Review: Pacific Rim

A damaged Jaeger collapses after a battle in 'Pacific Rim.'

A damaged Jaeger collapses after a battle in ‘Pacific Rim.’

Director Guillermo del Toro clearly never identified with those people who live by the adage ‘less is more.’ His movie Pacific Rim, a sci-fi epic that pits human-powered robots against giant monsters, is as colossal a summer blockbuster as there ever was or ever will be. Del Toro’s greatest directorial challenge is ensuring that it never collapses under its own weight. Miraculously, he pulls it off. Pacific Rim succeeds against all odds; it’s a visually dazzling powerhouse that packs both emotional resonance and an unfailing sense of fun. In a word, it’s awesome. In two words, it’s really awesome.

As towering human-powered robots called Jaegers fight even larger monsters called Kaijus to save humankind from annihilation, the sheer size of Pacific Rim‘s action is jaw-dropping. Even more shocking is how Del Toro miraculously keeps the film’s battle sequences coherent and clear, never losing his footing despite the film’s scale. It’s a testament to his talent that a scene’s action can encompass an entire city without the audience losing track of what’s what.  

Pacific Rim‘s top-notch cast also helps the movie soar, particularly Idris Elba, who’s outstanding as stoic commanding officer Stacker Pentecost. His performance, complete with booming voice, soulful eyes, and surprising emotional depth, demands the audience’s attention. The chemistry between leads Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, two unlikely Jaeger pilots who become humanity’s last hope against the Kaijus, is also terrific. Del Toro staple Ron Perlman shows up to deliver some cheesy but still great lines as larger-than-life black marketeer Hannibal Chau. And Charlie Day nearly steals the show as an energetic scientist studying the monsters, providing laughs and heart in equal measure.

However, the biggest thing that Pacific Rim has going for it is ever-present energy, courtesy of del Toro. This is his ode to the Japanese monster movies of his youth, executed with due reverence, visual gusto and expert aplomb. No matter how large the action gets, del Toro successfully emulates the simple magic of a kid playing with toys in a sandbox, letting the audience bask in that youthful exuberance as well. His boundless enthusiasm for the genre shines through.

Although Pacific Rim‘s action sequences take up a huge chunk of the movie, they never feel drawn out or artificial. One colossal battle in Hong Kong is terrific fun, both exciting and remarkably innovative. A smaller-scale martial arts scene with fighting sticks is just as cool to watch. And the film’s grand finale, a fast and furious fight to the death on the ocean floor, is a thrilling pièce de résistance.

Throughout the film, Del Toro’s confident direction allows the film to take risks with its narrative and cinematography, and those risks pay off tremendously. For one, Pacific Rim doesn’t shy away from the human cost of war against the Kaijus, capturing both the perspectives of civilians caught in crossfire and of the monster-mashing pilots. As such, the most devastating moment of the movie comes early on, as a terrified young girl finds herself in a Kaiju’s path of destruction. Additionally, the direction often highlights the strange beauty of the movie’s creatures – both the Jaegers and Kaijus are wondrous to behold, dazzling CGI behemoths which move with an almost celestial grace at times.

The only time when Pacific Rim ever really stumbles is when it overreaches with its story. Some ideas the script puts forth about the origins of the Kaijus don’t sit well, and other plot points in the story’s set-up are undeniably weak. But even with those few shortcomings, Pacific Rim ultimately succeeds both as a tribute to Japanese monster movies and a resuscitation of the same. Any gripes with the plot don’t even register once Hunnam and Kikuchi strap into their Jaeger and throw down with fearsome Kaijus in any of the film’s breathtaking action sequences.

As far as action goes, there’s no better film to see this summer. Pacific Rim is an imaginative and thrilling popcorn-pleasure spectacle that doesn’t let gargantuan scale sacrifice a big heart and sense of fun. What more do you need to hear? Go get lost in Del Toro’s crazy-cool childhood fantasy, and experience the breathtaking grandeur of his fully-realized vision for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. A-

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The Enterprise spirals out of control.

The Enterprise spirals out of control.

J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot was an unexpected pleasure, taking a cult sci-fi series and revitalizing it in grand fashion, with spectacle, heart, and humor. Despite the enthusiastic welcome that the prequel/reboot (preboot?) received from fanboys, critics, general audiences, and even the Academy (the film won Best Makeup and received a total of four nominations), Abrams chose not to rush headfirst into a sequel. Four years later, with the follow-up finally hitting theaters, it’s clear that he made the right call by taking the time to think ideas for the next installment through completely, though evidently none of the deep thought thart the finished product shows went into a title (that’s right, no colon, no number, nothing). Quibbles aside, Star Trek Into Darkness is a thrilling, smart, imaginative, and satisfying sequel worthy of its respected namesake.

With introductions out of the way, Into Darkness focuses on telling a great story with a terrific cast of characters. This time around, the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves on a mission of retribution. After Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock fame) defects and commits a series of devastating terrorist attacks on Earth, Captain James C. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew travel to a war-zone planet in Klingon territory to capture him so he can face judgment for his crimes, unwittingly playing right into their enemy’s hands. As its title suggests, this Trek is grittier and more intense; the villain, topically, is a vicious terrorist with a murky agenda of his own. Corruption, sacrifice, politics, revenge, and betrayal all play roles in the story, while the darkness of the title also refers to the indecision and fears of the Enterprise’s crew, particularly those of Kirk and Spock. Harrison manipulates the crew into questioning their own morals, giving Into Darkness some added depth that elevates it high above typical sci-fi fare.

All of the characters, not just those two, are really at the core of what makes Into Darkness work. Abrams doesn’t sacrifice character development for action, strengthening the crew’s connections and personalities even as he pits them against unimaginable odds. Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) are struggling to make a relationship work as the story starts out. First Lieutenant Scotty (Simon Pegg) has serious moral quandaries with the Enterprise’s assignment, while Kirk grapples with his failures both as a leader and as a man. It isn’t all doom-and-gloom, however. The witty banter between Kirk and Spock is at an all-time high, and comedy relief characters Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) and Scotty are both terrific in their roles, managing to capture the heart and soul of the Enterprise.

The newcomers are also strong. Cumberbatch is a much more compelling villain than Eric Bana’s bland Romulan in the 2009 Trek, bringing a menacing gravitas and dangerous verve to the physically-imposing Harrison, a super-human with equal penchant for skull-crushing and monologuing (sometimes simultaneously). His scenes alongside Pine and Quinto hum with a nervous energy and are among the film’s best (and without giving any spoilers, die-hard Trekkies may go into hysterics when a great twist halfway through reveals him to be one of the Enterprise’s greatest foes). Pete Weller sinks his teeth into a sizable role as Admiral Marcus, head of Starfleet. Finally, the gorgeous, talented Alice Eve is a great addition to the cast as the admiral’s daughter Carol Marcus, a love interest for Kirk who will hopefully have a larger part in the series’ inevitable third installment.

Abrams’ flair for visuals is used to great effect in Into Darkness; the movie has no shortage of memorable edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Though his trademark shaky-cam and lens flare effects sometimes distract from the action, the geek auteur does a solid job of keeping the film moving and creating some terrific set-pieces. The Enterprise has never looked better, and Abrams’ future Earth, despite the presence of flying cars, is one of the most realistic to hit big screens in recent memory.

Boosted by a terrific villain, fast-paced storyline, and jaw-dropping action sequences, Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the series’ all-time best, entertaining without ever becoming bloated or overlong. It’s the ultimate intergalactic popcorn pleasure. A

Photo Credit: Forbes.