Derek Winnert

Pacific Rim **** (2013, Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day) – Movie Review

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The deservedly admired Guillermo del Toro’s much anticipated sci-fi action adventure focuses on a troubled future world, in another post-apocalypse scenario, where this time alien monsters called Kaiju (Japanese for giant beast) that look remarkably like Godzillas rise from the sea and start a war on humans. To combat this pesky nuisance, our side comes up with massive robots called Jaegers (German for hunters) that look remarkably like Transformers.

So that’s the scenario: giant monsters against giant robots, or Transformers versus Godzillas. Jolly good. Bring it on!

Now these here Jaegers are simultaneously controlled by two pilots whose minds are synched by a neural bridge called The Drift. Don’t ask me why, they just are. Wouldn’t it be just loads easy if one person piloted the damned thing? Yes, but then we couldn’t have this particular little story.

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The movie stars Charlie Hunnam, getting his first real taste of film stardom after years of TV success, beginning many years ago with Queer As Folk. Hunnam looks very well on it, as fit as the proverbial fiddle, his smile as easy as any man should be in his happy position. Well done, Charlie! No, seriously well done, Charlie! Hunnam wisely plays to his strengths, charm, personality, great physique. He’s a convincing action hero and has a good, easy way with the dialogue.

In a pre-credits prologue, Hunnam loses his brother while piloting a Jaeger against a Kaiju, who proves too much for them, just escaping with his own life. He’s a washed-up man, just doing bits and pieces of freelance tough-guy work on the huge wall that tries to keep out the Kaiju.

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So, five years later, on the verge of defeat against the relentless onslaught of the Kaiju, the forces defending mankind, headed by Idris Elba, are forced to recruit Hunnam and reluctantly team him with an untested female rookie (Rinko Kikuchi) to drive a seemingly obsolete Jaeger. They are our only hope, Obi Wan, against the mounting apocalypse. Can they save the day and can they survive till the end of the movie? Big hint: Pacific Rim 2 is in development.

The best things about the movie are (1) Hunnam, Kikuchi and Elba – all class actors working at a high level, (2) the astounding visual effects by John Knoll and James E Price and animation by Hal Hickel, (3) the beautiful cinematography of Guillermo Navarro and (4) the stylish production designs by Andrew Neskoromny and Carol Spier.

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But, to be honest, Travis Beacham’s story and screenplay, co-authored with del Toro, is a bit clunky, cheesy and shallow, staying with its initial set-up too long, not progressing far enough or quickly enough out of the starting gate, and just doing the same things, then more of the same throughout the two-hour running time as Jaegers keep trying to take down Kaiju. And, just banging away with the giant monsters against giant robots idea, good though that is, it feels much more like a video game than a film a lot of the time.

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The characters are interesting enough, or at least could be if they were much better developed. So they end up just being stock caricatures: tough but good-hearted general, plucky but slightly troubled hero, plucky but troubled slightly heroine, bad boy co-fighter with a heart of gold, quirky but brainy boffins, etc, etc.

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Yes, there is plenty of action to please the fans, even if it’s samey, but there’s not enough fun, especially if you don’t go for the erratic comedy relief – there are quite irritating turns by two actors playing boffins, when they’d be pushing their luck with even one. Ron Perlman puts in more or less a guest appearance as the quirky rebel Hannibal Chau: love him as I do, I think it’s all a bit slack. I guess it’s meant to be laid-back and cool, but it misses the mark. It’s what he’s given to do, it’s not Perlman’s fault.

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The film tries to set up an air of mystery around the monsters, but this just means that we never really get to know much about why the Kaiju are attacking or really care that much. Thanks to the three star actors, though, we do care a bit about why they are doing what they’re doing, who Elba is to Kikuchi, can Hunnam get over the death of his brother, turn defeat into victory, that kind of thing.

With a better script than Beacham (Clash of the Titans) can come up with, it would be a much better film. Much more story development and better, wisecracking dialogue would go a long way to making this the movie we hoped it would be. I’m afraid I’d dump Ramin Djawadi’s score, which lacks subtlety and variation.

If it’s a hit, and it surely will be, they’ll go ahead with the sequel. Maybe they can get it right next time. Their mantra should be: more fun, more story, maybe just more.

Pacific Rim 2 is planned for 2017.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Movie Review

Check out more reviews on http://derekwinnert.com

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