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 movies like Hellboy & Pan’s Labyrinth. Now he tackles the kaiju (giant monster) 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 we can’t hold them back.

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 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 begin to 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. We’re talking Saturday matinee & drive-in archetypes here, but the actors are good, and the film has more of a human element than most movies of this type. Elba, best known for the BBC series Luther, is very good, as is Ron Perlman (a Del Toro regular) as dealer who sells monster parts on the black market. There are a couple of twists to the plot, with Del Toro’s penchant for combining & mashing up genres 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 & amaze you. Del Toro and his crew neatly capture the feel, look & style of Japanese monster films, especially those released in the 70s and 80s. The creature designs pay homage to the ones we saw in those flicks on Saturday afternoon or late-night TV when we were growing up. The only thing missing is that the creatures don’t quite have the distinct personalities of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and friends; they’re all kind of big, nasty (though still impressive) creatures. But if you let the ten-year-old monster fan inside you out, you’ll have a good time. Pacific Rim is currently in theaters: I saw the film in 2D, but it's also in release in 3D and IMAX; here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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