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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pacific Rim Movie Review

When handed a pair of those goofy 3D IMAX glasses, I'm always filled with a feeling of dread. Rarely does the technology add value to the movie I'm about to see. If anything, it's annoying, distracting and disappointing - a cheap gimmick bolted on in post-production (hello, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"). However, Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" seems tailor-made for the IMAX experience, and takes every advantage of it to create a truly eye-popping, eardrum-blasting, visceral punch of a summer popcorn movie.

Taking cues from classic Japanese monster and Mecha genres, "Pacific Rim" is an epic battle between giant robots and giant monsters for the very survival of the human race. In the near future, a dimensional rift in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean opens, and giant alien monsters (called "Kaiju" or Giant Beast in Japanese) come through to wreak devastation upon the cities around the Pacific Rim. To stop the Kaiju from destroying all humankind, nations pull together to build 250-foot-tall fighting robots called Jaegers (German for "hunter"). Each Jaeger is controlled by two pilots, acting as the right brain and left brain, connected by a neural link called "The Drift".

The film begins several years into the Kaiju war, which is beginning to take a turn for the worse. Kaijus are coming more frequently through the rift, decimating the Jaeger fleet. Troubled former Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam of "Sons of Anarchy") is re-activated for one last Hail Mary mission to close the rift for good. The mission, led by Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba of "The Wire" - can he be the next James Bond, please?), will use the few remaining Jaeger teams to detonate a nuclear bomb in the rift, hoping to destroy the link between worlds. But before they can carry out their mission, Becket has to earn the trust of his rival Jaeger teams, Pentecost, and his new co-pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi of "Babel").

On the surface, there's not much more to the plot than that. The story and character development is admittedly thin and one-dimensional: the handsome hero who doesn't play by the rules; a talented but raw rookie looking to prove herself; a stern but tough mentor figure; nerdy scientists acting as comic relief. In the hands of another director, this kind of simplicity would just come off as lazy, but del Toro's obvious love of the genre and his own perverse humor and imagination (as evidenced in "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy") make it seem deliberate - an homage to action tropes, if you will. He peppers the film with moments of both twisted humor and sheer terror (not to mention a cameo by del Toro regular Ron Perlman) that will particularly appeal to del Toro's fans.

Where "Pacific Rim" ultimately succeeds (where other films like the "Transformers" series and the "Godzilla" remake fail), is its sense of scale. From the outset, humans are seen as tiny, almost inconsequential in comparison to the 25-story Jaegers and Kaiju. In 3D IMAX, that scale feels almost visceral. Under the direction of effects legend John Knoll, the visual effects from ILM are stunning in detail. That scale also translates emotionally - we humans are tiny, but we will save ourselves through our own giant spirit, ingenuity and will to survive.

But "Pacific Rim" is not meant to be a thinker. It's escapism, pure and simple. It's not perfect. At 132 minutes, it's a bit longer than it needs to be. Also, that lovely epic scale is abandoned near the end for tight and medium shots, making it hard to track what's going on in the fight scenes. But in all, it's a fun, satisfying escape that doesn't take itself too seriously - and neither should you. Grab some popcorn, a pair of goofy glasses and enjoy the ride.

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