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Pacific Rim: Guillermo Del Toro’s Vision Gives Us More To See

It’s not about having a cool idea.

Despite what your inner child might scream at you, a movie is not automatically terrific just because it has building-sized monsters fighting building-sized robots. If a cool idea was all it took, Cowboys vs. Aliens would’ve been one hell of a blockbuster. No, it takes having the imagination to see that good idea through, to take it to the ends of the earth– and in Pacific Rim’s case, farther. Guillermo Del Toro’s epic-scale bashfest takes us to the bottom of the ocean, inside the human brain, into outer space, through streets of various countries, and even towards other dimensions. Its characters may be rote, but its world is anything but. Pacific Rim seems to suggest Del Toro locked himself in a room with the usual big-budget studio fare and found himself face-to-face with the mother of invention, necessity herself. He makes a statement here, much like Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy: if we’re entering an age in which budgets will balloon to the size of the national budget of small countries, then you will see every goddamn dollar on that screen, with a bigger scale than you’ve ever seen. He succeeded: Pacific Rim is bigger than any film I’ve ever seen. Not just bigger, but bolder than most. Better than most too.

We begin with a colorful crash course into the world of the film: Kaijus (gesundheit!) are giant beasts that have begun to emerge from a portal between dimensions located under the sea. When I say giant, I mean that the tip of a Kaiju’s tongue could crush a car, and it can put its hand through our strongest buildings like a hot knife through butter. In order to stop the Kaijus, the world has teamed together to form the Jaeger program: giant robots designed to fight the Kaijus and minimize bloodshed, piloted by two compatible humans whose minds are melded in a “neural handshake.” The Kaijus arrive months apart, the Jaegers win, and the pilots of the Jaegers become rock stars… until the Kaijus’ rate of arrival begins to exponentially increase, the Jaegers grow increasingly less productive, and the world wonders whether the Jaeger program is the most effective means of protecting humanity.

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is one such Jaeger pilot, who after a tragedy finds himself reluctant to continue on in the program. However, with the world turning from the Jaeger program, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) turns to him in the hour of need. All of the characters are lovingly if simply sketched from the grand traditions of action and science fiction: we have the character hellbent on revenge (Rinko Kikuchi), the asshole cocky fly boy (Robert Kazinsky), the father who doesn’t tell his son he loves him (Max Martini), not one but two eccentric scientist nerds (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), and the untrustworthy hambone sleazeball (Ron Perlman, thank God). None of these characters are hall of famers, but each dutifully fills both the film’s plot and heart. They may not be blazingly original– or terribly original at all– but the affection Del Toro and the writer Travis Beacham have for these archetypes seeps through every pore.

Besides, much like the Jaegers save the world in its moments of need, any time the film threatens to slow down or grow dull, Del Toro throws onto the screen the biggest action sequences I have ever seen in all my life. There is a lengthy sequence in Hong Kong that surely belongs in the annals of action history as some of the giddiest, most imaginative, and most awesome action ever created. I was afraid when the Jaegers seemed to be primarily deployed at night, yet Del Toro’s screen is consistently filled with radiant color and light– the most colorful nighttime action I’ve ever seen. Just when you think you’ve figured out exactly how the action will resolve itself, or what precisely a Kaiju or Jaeger will do to get back into the fight, Del Toro unleashes a new surprise. The film’s build is pleasant and impressive enough on its own, but Pacific Rim absolutely hits full-blown shit-eating-grin mode once the Hong Kong sequence takes place. I usually detest people who applaud and cheer after action sequences. I might’ve joined in this time around… were I not busy wiping away the tears welling up in my eyes.

To make Del Toro’s degree of difficulty even higher, he puts the Hong Kong sequence in the middle of the film. I began to feel slight pangs of sadness, with the knowledge that the film couldn’t possibly top that, and thus would be doomed to end in disappointment. However, Del Toro pulls out of nowhere (perhaps another dimension) a satisfying finale, complete with at least one twist that I’d prayed for but wasn’t sure would come to fruition. Of course it did. Everything did. Every time I thought of a place I really hoped the film would go, Del Toro would take it there. I don’t know why I ever doubt Del Toro at all. Imagination is his forte. The Kaijus are everything American Godzilla attempts have ever wanted to be. The Jaegers are everything the Transformers have ever wanted to be. Del Toro gives us both in the same film. Why can’t all cool high-concept ideas be executed with such grace and inventiveness? In a world where every big-budget film is treated with the affection and care and bold strokes Del Toro uses in Pacific Rim, no one would ever gripe about “the death of cinema”– they’d likely be demanding their filmmakers be given bigger budgets.

Thinking about this film, I was reminded of a Steven Sondheim lyric from his masterpiece Sunday In The Park With George:

“Anything you do, let it come from you… then it will be new. Give us more to see.”

Del Toro takes things we’ve seen before and brings the flavor of his own personality to make them feel fresh and exciting. He gives us more to see.

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~ by russellhainline on July 12, 2013.

3 Responses to “Pacific Rim: Guillermo Del Toro’s Vision Gives Us More To See”

  1. Reblogged this on benedict nium blog and commented:
    innovations

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  3. Pacific Rim was a visual party, no doubt about that. I love it when a movie can get your attention just by amazing visuals. The technical depth that the action scenes carry with them is mind-blowing and deserve all kind of admiration. Del Toro really made that work. For me, however, the movie was a bit too dark for too long. I’m not sure why, but I hoped for a monter attack on a place like Cairo, where a battle would take place in the desert.

    But I really enjoyed the movie. Sure, not very flexible and deep characters but did you really expect that? Amazing action flick that takes the genre to new highs (or depths?)

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