Minor spoilers ahead!
I‘m going to review both this entry and the follow up we just got. So stay tuned for my thoughts on the sequel. From the trailer I saw, it looks horrible, but we shall see. I saw the original a few years ago, shortly after it first came out, and loved it. Bought the Blu-ray a few months ago and kind of sat on it which actually worked out for this dual review. Also, keep in mind I’ve been watching the Godzilla series from the start, so seeing those helped my appreciation of this film. I had only watched a small few of those when I saw Pacific Rim the first time and definitely not enough to really understand the roots of Kaiju films.
Let’s start this off with cast and crew. Guillermo del Toro directed this, and I have loved quite a few of his films. Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak are probably the two I would say mirror this as far as visuals go. The Hellboy movies are probably similar, but it’s been a long time since I’ve watched them. There are still a few of his I need to see, but as far as Pacific Rim itself goes, I think this is on part with most of his other work. At first glance, a giant monster movie may seem to be a little at odds with something like Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth, or Crimson Peak, but I get the feeling he loves monster movies of all shapes and sizes. So his chance to make something like a Godzilla movie was probably on his bucket list.
The actors I recognize are Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Charlie Hunnam. Each played his role fairly well, but it’s Hunnam’s character I liked the most. He wasn’t your typical bad boy screw up that many other movies have. The character is simply a normal guy who had a brother he could link up within the big Jaeger robots. The robots were too much for a single person to control, so pairs were needed. I like that the character is actually someone you can connect with. Things go wrong in their last mission and Hunnam’s brother gets killed. So his character goes off to work on giant walls to keep the big Kaiju out.
Now, as much as I liked Hunnam in this role, I couldn’t help but feel he was still playing his Sons of Anarchy character. That swagger of a gang member is still present and his facial expressions really made me think of that show. I can’t really say it makes things worse or better though. I would almost say he was typecast as the gang thug, but then again, it worked pretty well to show his determination in fighting the Kaiju.
As far as story, I would point out I recently rewatched Independence Day for the umpteenth time. That’s important because many elements of this movie were lifted right from Independence Day. Aliens are invading to steal our resources. The President’s big speech before the big climactic battle. The sacrifice of one person/craft to destroy a portion of the alien menace, which allows others to continue the mission. Finally, going to visit the aliens in their own ship/world and set off a big nuke while returning safely to a ticker tape parade. I love Independence Day so it’s not a huge knock, but that does take a bit away from my score.
Didn’t you mention a Godzilla movie marathon? I sure did, so let me tell you how this compares to that. Many of the Godzilla entries in that series focus on an alien threat with normal humans working on the problem before the big monster comes along to fight it out and that formula still applies to Pacific Rim. Personally, this fit in nicely with my Godzilla marathon. We get a pretty cool back story on what happened during the first attack and how things progressed over the years before the final conflict. The big difference is that instead of Godzilla being some uncontrolled force, the Jaegers are actually human controlled.
On to the movie proper. The story is your simple alien invasion deal. See Independence Day remarks. What sets this movie apart from Independence Day, is that we’re using giant robots to wage war and actually stand a chance going up against the big, alien monsters. There are some things that happen which do escalate the problem, but the progression felt natural. Independence Day started and went for quite a while with humanity having no hope to survive. Pacific Rim did try to make things feel hopeless, but the movie was a bit more triumphant feeling than I think the creators were going for, so that sense of helplessness against the alien onslaught wasn’t there. At the end of the day though, you just grab some popcorn and enjoy giant things fighting each other.
My favorite thing to complain about in a movie like this is the CGI, and I have to say: I just don’t have any complaints. I know the giant robots and Kaiju are CGI, but they never felt cheap like other CGI-heavy movies are. In fact, this is the kind of movie CGI was made for. There are ports, doors and any number of moving parts on the Jaegars that really add quite a bit of detail compared to something like Mechagodzilla from the last couple Godzilla movies. His was a rubber costume that was pretty cool, but it still looked like someone went to the hardware store and bought whatever looked robot enough. Here, the Kaiju look like nasty reptiles and the Jaegars look like giant mechs of the future.
I would also add that the Kaiju learn and adapt over the course of this movie, too. They’re not just dumb beasts that have the same attack over and over again. There are alien overseers to these Kaiju, but even so, it’s pretty cool to see the enemy adapt a bit.
To close this out, I will say that for being a dumb popcorn film, this was really made with some care. The CGI is built to last. I’m sure it will age as all effects eventually do, but for now, they still look great. The cast and crew do a decent enough job, but the story borrows a bit heavily from other movies. So with all that said, I give this one 4/5 stars. I can see some film purist arguing that the score is too high for a movie like this, but they are not me. I would not go any higher than four stars, but there was enough quality put in that it warrants the score.