I’d hate to be Michael Bay this week.
The 400-Word Review: Pacific Rim
By Sean Collier
July 15, 2013
Scores of commenters have drawn the comparison between Bay’s utterly unwatchable Transformers series and Guillermo del Toro’s near-perfect Pacific Rim. In short: they both involve giant robot fighters.
In reality, that might be where the comparisons end. In tone, in subject matter, in approach and in theme, del Toro’s work has nothing in common with Bay’s; both are spectacles of digital effects, but the two directors apply virtual graphics as differently as Renoir and Pollock applied paint.
Even with little in common but robots and scale, the fact remains: this week, Guillermo del Toro made Michael Bay and most of his brethren look like they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
Pacific Rim springs from the Japanese kaiju movies — Godzilla et al — so directly that the giant film’s beasts are given that name. In a documentary-style introduction, we’re given the backstory: A dimensional rift has opened deep in the Pacific, and skyscraper-sized kaiju periodically surge through it. They’re understandably agitated on arrival, and usually begin stomping whatever they can get to; in response, governments come together to build the jaegers (pronounced like the best-avoided liquor,) similarly sizable robots designed to fend off the attacks.
The human component: the jaegers are controlled by fighters neurally wired into the bots. Running a mammoth war machine proves too much for a single mind, so technology to connect two brains is developed. As you’d imagine, there are complications to a quite literal marriage of minds; they are exacerbated when brawling with gargantuan squid creatures.
The action sequences are thrilling; the relationships are compelling; the story is appropriately epic and smartly layered. If there’s any gap in Pacific Rim’s construction, it’s in the characters; they’re likable enough, but not the indelible archetypes of Star Wars or Star Trek. (Performances by Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Day are especially strong.)
The biggest achievement, though, is the stunning visual world of Pacific Rim. On a grand scale, del Toro crafts images as uncannily beautiful as those in the intimate Pan’s Labyrinth. Pacific Rim and Avatar represent the two finest uses of IMAX and 3-D technology to date; the bar del Toro and James Cameron have set is considerably higher than even the best points of comparison.
So Pacific Rim is a great and dazzling film. Hopefully, it’s also the death knell for half-hearted work in its genre.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark