Cancelling the Apocalypse! – Pacific Rim Review

So. I saw Pacific Rim yesterday, and felt the need to write something about it. Obviously I’m not a professional critic, so I guess this might be a little rough, but honestly some of the reviews I’ve been seeing from the professional critics have annoyed me. I don’t care if they don’t like the movie, that’s their right, but some of them are showing that they’ve clearly got no idea what the movie was trying to accomplish. Saying that it owes its existence to Michael Bay’s Transformers is a bloody joke, especially given the fact that the movie is clearly intended as a way to introduce a new generation to the concept of Kaiju and giant robot films. There were a number of other inaccuracies, but I can’t really be bothered with them now beyond pointing out that things like this are why I rarely bother with reviews by professional critics before seeing a movie. I normally find reviews by average viewers to be of much more use, since I’m more likely to be judging a movie on similar criteria to them.

Hence why I’ve decided to review this in the hopes that it helps some people decide whether or not to watch it. First though, let’s make something clear. This is a movie review, so this could quite conceivably be considered to be spoilerific. You have been warned, and you read on at your own risk. That said, I have done my absolute best to avoid things I would consider to be spoilers. Pretty much all of the plot info in here is stuff you’d get from watching the trailer. Now then, let’s get into it…

Can't help but feel a little national pride when I see that the Aussie Jaeger made the cut for the film

I felt a little national pride when I saw that the Aussie Jaeger actually made it into the film…

What is Pacific Rim?

Let’s assume you’ve been living under a rock, or just don’t pay any attention to movie trailers. Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, and his love letter to the Kaiju and Mecha genres of film and anime. The premise is simple. Enormous alien creatures, known as Kaiju* are coming through a rift on the ocean floor, and stomping all kinds of hell out of mankind. In order to fight these Kaiju, giant humanoid robots called Jaegers** are created, and piloted by teams of pilots specially selected to be compatible with each other. That’s all I’ll say here in the interests of not spoiling anything. Honestly, I’d recommend just going and checking out the trailer here if you want to get a feel for it.

* A quick note on the term kaiju. Kaiju is Japanese for strange creature, though the film, as with most western media, translates it as giant creature/monster. The proper term for that would be daikaiju, which literally translates as giant strange creature. Godzilla is an example of a creature that is technically a daikaiju.

** German for hunter. Seems like a logical choice really.

My opinion and recommendation on the film

Visuals: Stunning. Everything in this movie was absolutely gorgeous, from the industrialised designs of the Jaegers (each of which was designed to be evocative of their country of origin) to the organic engines of destruction that are the Kaiju. What I particularly liked about the Kaiju was that, despite the fact that they are all incredibly varied, unique creatures, they still had some visual cues that suggested there was some relation between them. I also loved the fact that the kaiju have a very Cthulhu Mythos-esque vibe to them with their designs. In terms of environment, the depiction of a world feeling the effects of years of war with alien monsters is brilliant. The cities and facilities look worn and rundown, there’s damage from previous fights, and everything revolves around this struggle for survival. The fight scenes are amazingly well done, and although some critics are saying they had trouble keeping track of what was happening due to them mainly occurring at night, I didn’t find that to be a problem at all. I thought the whole thing was beautiful from start to finish. There is one action sequence in particular (not involving the Jaegers/Kaiju) that has simply astounding choreography.

Sound: The score for this movie is, in a word, epic. The booming bass, the dramatic flares of music at the perfect moments. It all comes together in such a way that it elevates the action to a whole new level, without distracting from it. The score was done by Ramin Djawadi, who also handles music for Game of Thrones (back in the day he also worked on System Shock 2).

Story: Personally I felt the story was really well realised. Yes, it was a simple story. There wasn’t a need for complication. It’s well told, well acted, and does what it needed to do extremely well. Despite what the critics are saying, I thought the story had a lot of warmth to it. As del Toro has said in interviews, he was trying to get a message across, that humanity is at it’s best when working together, and I think they succeeded admirably. I’d also like to express admiration for the fact that they managed to show real emotional intimacy and connection between the leads WITHOUT resorting to a sex scene (props for also avoiding showing Rinko Kikuchi off as obvious T&A like Megan Fox or Alice Eve in the Transformers films). I don’t have a problem with sex appeal in movies at all, but lately I feel that studios have started almost pushing it as required. Similarly, they avoided the trap that I feel the Transformers films have fell into, where they seem to have two separate elements in the form of the transformers themselves and the human characters, which never quite mesh. Pacific Rim managed to bring the human side of things and the robot/monster brawling together and make them part of the same package.

Casting: I enjoyed the performances of all the cast, and felt that Rinko Kikuchi (as Mako Mori) and Charlie Hunnam (as Rahleigh Beckett) had excellent chemistry as the lead characters. Idris Elba played a perfect world weary commanding officer/father figure (though given that we’re talking about Idris Elba, I’d expect no less). For the lighter side of things, Ron Perlman was a gloriously over the top character who stole the show in his scenes (in the best way possible), while Charlie Day (Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (best known as Owen Harper in Torchwood) made up a delightful duo as the polar opposite research staff. Day’s xenobiologist role was incredibly energetic, outgoing and larger than life, while Gorman’s stuffy, reserved tweed wearing theoretical mathematician was the perfect offset for him. In spite of the hilariously over the top Australian accents they put on for it, I also loved Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky as Herc and Chuck Hansen, the father and son team that pilot the Australian Jaeger. Ellen McLain also deserves a shout out here, having voiced the AI for the Jaegers. She also voiced GLaDOS in Portal and Portal 2, and originally they were using the GLaDOS filter for her lines in Pacific Rim (you can hear this in the trailer linked above). They ended up making a new filter that scaled back the digitisation of her voice a little bit. It’s still recognisable as GLaDOS in the final film though, and it certainly made me smile.

Criticisms: If I have one criticism for Pacific Rim, it’s this. I’d have liked to have seen more Jaegers, and have more screen time with some of the ones they did show. But I understand that they have limited time, and the needs of the story required that some of them be focussed on in particular. And seriously, given that my biggest criticism is “this movie had plenty of unbelievably awesome giant robots and fight scenes, I just wish there had been even more giant robots”, I think they’re doing pretty bloody well.

Personal Thoughts: As I’m sure you gathered from what has been said above, I loved Pacific Rim. I fully intend on seeing a further two or three times at the cinemas, and will be buying it on Blu-ray the day it’s released. I think it’s a film that any sci-fi fan can enjoy, whether or not they grew up with kaiju and mecha films/anime/tv, and it’s suitable for the kids (depending on the child of course). It’s big, it’s loud, it’s entertaining, and all things said, it’s just brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough.

On a personal note, as someone who did grow up watching Godzilla and other kaiju movies, along with a lot of mecha anime (from the old Tetsujin 28-go and Getter Robo series through to newer stuff like the Gundam Universe stuff and Neon Genesis Evangelion), this movie actually created some really strong emotional responses from me. I spent most of the movie squealing and laughing in delight, hands clapped to the side of my face in joy. Jimbles can attest to this, given that he was sitting next to me at the time. There’s really only one way I can describe what this movie did for me, and I think it gives the biggest recommendation of all…

I felt like I was a child again, sitting down with my uncle to watch anime series like Tekkaman Blade and the Robotech Saga for the first time. Anything that can take me back to those memories, which are some of the happiest times I can remember, immediately earns my undying love and devotion.

I was talking with Jimbles about this afterwards, and trying to think of RPGs that emulate this sort of combat. The closest I could think of was CthulhuTech, which does have a very different feel but shares some themes, such as invasions of alien beasts, monsters rising from the deep (though in this case it’s the Esoteric Order of Dagon and their Deep One servants in search of Cthulhu’s sunken city of R’yleh) and mech warriors. It also includes humans that bond with alien symbiotes that form battle exoskeletons when needed, funnily enough these characters are referred to as Tagers, whether this word was meant to be a reference to the German word jaeger or not I’m not sure. It’s an interesting system, owing a fair bit to the World of Darkness Story Teller system, but it has some pretty significant differences. Overall I’m not really a fan of it, though I am a big fan of the setting itself.

Final Verdict: 5 Stars. Don’t hesitate. Just go and see it, and let the film drag you on a wild ride as humanity fights to cancel the Apocalypse. Anyway, that’s it from me for now. Take care, and keep the dice rolling ’til next time.

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Written while listening to Blue Stahli, specifically his self-titled album. The songs ULTRAnumb, Metamorphisis, Throw Away and Takedown are some of my absolute favourite industrial metal/electronica tracks at the moment. Check out the official video for ULTRAnumb here, and have a listen to more of his stuff here.

5 thoughts on “Cancelling the Apocalypse! – Pacific Rim Review

  1. Saw Rim on Friday night, gotta agree Ron Perlman did a great job and grabbed more than his share of the limelight with very little screen-time. The Jaegers were suitably impressive with a real gritty “slabs of metal” feel without looking run down. I was a bit disappointed with some of the acting, and the overdone Aussie accents grate (sounds like an Aussie’s eaten a Kiwi who had a head-cold) but I was entertained.
    Verdict: Visually Stunning, but will disappear to cult-land in double time.

    • I’m hopeful that it will end up being more than a cult film. I’d love for this kind of film to start getting some more love from mainstream Western audiences. As much as some of the reviews have been irritating me, most of them have still been very positive, and it’s been getting some really good press. So we could get lucky.

      Out of curiosity, who’s acting were you disappointed with? For the most part I really enjoyed the acting, no one struck me as being particularly badly cast. I also actually found the “Australian” accents to be vastly amusing, I love the fact that apparently our actual accent doesn’t sound Aussie enough for American audiences. Though it can definitely be taken too far (see Pippa Black in Outsourced, which in her case is made even worse by the fact that she IS Australian, and was clearly told to ham it up).

      Did you see it in 2D or 3D? I’ve only seen it in 2D so far, going to try and see it in 3D next so I can see how it compares.

  2. I saw the movie in 3D early on Friday afternoon, NZT, and I agree with everything your review says. Hell, this is the kind of review I wish the ‘professionals’ would come up with, but they’re too busy being art-snobs and looking for ‘complexity’ and ‘nuance’ in what’s meant to be an exercise in *fun*. (The accents were really noticeable to me as a Kiwi, too, but I love Max Martini’s work no matter what he’s in, so I give that a pass.)
    I’m going to see it again as soon as I can organise another day off. Maybe twice in one day. I just hope there’s more than nine people in the theatre this time – I get the impression that actually having a shared audience experience will add a great deal to repeat viewings. :S

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed it 🙂 I think the biggest problem with professional reviewers is that often, they’re asked to review movies that they are never going to enjoy. Peter Bradshaw with The Guardian is a really good example. It’s rare that anything other than a drama, art-house film or documentary gets a positive review from him, and he obviously dislikes action packed sci-fi movies… so why would I want to get his opinion on something like Pacific Rim? The argument I’ve heard against this idea is that a sci-fi fan is always going to rate sci-fi films well, but I’m calling bulls#%& on that. If anything they’re likely to be in a better position to judge the films, as they’re going to be familiar with other films in the genre and better able to determine what is original, inventive, and well produced. They’re going to have a much stronger idea of what other fans of the genre are going to enjoy as well.

      I’m planning on starting to drag friends and family to see this as soon as possible. I always enjoy introducing people to movies that I know they’ll enjoy, it adds a whole new element of fun to it for me. If my parents actually make it to Canberra to visit next weekend, I’ll be taking my father to see it. It’ll be the first movie we’ve seen together at the cinemas since Return of the King if I remember correctly. In terms of shared audience experience, I’ll definitely agree that it can really make a movie more exciting. The one problem I had with the matinee screening I went to was that parents were taking children who were simply too young to see it (we’re talking toddlers). That much noise and violence just upset some of them. Sadly this seems to be a trend, when I saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra at the cinema there were hordes of children around kindergarten age there. I’ll never forget the wails of despair when Optimus Prime got torn apart…

      Anyway, thanks for your feedback, and I’m glad you enjoyed the review. I’m planning on starting to make reviews a regular feature of the blog, though not just for movies. I’ll be reviewing comics, books, anime and all kinds of stuff, as long as I can find some connection to gaming to bring it back to. And of course I’ll be reviewing and playtesting RPG systems and supplements.

  3. Pingback: Kaiju, Mutants and Robots Oh My! – Godzilla & X-Men: Days of Future Past Reviews | The Grassy Gnoll

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