Pacific Rim (2013)
"Go big or go extinct"
Guillermo del Toro is a man of vision as far as I have seen in his movie-related career, to the extent of which I don't think I have seen anyone in the "normal" movie market compare. Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy had such wonderful visuals to them, and way back when I first heard that he was going to be making a movie about two of my favorite things (giant robots and giant monsters), I knew I didn't really need to hear anything else about the movie because I was going to see it in theaters. I've been a fan of the mech genre for years now - mostly thanks to anime and video games - to the extent that I've actually seen Robot Jox, and I don't want to think of how many Gundam shows, so I at first really didn't want to review this one (I mean, if you are a fan of something it can be pretty hard to distance yourself from it and place a solid level-headed judgement upon it) on the grounds of that and the fact that it still doesn't exist in an own-able form. Literally the only way you could see it is in theaters, until it's run is out, and then you'd have to wait till DVD release day - an unknown time that could be a horrendous drag - but what it comes down to is that I was impressed by the reactions of others who had seen the movie so much that I just couldn't resist.
Now, I know this header sections is getting a bit long, but I have got to point out that I have a buddy who also does reviews who saw it separate from me, and although I'm not necessarily one to plug stuff everywhere, in this case I think it might give you a better grounds of the general reactions of the people who did see it with me if you took a glance at his as well, which I'll stash right here. My fellow comrade TPBM was actually one of the folks who went and saw it with me in person, and maybe I'll convince him to put up his thoughts at some point as well, just because I feel in this particular case a wider-sample is appropriate, particularly because of my personal attraction to the subject matter of the movie - to paraphrase, I just don't want you to come out of this review biased because of my opinions for a change, and want you to know that when I do say things that seemed a bit hyped up, I'm not the only one who is feeling that way about the film. With that wall of text out of the way, let me carry on proper and tell you what I thought about the cancellation of the apocalypse.
Plot here is interesting, but only the basics of which can I really go over outside of a spoiler block. From the depths of the Pacific Ocean, a rift in dimensions opened, allowing access to our world from a race of giant creatures known as Kaiju (something I nerd out about referencing the Japanese genre of giant monsters) who are far from coming in peace. In the time it took the military's tools of war to take the creature down, the carnage it had wrought was on the scale of a very, very serious natural disaster (leading to the eventual classification of these creatures based on a category system, much like hurricanes). Recognizing the inefficiency of the modern weapons of war, the world around started working on its defenses, creating massive robots named Jaegers. These Jaegers were so complicated that it was necessary for the machines to be controlled by two pilots at once, through a neural interface called 'The Drift' which in turn synced the minds of the two pilots (memories and all) together with the artificial musculature and self of the giant machine.
Many countries had their own Jaegers (many of which aren't shown in the movie, as the film is much less about origins and much more about "the end" of the war, regardless of who in effect wins), each to my enjoyment have their very own intricate designs, features, and names. The pilots themselves, being the very instruments of our salvation from these giant monsters, quickly rose to a place of stardom within their nations, while maintaining a cooperative soldier attitude towards each other down to the the slight competition of keeping track of kill tallies. The Kaiju, however, keep appearing in stronger and stronger variations of themselves, and by the point our movie starts it's looking that humanity could be in a rather bad way before too long...
The plot, therefore, of the movie proper is just that: Humanity trying to survive against this seemingly insurmountable force of alien nature. It focuses it's scope down to a much smaller cast than the entire world , which it ends up being much the better for, allowing the viewer to grasp onto a handful of characters to try and become emotionally attached to as they gear up for "the apocalypse" that is so often touted in the trailers. We subplot ourselves out between the characters, in the most specific extents a quirky yet somewhat stereotypical science team, and then on the other hand the main group of pilots featured in the film (two of the Jaegers get much more focus than the other two shown, unfortunately, but the choice was probably a good one in that the movie could get convoluted had they not done so).
I found that each of the characters had a distinct type to them, to which most of their actions on screen would play. Dr. Newton (Charlie Day) comes off as the very excited crazy scientist you maybe familiar with seeing in other movies, with slightly rogue ideas that he is devoted to and believes in wholeheartedly. Pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) comes off as a excited youth, and over time develops more into a reluctant hero. Stacker (Idris Elba) very much comes off as the man in charge with the weight of the world on his shoulders, blended with a bit of R Lee Ermy wisecracking blended in. This isn't to say that the characters didn't have any depth to them, or any sort of back story (of which a plethora of them do have that unfolds over the course of the movie in some cases), but rather just to say that a healthy dose or respect is given towards those archetypal rolls that some folks very well might recognize and ten associate with.
While talking about characters, it would be a shame for me to not mention the Jaegers themselves. While they may not be sentient, through sheer design alone they become characters on their own standings, with tinier more talkative characters inside of them. Each Jaeger is graced with its own unique appearance, from Cherno Alpha's lumbering frame and massive energy plant head very reminiscent of the Chernobyl reactor stacks the we so often associate with nuclear energy in modern times, to the Gipsy Danger that through silhouette is a bit like that of a football player melded with military tech (note the above picture). Each unit has it's own special maneuvers and weapons, from the giant electric charged Tesla-fists of Cherno to the "Thundercloud Formation" of three arms and whirring blades of the Crimson Typhoon, it's pretty hard to mistake them in action for being a different one. That being said, having been through the circuit of giant robots for so long, you do start noticing some typifying here as well - for instance, Cherno being a slow but heavy hitting bruiser, The Striker Eureka being the quick and nimble type, and the Crimson Typhoon feeling much like a monster-of-the-week star, with its three pilots and fancy hidden features.
Of course, it we are talking characters, we have to talk about the Kaiju as well. Although they do not have any understandable spoken lines, each also features a very distinct uniqueness from its otherwise incredibly similar relatives. Some of those said features even develop into the nick-name of the creatures, with Kaiju such as Daggerhead or Axehead finding that how their heads look leads to their names. Others, such as Leatherback, are noticeably familiar while still being alien with the particular case of Leatherback resembling a giant gorilla in how it moves, fights, and looks. Then we have magnificent creatures such as Otachi housing so many surprises I wouldn't want to ruin them for anyone!
The soundtrack is also pulled off incredibly well. Although it seems pretty standard fare as far as movie soundtracks might go, the way the music changes themes for each of the main Jaegers and situations is wonderfully played, seeming almost as though it decided to become a polar opposite of what it was just playing. I was lucky enough to get one of the songs for free thanks to an online ordering of my ticket (by free, I mean I payed a two dollar convenience fee that happened to get me a song) that ended up being the Gipsy Danger's theme song. While the movie is rolling, it blends in incredibly well, never overriding the other audible sections but still maintaining its presence to let you know exactly what kind of mood you should be in. Quite frankly, as far as largely orchestral scores goes, this one feels to just knock it out of the park in scale. In case I forgot top mention it, there are also a ton of fun little subtle cues in the music selection to pick up on -such as little flavorings of Hong Kong, or national touches to the Jaeger themes.
Lines here are delivered pretty well, although at times the lines themselves can be found to be a bit lacking in comparison to the rest of the movie. This is fine by me, as it doesn't feel as though the movie is any the worse for it, and in fact reminds me of a lot of the other show's of the genre I have watched across the years. I do feel the need to point it out though, for those that might be bothered by it at the times it does happen. There is also a bit of subtitling here, as particularly Japanese and Chinese gets spoken throughout the movie. Even with the accents (appropriate for characters nationality even), it should be relatively easy for everyone to pick up and understand what happens to be being said.
I don't know everything there is to know when it comes to digital effects, or computer graphics. I've been playing video games for years, watching animated cartoons and movies ranging from Ninja Turtles to Pixar affairs, enjoyed claymation in movies and shows, and even have had the pleasure of seeing films back when rotoscoping was a big thing. Now, the reason I'm telling you this is because I want you to understand two things before I say this next part: the first is that I enjoy a wide breadth of "special effects' graphically, and the second is that I am no more knowledgeable about how they get made then the average movie fan. As far as computer generated graphics go, this is by far one of the most impressive uses I have ever seen. You believe that there is a lot of CG getting used, but you feel like it's a bunch of guys in suits (as far as the Kaiju go). Everything has such attention to detail, down to movements, that it just feels like it's real. Couple in the 3D (which is what I saw it in), and you might as well be a little kid watching Godzilla for the first time before you turned into a giant monster fan.
The film is a bit violent, but at the same time it helps circumvent some of this violence by a subtle yet awesome change in the Kaiju themselves: their blood is phosphorescent. The wonderfully neon-glow color does seem to change from particular Kaiju to Kaiju, but on average its a wonderful blue color. Of course, damage to robots isn't as jarring, as its all mechanics pieces and sparks, and rarely any actual violent onscreen deaths of any of the human cast, not to say that theres no humans dying in the movie like its the Earth steamrolling the invaders, it's just they don't get murdered to pieces while the camera is showing them. As a final note on the 3D of the movie, some people have complained that due to rain being "so 3D" that they had a hard time concentrating on the movie, preferring the 2D experience instead. I didn't have this issue, but feel you should be aware of it anyways.
"So for the general audience," you ask, "should we go and see this movie?" If you like action movies, the answer is yes. If you like giant robots or giant monsters (as most men should, particularly in the younger years as boys) then you shouldn't be wasting your time reading this, because you probably already saw it or are seeing it. If you want to see an absolute spectacle for the eyes, and a stunning example of why screens should be made as large as 3D IMAX screens, then willingly sacrifice your money for on of the best times you will probably have this year. If you haven't caught on, I personally feel that everyone should see this movie - if not now, in theaters, than later on when it finally comes out on DVD. Seeing the reactions of people around me leaving that movie, I know there's something more to this film than just me liking giant robots, geeking out over seemingly stupid references like Rocket-fists. More so than any movie I have seen in a long time, this movie is made to be pure overloading entertainment. It has emotional parts, even though some might shrug them off as lame, it has a pretty well thought out plot for something that seems so simply straight forward, and some of the characters are very well fleshed out considering everything else that goes on.
Finally, I'm going to get into a bit of a nerdy stint. This is going to be spoiler blocked out, so you can pretty much ignore it on a couple of conditions: you haven't seen the movie yet (what's wrong with you?), you aren't a big or casual fan of the genre known as Mecha, or you have already gotten everything you wanted out of this review.
Before it came out, a lot of folks in the cirlces I trend were talking about how similar this movie was/will be to a relatively popular mech show named Neon Genesis Evangelion. This is a bit silly, and I believe it's mostly attributed to a few details as well as predominatly the slogan "To defeat monsters, we made monsters."In NGE, the mech units are actually made from the creatures they are deisgned to destroy, which for Pacific Rim isn't the case, as the Jaegers are completely machine. The only remaining point of comparison lies in way with which the Jaegers are controller - through its nueral interface between the pilots. While it is true that the Eva units in NGE require a synchornization of the pilot and the mech, it is much more specifc in NGE, literally having it so only specific pilots (as far as I recall one per unit) could actually synchronize with the unit. Pacific rim is much more akin to the system used in the Escaflowne movie, in which the movements are tied more into the pilots body movements, with the neural link serving as a more unique way of offering feedback from the machine itself.
There is also a moment later on that some nit-picky folks may complain about, in which the Gipsy Danger employs a pretty sweet arm blade known as a "chain sword." What they will then complain about is the lack of its use previously, as opposed to just punching Kaiju all the time, as well as the fact that the pilot Raliegh doesn't know about it when his copilot (who he is drifted with, giving him access to her memories) does know about it. Case in point here, it is explained very early on that the Kaiju seem to adapt over time to the tactics and forces the Jaeger squads use. Saving something like a slicing implement until you absolutely need it for that reason seems a great idea, as the last thing you want is for ALL of your attacks to be defeated by your enemy. As for Raliegh not knowing of it's presence, it could easily have been fitted during restoration of the Gipsy without him being told, as he states earlier on that when drifting you should NOT attach yourself to the memories of your partner, else the entire system breaks down.
Last thing, I just want to express that I love this movie, and it gave me everything I expected from it and more. If you could have seen the smile on my face when "Rocket Punch" was actually said on screen, you would have thought I was a 5 year old in a candy store. I will eagerly await the DVD release of this movie, and in the meantime, might even go about trying to replicate the pilot suits of the Russian Cherno for a costume at some point.