A film review: 'Pacific Rim' is an awesome Americanisation of Japanese geekdom.

Oleh / By: Iki Ali

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Producer: Guillermo del Toro, Thomas Tull,
John Jashni, Mary Parent 
Screenplay: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Genre: Science fiction / action 
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba,
Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day,
Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini,
Ron Perlman
Release: July 12, 2013
Studio: Legendary Pictures
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Well, this wasn't supposed to be one of the films that I've watched that I said I'd review, but what the heck! Before all of this excitement goes away, I'd better fuel it till it's all full tank, eh? Hang in there, old decent and mediocre local films, you'll land somehow (or not ever... depending on my laziness level, of course).

Taking cues from tokusatsu TV shows (a term I honestly not familiar with before... until I suddenly have the urge to wiki things like Kamen Rider, Power Rangers, or Ultraman which is like way before I know about this film), sci-fi anime (such as AKIRA, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gundam [the latter two anime is also something alien to me; but it's pretty popular... and I've seen some clips and pictures of them, and from the looks of it, they do look like an obvious influence to this film I'm about to review]) and conceived as both an implicit mockery of Hollywood's own take on tokusatsu icon Godzilla and a love letter to the Japanese otaku world in general, Guillermo del Toro (who directed Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy's live action films) presents, your ultimate geek-gasm inducer of awesome... Pacific Rim!

I really gotta be honest with you guys; the first time I saw Pacific Rim's teaser trailer, I didn't really bought it. I mean, since it's obviously Hollywood, the shown battle is obviously CGI (I couldn't tell if its a bad or a good one at first) and it's impossible for them to 'lower their standards' by resorting to the way the film's source material handle the visuals of this kind of fiction (by that I mean actors wearing latex monster suits and body armors that look like robot parts, fake and super-fragile building set ups, etc.; your typical tokusatsu stuff), I bet it's gonna suck, because they have this reputation of bastardising many great Japanese materials to a pulpy mess (does Dragonball Evolution / The King of Fighters / Blood the Last Vampire / TEKKEN / Dead or Alive / Resident Evil [and possibly more to come] ring a bell anyone?).

But, after knowing that the one who helms this film's direction would be a person that handles a fantasy film, viewing its totally cool concept art and hearing some positive feedback by film critics and colleagues, I totally changed my mind. Maybe I should give it a chance. Besides, watching cheesy special effects and bad acting in Japanese-inspired American tokusatsu shows and its original versions on TV were indeed some of the best moments in my childhood... and boy did this film indeed have those conventions condensed into one-and-a-half-hour of absolute mayhem; del Toro-style!

I've seen the first Hellboy film (although I WASN'T really into it when I watched it). In it, I did see Hellboy as Hellboy and not Ron Perlman trying to become Hellboy (on a side note, he's also in this film where he portrays Hannibal Chau; a cocky yet goofy black marketeer) and a dash of that kind of acting is still present in Pacific Rim while still keeping the 'bad'/'over-the-top' tokusatsu-style acting intact. Which means that the performances by its main cast (who mainly consist of either relative unknowns, B-listers, or up-and-rising talents like Charlie Day in his role as Newton, an overly-enthusiastic professor who studies and adores Kaijus so much, he tattooed his favourite ones on his arms) are totally passable. I occasionally chuckled instead of having the urge to ridicule them for bad acting, since it really doesn't matter much in a film like this.

Visual wise, I really like how the film's look is treated. Based on what I have read (I mean, based on good old Wikipedia), while del Toro admits that he indeed use some of the elements that make up a tokusatsu show as a basis (an obvious one would be referring to the monsters as Kaijus among other things), he made a conscious decision by asking his team to not look at any pre-existing tokusatsu franchise in crafting the designs of the monsters, robots, buildings, overall atmosphere and setting for the film; he instead asked them to look at old paintings such as Hokusai's famed The Great Wave off Kanagawa and Francisco Goya's The Colossus (I'm not really familiar with this painting at all, but when Mr. Google showed me it... boy, does it screams epicness!), as well as mother nature for inspiration. This in turn gives the look and atmosphere of the film very eye-soothing and heart-calming effects particularly in scenes where water is involved, despite the fact that most of those scenes are usually placed in a bad weather or in a chaotic condition. 

Artistically, the designs are definitely vibrant and full of life... for a film that suggests that the end is near. The existence of make-shift building designs, self-financed metal works for fortresses and a neon-decorated destined-to-be-doomed mega-city scape makes the aesthetics bare close resemblance to what is seen in video games like Square Enix's Front Mission series and Konami's Metal Gear series (interestingly, Metal Gear's design department mainstay Yoji Shinkawa not only praised the film, but also did a promotional artwork for it too) rather than anything I've seen in the Ultraman or Power Rangers franchise. The Jaegers themselves are particularly technologically impressive and sleek-looking... and have totally mechanical yet fluid robot-like movements which totally reminds me of wanzers and Metal Gears from the said games. Furthermore, I could also see the influence of the Final Fantasy franchise, yet another Square Enix product, in the design of the Kaijus and some of the buildings (especially those buildings that uses Kaiju remains). Really awesome stuff, even though I think the Kaijus are too similar in some respect despite each of them having their own distinct features that sets them apart from each other.

Storyline wise, the trailer has already covered the basics; on the surface, it's about Earth's struggles in battling the invasion of big ass aliens which secretly inhabit the bottom of the Pacific Ocean all these while which are being referred to as Kaiju by making monsters of its own; a giant robot initiative dubbed as Jaegers in which two pilots with a very strong bond are needed to man the gigantic machine. What the trailer didn't tell you are the final revelations and the personal stories behind each of the characters and what drives them to keep on living and surviving the horrors each and every day (duh?). This is a good move by the screenwriters, as it gives some emotional weight in order to not overwhelm the audiences with too much of the totally spectacular Ultraman-esque battle sequences and destruction that are bound to invoke the geek-gasm within that keeps popping up one after another (my favourite would be the last minute aerial fight  which had an awesome surprise... which I did NOT see it coming at all).

Although it is inevitable that the main leads will eventually have feelings with each other, since the pair (Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori) that pilots the rejuvenated Jaeger called Gipsy Danger are basically of the opposite sex, the thing is... it's totally subtle; an awesome break from what is typically seen in a world where sex sells, as the presence of love is enough in order to make us care about their relationship outside of controlling Jaegers and need not all the swooning, kissing and such. We need love and affection dear Hollywood producers, not boobs. Love and care among each other has always been what matters in this world, man. And look what everyone in this film has accomplished; a feel-good sweet victory after unwillingly having to face mass destruction for as long as they can remember. That is what Hollywood or any other mainstream films really need.

All in all... what else can I say? Go on, people! Go down and take a trip to memory lane in a one-and-a-half-hour form should you are just too lazy to keep up with hundreds and hundreds of Ultraman/Power Rangers or any other sci-fi anime/tokusatsu episodes/films known to man BEFORE Pacific Rim's theatrical run is over! This is the kind of film that have just enough balance of entertainment, drama and philosophy to cure your boredom by going gaga over all of the coolness and cheesiness it has to offer.

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