By Charly SHELTON
The genre of the giant sea monster movie was all but dead. The monsters, as well as the films they are featured in, are known as kaiju. These films feature some huge beast, usually coming from the sea, that destroys coastal towns. “Godzilla” was the first kaiju film to hit major popularity in 1954 and it spawned a genre of films in Japan including “Rodan,” “Mothra,” “Gorgon,” “Gamera” and “King Ghidora” just to name a few. I would mention the monster from “Cloverfield,” which technically counts as a kaiju, but it was terrible and doesn’t merit mention alongside such great kaiju as these. “Cloverfield” is actually a good example of what has happened to the genre in the last few decades – mediocrity. “Cloverfield” had very little to do with the kaiju itself but was more focused on the people running from it. Not a bad concept but poorly executed. Before that was the awful remake of “Godzilla” in 1998. So in the last 15 years, two pretty terrible kaiju films made in America. It’s time to up the game.
Director Guillermo del Toro singlehandedly revives the genre with “Pacific Rim.” This kaiju film actually focuses on the monster. The tagline – “To fight monsters we built monsters” – aptly describes the concept because next to the kaiju are enormous robot battle suits the size of a large building called jaegers. These jaegers are driven by two pilots who connect their brains to work as one to take down these monsters that come from a dimensional rift in the bottom of the sea. Awesome, right?
Leading the cast is the incredible Idiris Elba who has yet to perform a role poorly. Alongside him are jaeger pilots Raleigh and Mako (Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi) who operate the last-of-its-kind analog jaeger. They fight to take down these kaiju and close the dimensional rift before it dilates too far and multiple kaiju start coming at once. The science team behind the jaeger team (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) are determined to find the best way to take the monsters down and predict through mathematics when and where they will strike. And throughout all of this, the world governments have come together and are shutting down the jaeger program. So what they have is what they have.
Granted, the trailers make this film look pretty bad, like “Transformers” versus the animals on Pandora in “Avatar.” So I walked into the screening with low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised. It’s not too bad; definitely not del Toro’s best work but not his worst either. I don’t know if I would pay to see it again, but I was pleased with it the first time.
Some of the effects were amazing. The giant monsters and the giant robots towering over buildings as Hong Kong is destroyed were actually really well done. The robots look robotic, which is rare. Movie robots are designed to look robotic but don’t really move like robots. They are too fluid and cool. These are a little slow, taking time to deploy their weapons and choosing movements carefully, then moving with shudders and groans as their machinery clicks into place. A nice attention to detail.
But only some effects were good. The basic effects – putting a person in a green screen location for example – were the worst I have ever seen in a real movie. I have done better green screen replacement on my personal laptop. Considering all the amazing effects they have, the fact that some were so bad is just downright embarrassing.
Overall, I give this film 4 out of 5 – good but I don’t think I’d see it in a theater again.