. I wound up thinking of other attempts at the genre. First was the Roland Emmerich-directed “Godzilla” remake, which failed to capture the spirit of the Kaiju film. The other was “Cloverfield,” which brilliantly applied the shaky cam aesthetic to the giant monster movie formula, creating something new and compelling.

“Pacific Rim” isn’t trying to revolutionize the format at all. Rather, it stays faithful to the form of the Kaiju film, packing in small stories to fill up most of the screen time as we build up to the big action sequences. These smaller stories can be wacky, hammy and cheesy. At the same time they can attempt to chronicle the destruction. The film chooses to do both, and it works for great fun.

The chronicle of destruction is best in a sequence where a young girl, Mako, wanders alone in the empty city streets and then a kaiju appears. Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) plays a larger part in the story as an aspiring Jaeger. Her initial conflict with the lead character, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), and how they resolve their differences and develop into something more play a large part in the movie. 

The thing is that a lot of the smaller stories and conflicts are things we’ve seen before. In fact, one might call this “Top Gun” with mechs, because so many of the conflicts and character issues overlap. There just isn’t a volleyball scene. 

The stories are cliche. You’ve got the reluctant lead who was a maverick and is forced back into service. You’ve got a cocky upstart who doesn’t think much of the lead. Of course you know that dude is totally going to be Iceman. There’s the resilient, inspiring commander (Idris Elba) who’s hiding a soft side. You can predict where it all goes. But then this is all just filler to get to giant robots punching giant monsters. 

More interesting is a subplot that stars Charlie Day. He’s a scientist and Kaiju fanatic who does crazy experiments and goes off in search of something that will prove crucial to the battle. Day is a comedic force, bringing an insane, irrepressible energy to this performance. Some might think his screamy bit a little too similar to his character in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but it worked great for me here. He’s a wildcard thrown into this mix of cliches, and apart from the action sequences, his storyline is the most fun thing to watch in this movie. On his own, he’s great, and he gets even better when he is playing off of Ron Perlman, who creates another memorable comic character. 

I suppose we might observe an unevenness to the film in that sense. It’s got a lot of gloom and doom to it, and it takes those parts very seriously. Idris Elba is always screaming about the apocalypse. There’s also a lot of talk about the science behind the interfaces that allow people to control Jaegers. “Neural handshakes” which allow mind-melds between two people through something called the Drift, creating a neural network that allows two people to think and move as one. It’s pretty cool, but also very serious and heavy, as it deals with issues involved with this kind of connection. 

But it leverages that with the wacky humor scenes. I figure it’s like the old Godzilla flicks where there was a lot of unevenness, that you got a lot of filler thrown in, some good, some bad, so that you could fill up the running time. You can’t have monsters and robots beating each other all the time.

While it might sound like a good idea to have those massive action scenes more, I think we might be overwhelmed by it. I loved the used future aspects of the design of the Jaegers, and how the various Kaiju had traits of different animals. The combat between these giants was excellent. I felt like a bunch of Kaiju lovers sat down, thought, “You know what would be awesome?” and then all those ideas were taken and built into the fight sequences. As the thing that we all go to this movie for, the fight sequences were satisfying and exciting. There was a great level of imagination put into the Kaiju-Jaeger fights. Though it’s all obviously CG, the power and impact of the battles are breathtaking.

So like its Kaiju movie progeny, “Pacific Rim” has trouble cobbling together a truly compelling story that will keep together a movie about big monsters destroying cities. I think it’s a tip of the hat to the form, a kind of love letter to these films that were works of wonder in many of our youths. More importantly, as an exercise in mech combat badassery, it sets a new bar for giant robot action. It’s a load of fun to watch.

Watch “Pacific Rim” trailer here:


– Rappler.com

Carljoe Javier is at the faculty of English and Comparative Literature at UP. He is also an author, and among his books are The Kobayashi Maru of Love, the new edition of which is available from Visprint Inc. His upcoming Writing 30 will be available as an ebook at amazon, ibookstore, b&n and flipreads.com

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