By mid July the summer movie season begins its final stretch. It can be a very long stretch of movies that feel to much like the other blockbusters they’ve watched the past two months. I totally get it. I enjoy the Summer movie season but it does get slightly repetitive. The movies that end up sticking out in this final stretch are the original and unique ones. Enter Guillermo Del Toro: A visionary storyteller. Then add a story about Monsters vs. Robots. That’s the movie that will shake things up. Pacific Rim delves into mythology filled science fiction driven by battles of monsters and robots. It’s.. fun.
Pans Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo Del Toro, is perhaps the greatest fantasy film as well as one of my all time favorite movies. In Pacific Rim, Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) stars as Raleigh Becket. We come to learn that Kaiju (monsters) have entered our world through a portal. As the Kaiju attacked our cities and started to exterminate us, humanity began to fight back. To fight monsters, we created monsters. This is where the Jaeger program comes in (Robots). Beckett is called back into duty after an accident in battle that left him emotionally scarred for years. The Kaiju have begun to evolve and grow stronger. Raleigh Beckett joins the Jaeger program again for one final battle.
The selling point is the world building and mythology in this story. It’s clearly based off of Gundam and Anime, which gives the movie a vibrant neon feel. It takes you into this world and it’s childish fun. Watching this is like reading a graphic novel that explodes off the screen. The characters over the top style that makes this movie feel like a cartoon. Names like Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) give you a good idea about what his world is.
While visually unique and sensory, it’s half baked in its story. I think a bit more originality could have brought this to a new level. Charlie Hunnam’s acting is sufficient for this vision created by Guillermo Del Toro, but it doesn’t allow us to get invested in characters. The quirky way about them is obviously based off of anime type characters but their interactions feel like surface value. Raleigh Beckett is just your average hero and it would’ve been nice to see that character develop more. Charlie Day as a scientist delivers laughs and humor along the way, but that’s hardly something you can hinge a story on. Ron Perlman’s minor character Hannibal Chau steals the show as a Kaiju black market owner.
I get that they’re going for the Japanese anime characters and it’s fun for a while but rarely does it feel that they nailed the cartoonish tone. The movie does slightly delve into some concepts that briefly allow depth, such as mind melding. The Jaegers need to be co-piloted because it’s too much for one person to control. The mind melding allows for two pilots to meld their minds together and see each others thoughts, thus allowing for total control of the robots. The better bond you have, the better you fight. A theme I felt could’ve been explored far greater and built a more emotional story.
It’s a fascinating idea that isn’t delved into with the characters. Raleigh Beckett and Mako Mori (Rinko Kukuchi) are the two pilots for a Jaeger called Gypsy Danger (the movies full of awesome names like this). Arguably the film’s best scene involves Raleigh entering a memory of Mako’s that sheds some light on her character. A scene like this that stands out because it has layers to it. We learn about her character and Beckets as well almost all visually while the scene is also delivering exposition and building theme. Stuff like this fleeting here but at least it’s there. It’s a central plot point and I just wanted more of it to flesh out the characters. The script lacks drama and conflict between central characters and instead is more interested in visuals and concepts.
Overall, mostly what we’re given is a lot of fun cheesy dialogue that feels somewhat like it’s just filling the spaces between fights. It’s certainly nowhere near bad, but overall it’s not that engaging and the movie becomes flat. The human story ends up below average and is largely overshadowed by monster fights. However, it’s pretty easy to be overshadowed because there is a portion of this movie that is probably why you want to see it. Robots vs. Monsters!
Guillermo Del Toro is really the star of the movie. He creates such vibrant and beautifully looking movies. The action scenes fill the screen with neon colors. The scope of these battles are giant but it’s all easy to comprehend. The battles are quite impressive from a special effects standpoint. They get bigger and bigger in scope and story every time. Each new battle adds another element such as a new problem or new weapon. The Kaiju are each distinct in design and skill just like the Jaegers. Del Toro has a solid handle on making these fights giant in scope, yet still keeping them controlled. By that I mean that these are giant creatures battling in huge cities but it still feels like it’s solely concentrated on them. There’s a great balance of close up shots as well as landscapes to capture the size of these humongous creatures.
The level of detail on these creatures is top notch. Even during battles we can small changes caused by the fights. Some of the cinematography throughout looked striking and certain shots could be in a graphic novel on their own. It’s not just the CGI but also the sets and costume design that detailed, which allow for this world to come alive visually. Even the score completely fits the tone of this anime inspired world. It feels like you’re watching a saturday morning cartoon.
There’s just not enough human story allows us to care for the pilots inside. There are a few character moments. Specifically when Idris Elba gives an epic speech, allows us to cheer for these heroes. Oh and please put Elba in more movies. His character is not the lead but at times it feels like he is. Stacker Pentecost is one of the most likable characters and why we can try to care for the good guys. Then of course just watching Jaegers vs. Kaiju battling in the ocean will put a huge smile on your face. It’s these moments that made me feel how this movie is supposed to make you feel… Like a kid. It’s actually just like when you’re playing with action figures in the pool or bathtub and I wonder if that was the intent? I believe it was. Just far too often I found myself saying “ok enough humans, give me more monsters and robots.” And then by the third act I became slightly bored of the fights because they become repetitive and cliche. Whether you get involved in the story and world will be the biggest factor in how much you enjoy this. I was able to separate the two very different sides of the movie, which helped my enjoyment. The Hong Kong action sequence is the best fight. That’s where this movie triumphs. These are some of the best action scenes of the summer. The Gundam roots/inspiration shine through and deliver a vibrant movie with its own unique style.
The movie makes me wanna buy some action figures and slam them together a hundred times like I did when I was a kid. In that sense the movie accomplishes its ambitions. You can tell Guillermo Del Toro made this movie with heart because it’s fully committed to a goal despite it’s flaws. That’s what I want from a movie… just knowing that the filmmaker cares about it and gives you his vision. After all, he’s the guy who made Pan’s Labyrinth, the best fantasy movie of all time. Pacific Rim feels cohesive in ‘its’ tone and mood more so than any other blockbuster this year. It’s script and characters are far inferior, but it sticks to its vision more than others. The characters are all anime inspired which allows for a fun world reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon. If you just wanna see a Monsters vs. Robots then you will have some fun.
This is a tough one to review because it’s so unique and has such a range of qualities within itself. If this is ever on TV I’ll certainly keep watching to see one Monsters vs. Robots fight. That’s probably the best way to sum this movie up. Pacific Rim is a Monsters vs. Robot movie and really that says it all.
I’m going to grade this slightly different than usual because of the ranging qualities.
Overall Grade: B-
B+ for action sequences and effects
C- for story and characters
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