Friday, July 26, 2013

Pacific Rim: Del Toro's Monster Mash

Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be a master of fantasy films with well-received productions like The Devils' BackboneHellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth. Now he tackles the monster movie genre with Pacific Rim. It’s the near future, and monsters have emerged from a rift beneath the ocean, attacking cities across the world. To stop the destruction and defeat the monsters, Earth’s countries band together and build robots called Jaegers to fight the creatures. Each machine requires two pilots, telepathically linked, to operate the robot. For a while, the program is successful. But increasing numbers of monsters are emerging from the rift and it seems we can no longer keep them at bay.

The Jaeger program is going to be shut down in favor of building a wall to contain the creatures. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) the commander of the Jaeger forces, argues against this plan; he wants to make a final all-out assault on the creatures, and try to close the rift. He brings back top pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy) who lost his brother fighting the monsters, to help. As Pentecost marshals his forces, more facts about the creatures come to light, thanks to a couple of scientists working on the project. Will the tough as nails pilots be able to get along and work together to fight the monsters? Will Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) Pentecost’s protégé, be Becket’s new co-pilot? And what does the fact that larger numbers of monsters are coming through the rift mean?

There’s not much new or groundbreaking in the characters, which are what you’d expect in this kind of film. There are Saturday matinee and drive-in archetypes at work here, but the actors are good, and the film has more of a human element than most stories of this type. Elba, best known for the BBC series Luther, is very good, as is Ron Perlman (a Del Toro regular) who portrays a dealer who sells monster parts on the black market. There are a couple of inventive twists, and Del Toro’s penchant for combining and mashing up genres is fully in evidence. There are elements of fighter pilot movies, monster films, and end of the world sci-fi flicks all mixed together. You’re not seeing a movie like this for world class drama, but it delivers on what it promises.

If you’re a Japanese monster fan, there are a couple of intense battle sequences that will delight and amaze you. Del Toro and his crew neatly capture the feel, look & style of Japanese creature films, especially those released in the 60s and 70s. The monster designs pay homage to the ones we saw as kids when those flicks aired on Saturday afternoon or late-night TV. The only thing missing is that the creatures don’t quite have the distinct personalities of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and friends, But they’re all big, nasty (and still quite impressive) creatures. If you let the ten-year-old monster fan inside you out to play while watching the film, you’ll have a good time. Pacific Rim is currently in theaters: I saw the film in 2D, but it's also being screened in 3D and IMAX versions; here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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