The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Pacific Rim

Kaiju is a Japanese word meaning “giant monster.” It is most frequently associated with a genre of film that features such creatures attacking major cities and/or other creatures. Godzilla is the most famous example of a kaiju, as are the many foes he battled in his movies. Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy) pays tribute to the concept in Pacific Rim, an action extravaganza of the highest order. This film invents new forms of awesomeness to spice up a well-established genre.

The story takes place in the near future. Enormous creatures have risen from the sea to wage war against mankind. To fight back, humans build massive combat robots, called Jaegers, that are taller than skyscrapers. It takes two people to operate one of them, and the robots are powered by a psychic melding of the minds known as “the drift.” Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) plays Raleigh Becket, an ace operator of the mechanical beings, who is called back into action when the kaiju break through security walls that have been erected to keep the population safe. While at the command center in Hong Kong, Raleigh meets a young Japanese woman named Mako Mori (played by Babel's Rinko Kikuchi) with whom he is intensely drift-compatible. This could provide a powerful advantage; however, the leader of the Jaeger forces, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), won't let Mako anywhere near one of the robots. As the kaiju threat becomes more dire, the battle against them intensifies to the point where Stacker has to rethink his strategy.

Plot and characterization in Pacific Rim are pretty basic, but that's okay because that's how they are in the films that inspired this one. Getting too complicated would almost be a betrayal of the style. What counts is that each character gets a small bit of motivation that makes us root for them once inside the Jaegers. (Raleigh wants to avenge the death of his brother, who was killed by a kaiju, for instance.) The idea of people melding their minds is perhaps the most original idea, and it fuels the first hour of Pacific Rim, as Raleigh and Mako come to recognize their bond. By the time they suit up together, it's clear that they are a power match. And we're completely in their corner.

It has been said that every great action movie has a money shot, a moment so thrilling that it makes the viewer fall madly, passionately in love with it. Pacific Rim is filled with money shots. Guillermo del Toro does a very risky thing that pays off: he shoots most of the kaiju-versus-Jaeger scenes in close-up. Under some circumstances, that could have been fatal, but here, it gives the sensation of being right up against these mammoth beings; you almost feel as though you're riding on the shoulder of the robots, and that's tremendously exciting. Giving the fights a neon-colored look adds to their effectiveness, as it creates an otherworldly, atmospheric glow. Even the staging is impressive. The director has kaiju jump out where you don't expect them to, and the use of individually-tailored attacks (like spewing acid) makes each one interestingly unique. I found myself sporting a big, stupid grin each time a new monster made its entrance.

While the battles involve massive creatures and robots smashing, bashing, and crashing into each other, Pacific Rim works on a whole other level at the same time. Yes, it's a great ride, but it's also a loving tribute to an entire genre of cinema. Although he avoids replicating any kaiju that have come before, del Toro has obviously embraced the creative spirit of the format. He takes an idea that has been done for decades and applies modern CGI technology to amp it up several notches. (No more guys in rubber suits stepping on plastic buildings!) The director's love for kaiju flicks shines through in every frame, from the creature design to the construction of the battles. Even if del Toro hadn't given an onscreen dedication to famed monster creator Ray Harryhausen and noted Japanese creature-feature director Ishiro Honda, it would have been obvious that their legacies infuse the spirit of Pacific Rim.

When I remember the summer of 2013, this is the movie I'll think of. No, it's not technically perfect, but it is perfectly fun. The special effects are great and the action is exciting. The comic relief – Charlie Day as a tattooed kaiju-studying scientist and Ron Perlman as a guy who sells kaiju parts on the black market – made me laugh. The entire visual scheme of the film is endlessly inviting to look at. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable two hours. Pacific Rim is a first-rate sci-fi adventure that made me feel all giddy inside.

( out of four)

Pacific Rim is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language. The running time is 2 hours and 11 minutes.

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