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Thursday, July 18, 2013 03:34 am

Smart, stylish, spectacular Rim sets high standard for summer fare

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Gipsy Danger from Pacific Rim.
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS.

No one could blame you if you were to assume that Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is just another empty, overwrought summer movie that delivers nothing but repetitive violence and stock characters. What with scenes of giant robots beating up Godzilla-like monsters being the focus of the film’s numerous previews, it seems to follow Dan Rather’s logic where ducks are concerned. However, like Star Trek Into Darkness, the only other summer blockbuster to exceed expectations, Rim is a film that wisely concentrates on the human element in its story as much as its outrageous visuals. Spectacular, smart and epic in scope, del Toro’s movie is not just one of the best films of the season but one of the best of the year as well.

Ostensibly an extended homage to the classic Japanese monster films that started with Godzilla in 1954, del Toro ups the ante considerably as Rim doesn’t concern itself with one creature trashing one city but a rash of attacks on major urban centers bordering the Pacific Ocean. They’re being carried out by a wide assortment of gigantic alien creatures that have come to our planet via a portal that opens to another dimension. These beasts are known as Kaiju, scaly, finned abominations that tower up to 10-stories tall and have a wide variety of abilities as they’ve learned to adapt to their environment. The attacks start slow, with San Francisco and Manila lain to waste first. It becomes obvious that humans lack the firepower to fight them properly, so giant robots known as Jaegers are invented which are controlled by two operators who meld minds within the machine’s interface so that they might operate its body in unison. Siblings or other blood relatives tend to be the most ideal pairing for this task. The deeper the emotional bond between the two, the more in sync they will be.

The war is now in its 12th year when the main action of the film occurs. The Jaegers are being put out to pasture as a supposedly more efficient plan to attack the Kaiju is being adapted by the world’s superpowers. This doesn’t sit well with General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), one of the first of the robot jockeys who now runs the division that oversees them. With the remaining Jaegers being shipped off to Hong Kong, he still thinks they will be needed once more, so he recruits Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a former operator who’s been out of the game since his brother was killed in a Kaiju attack. He’ll need to put his demons behind him if he’s going to be able to help Pentecost enact his plan to wipe these monsters from the face of the earth for good.

From this plot description, this sounds like standard science-fiction fare. But where Rim differs is in the cast of characters that populate it and del Toro’s ability to bring it all to life in a singular epic vision. Intriguing back stories are given to Pentecost and Becket as well as Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), an operator with a tragic history that compels her to fight the Kaiju; the father-son team of Herc and Chuck Hansen (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky), whose love-hate relationship must be put aside if they are to be of value; doctors Geiszler and Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), competing research scientists who have widely different approaches in their research of the Kaiju; and finally Hannibal Chau (del Toro regular Ron Perlman), a black market racketeer who specializes in harvesting Kaiju remains for medicinal purposes. Each and every one of these characters is distinct, intriguing, sympathetic and relatable, giving the viewer a rooting interest in the outcome of the various attacks in the film. In taking the time to craft these characters del Toro and fellow screenwriter Travis Beacham have done what so many blockbusters of this ilk fail to do – they give us people we care for, allowing us to become emotionally invested in the film.

As well as the characters are written and brought to life by the cast, the action scenes are equally impressive. I cannot think of a film better suited for the IMAX screen. This format is necessary to give the viewer some sense of the scale of the creatures and the robots invented to destroy them. Never overbearing, this approach perfectly suits del Toro’s aesthetic and he must be commended for editing his footage in such a way that the action is always easy to follow.

Far better than Avatar, del Toro gives us not only an epic vision but a story that provides one pleasant surprise after another as the director has us on the edge of our seat wondering who among the many memorable characters will survive and who won’t. The director ably fills the grand canvas he’s given himself not only with fantastic sights but a rousing tale that examines the themes of honor, loyalty and sacrifice in a meaningful and poignant fashion. Pacific Rim sets the bar high for films of this sort and is likely not to be equaled anytime soon.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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