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.

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Watchlist: What We’re Looking Forward This Summer

Logan faces ninjas in this summer's 'The Wolverine.'

Logan faces ninjas in this summer’s ‘The Wolverine.’

Here at the Cinema Sentinel, we tend to get excited about movies. It doesn’t matter the genre, the stars, or the budget; what really gets us amped up are the films that draw us in, take us places, and make us see things we’ve never seen before. The summer season is always best for spectacle, but there are all kinds of terrific-looking films coming out this year. Take a look below at the Cinema Sentinel’s most anticipated movies of the summer:

1. Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro’s massive tribute to Japanese monster movies could easily be the breakout hit of the summer. When giant monsters from beneath the ocean floor rise and wreak havoc on humankind, a new weapon is developed – huge robots controlled simultaneously by two pilots sharing one mind. This sci-fi epic has a lot going for it – del Toro never disappoints, the visual effects look jaw-droppingly awesome, the cast boasts great actors like Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Ron Perlman, and did I mention giant robotsOpens July 12 

2. Much Ado About Nothing – Movies based off Shakespeare plays are a dime a dozen, but this adaptation looks intriguing. Why? Two words: Joss Whedon. The geek god behind The Avengers is not the first person who comes to mind when I think of the bard, but he has made a lot of really interesting choices while directing his Much Ado About Nothing. Fun fact: the entirely black-and-white film was shot entirely at Whedon’s home in Santa Monica in only twelve days. Whedon’s cast is also terrific – Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Alexis Denisof, and plenty of other avowed Whedonites. It looks like a really nifty adaptation, setting the action in modern times while maintaining Shakespeare’s original dialogue. The trailer (below) has pulled off the Herculean task of making me excited about a Shakespeare adaptation – give it a watch. Opens June 21

3. Man of Steel – I was dubious at first, but I’m really starting to buy into the idea of Zack Snyder’s darker, weightier Superman. After the success of The Dark Knight, it was only a matter of time until someone decided to reimagine the Man of Tomorrow with a handful of dramatic gravitas, but Man of Steel doesn’t look like a rip-off in any shape or form. Henry Cavill is looking more every day like a great Superman, and I’m excited about the supporting cast, which includes Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, and Kevin Costner. If Man of Steel can strike a balance between its serious tone, high-powered story, and thrilling visuals, it could end up a truly super Superman. Opens June 14

4. The Bling Ring – Sofia Coppola is one of the most stylish, interesting directors working today, and she has a terrific story to work with here. Based on the true story of a group of teenage burglars who targeted celebrities, The Bling Ring has an opportunity to tell an absorbing tale while simultaneously making a statement about the materialistic nature of modern society and the American Dream. I couldn’t be more excited that Emma Watson is stepping out of her comfort zone to play the remarkably shallow Nicki, and I’m confident that Leslie Mann and Taissa Farmiga will also turn in great performances. Opens June 14

5. The Wolverine – After the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I’m optimistic that this summer will finally yield a worthy stand-alone movie for everyone’s favorite adamantium-clawed X-Man. Set in Japan long after the X-Men trilogy, The Wolverine pits Logan (Hugh Jackman) against the Yakuza and several dangerous foes, including the deadly Silver Samurai (Will Yun Lee) and a venomous mutant by the name of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), all while he struggles against his own immortality. The Japanese arc is one of my favorite storylines for Logan in the comics, and with Oscar-nominated director James Mangold at the helm, I truly believe that this could be the best X-Men installment yet. A more vulnerable Logan, a picturesque Japanese backdrop, and entire armies of ninjas? What more could a fanboy ask for? Opens July 26

6. The World’s End – The third and final installment in Edgar Wright’s Britcom trilogy (after the equally fantastic Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) looks more bonkers and hilarious every time I see a new trailer.  Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with a bunch of other terrific Brits (including Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike, and Martin Freeman), The World’s End centers on a group of five friends who reunite after twenty years in hopes of completing a legendary pub crawl, culminating in famed pub The World’s End. As the night goes on, the friends realize that something’s off about the villagers, and Earth is actually under attack by aliens. With any luck, The World’s End will recapture the same manic energy and nonstop laughs that made its predecessors instant cult classics. Opens August 23

7. The Spectacular Now – There are very few teen dramas that look too good to pass up, but The Spectacular Now is one of them. The buzz from Sundance has been overwhelmingly positive, and the two leads are played by talented up-and-comers Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). The film focuses on the unexpected romance between a popular, devil-may-care high school senior (Teller) and his studious ‘good girl’ classmate (Woodley), as the two learn things about themselves that had never occurred to them before. It looks like a moving, thoughtful, and well-acted coming-of-age drama, and, to me, those kinds of films are always welcome. Opens August 2

8. Elysium – Thoughtful sci-fi is a rare breed, but director Neill Blomkamp proved with 2009’s District 9 that philosophy and CGI aliens can mix with astounding results. His follow-up, Elysium, shares District 9‘s penchant for social commentary but now also boasts a Hollywood cast and budget. The film examines a future where the wealthy 1% live on an advanced space habitat orbiting Earth, while the rest of mankind struggles to survive on a filthy, overpopulated, crime-ridden Earth. The two come into conflict when Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) attempts to break into Elysium to find the medical technology needed to save a young girl’s life. He comes up against vicious opponents (including nasties played by Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley) who are determined to enforce Elysium’s strict anti-immigration laws. While District 9 made powerful statements about xenophobia, segregation, and human identity, Elysium looks to take on hot-button topics like class issues, health care, and immigration. District 9 earned Oscar nominations and critical acclaim, and Blomkamp’s follow-up looks equally appealing and fascinating. Whether or not the Academy likes it, Elysium will be a gritty, entertaining, smart, and introspective sci-fi thriller. I can’t wait. Opens August 9

9. World War Z – Based on the gripping Max Brooks novel, this apocalyptic horror thriller is the biggest unknown of the summer in my book. Brad Pitt, who produced the film, also stars as Gerry Lane, a UN employee who travels the world after a zombie outbreak in search for answers about where the epidemic originated. The scale of the film is massive, and the budget is rumored to be one of the largest of all time. Tons of talented people have been involved with the screenplay, including Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski, and Matthew Michael Carnahan, so I have high hopes. Depending on whether its good or bad, World War Z could either prove to be a runaway hit or a colossal failure. It’ll be interesting regardless, and I’ll be front and center to find out. Opens June 21

10. This is the End – Adding to the glut of post-apocalyptic flicks hitting theaters (note the large amount on this list alone) is this oddball raunchy comedy with a strangely appealing premise. After all manner of apocalyptic events destroy LA, a group of actors including James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Robinson (playing filthy, fictitious versions of themselves) must work together to survive. The trailers look hilarious so far, and an over-abundance of celebrity cameos will make the movie all the more entertaining. I’m most excited for Emma Watson’s ruthless survivalist, but I’m also looking forward to a weird Michael Cera and dirty-mouthed Mindy Kaling. Opens June 14

Honorable Mentions: The To Do ListFruitvale StationYou’re Next, The Heat, White House Down, and The Way, Way Back

Photo Courtesy: Tumblr