Three years ago, Christopher Nolan got Warner Brothers to sign a nine figure check in order to make his incredible, head-trippy Inception. But Nolan had just come off The Dark Knight, which for a few months in 2008 just latched itself onto the cultural zeitgeist (you couldn’t go anywhere without the movie coming up in conversation) and made a mint for the studio in the process, so WB probably felt obliged to let Nolan do whatever he wanted. Thankfully, he delivered a masterpiece.
But occasionally, big personal projects like this go wrong… very wrong. After 300 and Watchman, Warner Brothers (again) let Zach Snyder make his dream movie, Sucker Punch. Sometimes, a filmmaker lets you too far into their head. I think Snyder was trying to make a kick-ass, female action movie that would be a tribute to strong women, but what he made just seemed icky and exploitative; he had no idea how creepy his vision was, and he ended up creating one of the more uncomfortable movie-going experiences of recent years.
Why Warner Brothers (of course) decided to write Guillermo Del Toro one of those enormous checks to make his personal mega movie, I have no idea (were the Hellboy movies THAT successful?) But I’m sure glad they did. Pacific Rim is a movie that reeks movie-geek love. You get the idea that once Del Toro got the greenlight from WB to make his monster movie, he figured he might never have access to this type of money ever again, so he put EVERYTHING he could into it.
Pacific Rim is so filled with joy. And considering how loud the movie is and the amount of rampant destruction the movie puts on display, there’s a certain amount of grace as well. Last month’s Nolan/Snyder collaboration, Man of Steel, had just as much chaos, but that movie was bleak and overwhelming; there was nothing fun about it. Del Toro takes you on a thrill ride that leaves you exhilarated.
Pacific Rim doesn’t feel excessive or overstuffed. Del Toro was smart to give you just enough Kaiju (fancy word for “monster”)/Jaeger (fancy word for “robot”) action right off right off the top so that the movie can settle in and take its time to develop character and conflicts before we see another big action set piece. It’s not like the Transformers movies, which feel the need to constantly push MORE ACTION AND NOISE AND ACTION into your bloodstream, lest you fall into some kind of stimulation withdrawl.
Don’t get me wrong, the characters in Pacific Rim aren’t going to blow you away with their complexity and nuance. And Del Toro, who co-wrote the screenplay with Travis Beacham, still has a tin ear for dialogue.
Del Toro encourages his actors to play big, which is fine when you have guys like Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, the man in charge of the Jaeger program (Elba gives a Henry-the-Fifth-at-Agincourt speech that would almost rival Bill Pullman’s rallying cry from Independence Day if it were only a little longer and had more time to build. But points must be given for not having Elba yell “INTO THE BREACH!!”) and Ron Perlman as a pimped-out black market dealer of Kaiju remnants (if EVER a supporting character called for his own movie, it’s this one! And do yourself a favor… don’t leave once the end credits start to roll.)
Unfortunately, when some actors play big, it sometimes comes off as shrill. Charlie Day (who I usually love) and Burn Gorman play a couple of dueling scientists who have their moments, but a little bit of these two goes a LONG way; Del Toro should’ve had them dial down their energy a little bit.
But ultimately, Del Toro knows what Pacific Rim is supposed to deliver, and man, does it deliver! This movie isn’t just big, it’s EPIC! I usually advise against paying a premium to see a movie in IMAX (unless parts of the movie were actually shot in IMAX, as Nolan has been known to do.) But with this movie, if you can, see it in IMAX!
Del Toro knows how to layer the surprises; I won’t give anything away, but a few times during the movie, I was convulsing with laughter, overcome with ecstatic shock and awe. And the score by Ramin Djawadi does a fantastic job, particularly when the biggest of the bad-ass Kaiju rise from the ocean breach, of highlighting those really bassy horns that used to herald the arrival of that most famous of Kaiju back in the 1950s.
To call Pacific Rim a “guy’s movie” is overestimating its maturity; it’s a “boy’s movie,” and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Here’s a movie, particularly after a dark and disappointing batch of summer movies, that gives sustenance to the soul of the 8-year-old nerd inside of you; that child who first discovered how glorious the cinema could be when you first saw (depending how old you are) Jaws or Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park.
Orson Welles, when making Citizen Kane, said making a movie was like playing with “the biggest electric-train set any boy ever had.” I don’t know if Del Toro played with trains as a child, but I’m almost positive he made little cities populated with lots of action figures and had giant toy lizards stomp on them. Del Toro is now a 48-year-old boy who has all the major cities that line the Pacific Ocean to play with; you can almost hear him laughing to himself and saying, “Can you believe they’re actually letting me do this?!”