By Shane M. Dallmann
Okay–this review calls for a little personal set-up. If you don’t agree, you can say “It’s just me.”
By the 1980s (my young adulthood), I still enjoyed my lineup of classic cartoons every weekday afternoon. I was still huge on Bugs Bunny and company, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and especially the Pink Panther. So I was less than thrilled to see my afternoon animation lineup gradually usurped by a series of (to me) interchangeable “toy commercial” shows. So while I never launched a public protest or anything like that, I was quite simply never into MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, TRANSFORMERS, or any of their contemporaries.
So when Michael Bay started mounting big-budget TRANSFORMERS movies, I simply didn’t care. I never gave them bad reviews–I just never saw them because I wasn’t interested. When Michael Bay put his hands on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? THAT I had to check out, of course–because I already had an emotional investment in the material.
Now, had Guillermo del Toro done TRANSFORMERS? I would have been quite surprised, but I WOULD at least have seen it. Why? Because I trust del Toro one hell of a lot more than I trust Michael Bay. The man has quite simply NEVER let me down, either with his own films or with those he carefully chose to “present.” So when del Toro delivers a mega-budget epic in which human-controlled “Jaegers” take on a fearsome army of “Kaiju” in a tribute to the Japanese monster films with which he grew up? I’m not going to compare it to TRANSFORMERS. Michael Bay may or may not have worn the population out with “battling robot” movies, but I’m not about to express an opinion. I’m just THERE.
The plot of PACIFIC RIM is set up in its entirety before the title even hits the screen, and I don’t think you need a rehash here. The world is under attack by giant monsters; and the war machines we invent need the services of TWO compatible pilots to prevent neural overload. We’ve got our traumatized hero; the seemingly ideal partner that the men in charge try to discourage; the hotshot “top gun” with utter contempt for the recovering pilot; the stern-but-fair commander (with a deep dark secret); and, of course, the battling scientific “nerds.” They’re all there to support the REAL reason the movie’s happening–the super-spectacular combat sequences. But of course, the human characters are actually IN the film more than the monsters (isn’t that always the case?), so we’re treated to the “team” in pure del Toro style, which demands both traumatic childhood memories (this is handled in some of the movie’s most effective sequences–if you ever dreamed that Godzilla was coming to “get” you, you’ll sympathize effortlessly) and an offbeat lineup that DEMANDS a certain “surprise” cameo which pays off in droves (the actor you just KNOW has to turn up does, and his last scene is even better than his introduction).
The effects are ultra-detailed and, to my eyes, completely flawless. The film IS a bit long, but it’s worth it because when you’re not getting awe-inspiring action, you’re getting characters that del Toro genuinely loves (though some critics see nothing but a string of cliches).
So it got beaten at the box office by GROWN-UPS 2? Well, by the logic of those who pronounced GRINDHOUSE a failure based on the fact that it was beaten by ARE WE DONE YET on opening weekend, then I guess PACIFIC RIM isn’t any good, either.
Except, of course, it is very, VERY good, and worth every bit of my considerable anticipation.