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Pacific Rim Review: Kaiju Smackdown!
Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro‘s latest movie, a decision which angered some of the director’s fans who hoped to see him at the helm of At the Mountains of Madness. Even though that movie’s been pushed into limbo for the moment, I think people will forgive him once they go and watch Pacific Rim, because there’s a bit of HP Lovecraft in here as well.
Huge monsters called Kaiju are threatening the world from the bottom of the sea. They can die, but it takes a supreme military effort to take them down. The nations of the world band together and build Jaegers, giant robots that could’ve stepped out of any number of sci-fi or anime worlds. While the Jaegers prove effective at putting down the Kaiju, they suffer casualties as well. Probably because they all fight the Kaiju hand to hand, rather than blasting away at them from range with plasma cannons and missiles. But it would be boring if all the Jaegers fought the same way, and they are from different countries and eras, so it kind of makes sense.
But Pacific Rim is more than just monsters and mayhem. There’s a lot of humanity in the story. This isn’t Transformers though – the lives of the people running the Jaegers and fighting the Kaiju don’t ever eclipse the matches between monster and machine. But their problems and struggles are realistic and interesting, nonetheless. Raleigh Becket is our main hero, he’s a Jaeger jockey who quit but Stacker Pentecost drags him back in because there just aren’t that many Jaeger pilots left. He needs a partner to pilot the Jaeger, as the neural connections are too intense for one person to withstand, and that’s where Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) comes in. She has her own reasons for wanting the Kaiju destroyed, though she has to overcome some traumatic experiences to be able to actually help put them down.
Idris Elba is the stand-out performance here as Stacker Pentecost, Jaeger pilot-turned- commander-turned humanity’s last true line of defense against the Kaiju. When he gives the impassioned speech near the end of the film, which is annoyingly featured in the trailers, even the audience will believe that the remaining Jaegers can triumph over the increasingly dangerous Kaiju.
Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) play scientists with conflicting theories on the Kaiju. Their banter is great and they’re definitely the comedic element, though they do play an important part in unraveling the mystery of how the Kaiju function and what’s behind their appearance on earth.
The Kaiju all have distinct looks, some drawing on the old Japanese monster movies for inspiration (the blade-headed foes of Gamera and Godzilla come to mind) but there was a sad lack of multiple-headed creatures like Ghidora and nothing truly strange. Some Kaji have unique attack patterns, but it’s mostly smash, claw and bite, because they can rip Jaegers to pieces effectively just with those.
The looks of the Kaiju vary but there’s really very little color-palette variation; they’re uniformly grey-green with highlights in neon. Against a night background and in the ocean, it’s easy to lose the shape of the Kaiju unless it’s attacking a Jaeger.
It’s the Jaegers that really win for unique looks, though they’re all recognizable variations on the giant robot theme. The Chinese robot is the most unique design, with an extra arm on the right side and spinning blades in each hand. All the colors not found on the Kaiju are in evidence on the Jaegers, which makes me think there’s a design choice at work here, and given the discoveries during Pacific Rim as to what the Kaiju really are, the differences in coloration actually makes sense. Think assembly line versus handcrafted.
The world of Pacific Rim is very well-done and it’s interesting to see how humanity would adapt to having these giant monster incursions all the time. In Hong Kong, they build around and in the ribcage of a fallen Kaiju, which reminded me of the book Perdido Street Station. There’s a black market for Kaiju organs and even their excrement, run by Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) who somehow manages to be stranger in this film than when he’s playing Hellboy.
Pacific Rim is a both a homage to the old Kaiju movies and an update of them. It’ll definitely bring back good memories of watching Godzilla or Gamera crush cities under their rubber feet on TV. And if you’re not, well Pacific Rim is a good place to start.