Pacific Rim

In the near future, giant monsters from another universe are coming to wreak havoc on Earth through a trans-dimensional portal on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.  At first, conventional military weapons are able to defeat the monsters, called Kaiju, but more creatures, larger and better adapted to take damage come through the portal and soon millions of people around the world are dead.  The governments of the world unite to fight the Kaiju and develop massive humanoid robots called Jaegers.  The Jaegers are piloted by two operators who are connected to each other by a neural bridge, merging the two individuals and the Jaeger into one fighting machine.  Two of these pilots are brothers Raleigh and Yancy Becket (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff).  While fighting a Kaiju off the coast of Alaska, the beast gets the upper hand and severely damages their Jaeger, called Gypsy Danger, and kills Yancy.  Because of their neural connection, Raleigh shares the feelings of his brother’s death.  Traumatized, Raleigh leaves the Jaeger program.  With more Jaegers being defeated by the ever-adapting Kaiju, world leaders decide to shut down the program and divert all their resources to the building of massive sea walls along both sides of the Pacific coast.  They order Jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to move the four remaining robots to a facility called the Shatterdome in Hong Kong where construction on the sea wall hasn’t begun yet, to protect the city.  Raleigh has bummed around in the five years since leaving the Jaeger program and lands a job working on the wall.  Pentecost flies to his location and asks him to come back.  Gypsy Danger has been repaired and he needs Raleigh’s fighting skills.  He’s reluctant to face the risk of losing another pilot to whom he is connected but is convinced to go back when he sees a news report of a Kaiju easily breaking through the wall protecting Australia.  Arriving at the Shatterdome, Raleigh meets Pentecost’s assistant Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and is given a tour of the facility.  He meets the other Jaeger pilots including father/son team Herc and Chuck Hansen (Max Martini and Rob Kazinsky).  Chuck takes an instant dislike to Raleigh and doesn’t hide his feelings, saying Raleigh shouldn’t be there if he’s just going to quit on them again.  Also at the facility is Drs. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman).  Geiszler is a Kaiju biologist while Gottlieb is a mathematician.  The pair argues constantly over their theories about the Kaiju, their goals and when the creatures will begin showing up in pairs instead of one at a time.  Geiszler has a theory he can create a neural bridge with a Kaiju brain similar to that of the pilots.  Gottlieb thinks he’s insane.
 
“Pacific Rim” is the kind of movie you would have killed to see when you were a child.  It is also the film the makers of the “Godzilla” franchise have been trying to produce and failing miserably.  The design of the monsters is both alien and familiar, taking on some characteristics of lizards while also having six legs or a tail with a claw on it or some other such thing.  Some Kaiju have abilities like spitting acid or releasing an electromagnetic pulse.  As more Kaiju come through the rift, they have adapted to what defeated them last time and have new abilities.  The imagination applied to creating these creatures and bringing them to life is what makes “Pacific Rim” different than most other monster movies.  These creatures aren’t just mindless wrecking machines:  They have a purpose and a plan.  Both of these are hinted at as the story progresses and finding out more about their goals is a fun part of the plot.
 
Of course, not matter how good the story might be, if the Kaiju or the Jaegers didn’t look good it would all be for naught.  “Pacific Rim” doesn’t disappoint as both are well executed.  Having the Jaegers look more humanoid is a nice touch that gives these massive machines some personality.  When they are attacked by a Kaiju, you not only worry about the human pilots inside but about the machine itself.  You feel a twinge of sympathy when a Jaeger has an arm ripped off or is dragging a damaged leg.  As the robot throws a punch reminiscent of a boxer or MMA fighter, the audience is willing it to strike its target and inflict as much damage as possible.
 
In some ways, the Jaegers are more lifelike than the human characters and that is the main problem with “Pacific Rim.”  The acting from most of the leads is subpar.  Charlie Hunnam, who you may recognize from his role in the FX show “Sons of Anarchy,” is a dark and sullen character through the majority of the film.  Whether director Guillermo del Toro wanted Raleigh to be a perpetual buzz-kill or that was Hunnam’s choice I don’t know.  Either way, it was a mistake.  After five years of running from his sadness at the loss of his brother, Raleigh should have lightened up a little.  Instead, he has a constant scowl on his face.  The times when things get rough when he returns to the Jaeger program play like an afternoon soap opera.  There are a great deal of smoldering looks and angry exchanges.  I realize this crew is trying to save the world and facing death with every mission but there’s very little let up from the heaviness.  It all begins to sound very one-note as the film goes on.  The only levity comes of the polar opposite characters of the two scientists, Geiszler and Gottlieb.  Their bickering along with their individual styles often leads to a laugh but this is also so jarring is took me out of the story.  Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori is so stereotypically Japanese that it borders on offensive.  From her halting English to her deferential behavior towards Pentecost, it all plays like some throwback performance from an old “Charlie Chan” movie from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  The two dimensional characters of the Hansen pilots are just icing on the cake.  The father’s stoic heroism while his son behaves like a petulant child gets old pretty fast.  It’s pretty easy to predict what will happen to each of these characters and their fates won’t come as much of a surprise.
 
The only actor who shines is Idris Elba.  His Stacker Pentecost literally has the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Elba has the gravity and the range to play the part without turning it into a cartoony football-coach-before-the-big-game role.  His character has numerous layers that get peeled away as the story goes forward and show Pentecost to be not only a stern and disciplined leader, but a caring human being as well.  It’s a part that could have gone horribly wrong but Idris Elba handles it perfectly.  
 
“Pacific Rim” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language.  Most of violence is between the Kaiju and the Jaegers but there are a couple of scenes of battle between people.  None of them are gory and one of them may elicit small cheers as a character receives his comeuppance.  Foul language is very mild and infrequent.
 
“Pacific Rim” cost nearly $200-million to produce but only $38-million domestically in its opening weekend.  It came in third behind “Despicable Me 2” and “Grown Ups 2.”  That strikes me as very sad.  With its original story and spectacular visuals, I expected the film to gross somewhere in the $70-million range.  If audiences keep voting with their pocketbooks for sequels and remakes, Hollywood won’t take a chance on unique projects like “Pacific Rim.”  While some of the performances are weak and the personal storylines are a little thin, the visuals and the action more than make up for those shortcomings.  If any big-budget, special effects film deserves your dollars, it’s this one.
 
“Pacific Rim” gets five guitars.
 
From documentary to horror to animation, this week offers a wide variety of choices.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
20 Feet From Stardom—Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. In his compelling new film 20 Feet From Stardom, award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century.
 
The Conjuring—Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Based on a true story, “The Conjuring” tells the horrifying tale of how world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse.
 
The East—An undercover agent at a private intelligence firm is hired to infiltrate the East, an eco-terrorism cell targeting companies that pollute the environment and finds herself sympathizing with their efforts and falling in love with the group’s leader.
 
RED 2—Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device. To succeed, they’ll need to survive an army of relentless assassins, ruthless terrorists and power-crazed government officials.
 
R.I.P.D.—Veteran sheriff Roy Pulsifer has spent his career with the legendary police force known as R.I.P.D. tracking monstrous spirits who are cleverly disguised as ordinary people. His mission is to arrest and bring to justice a special brand of criminals trying to escape final judgment by hiding among the unsuspecting on Earth.
 
Turbo—Turbo is a speed-obsessed snail with an unusual dream: to become the world's greatest racer. This odd snail gets a chance to leave his slow-paced life behind when a freak accident gives him the power of superspeed. Newly revved-up, Turbo embarks on an extraordinary quest to enter and win the Indianapolis 500.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews and film of his choice in theatres or On Demand.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions or comments should be sent to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.