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‘Pacific Rim’: More than meets the eye

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by Ryan Downs in Entertainment

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Guillermo del Toro’s new film, Pacific Rim, has defied critical expectations since it’s debut a few weeks ago by proving to be an exciting and refreshing popcorn summer flick.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. pictures.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. pictures.

While not perfect, or even incredibly smart, it manages to provide a mostly straightforward action experience. However, it has also defied expectations in quite another way; in the mind of its producer’s, the film’s performance at the box office has been surprisingly sub-par. However, the story isn’t over yet; the film has only recently reached overseas markets, and how it performs there may very well determine not only it’s own fate, and the fate of any potential sequels, but the fate of summer blockbusters for years to come.

For starters, Pacific Rim is directed by the celebrated and talented Guillermo del Toro, perhaps best known for 2006’s 3 time Oscar winner Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as the Hellboy movies. However, here he has swapped his trademark magic realism for a CGI-heavy film with a plot that essentially boils down to giant robots that fight giant monsters.

Perhaps that’s an oversimplification; the film takes place several years into a war between human beings and the Kaiju (a word meaning “giant beast,” harkening back to Japanese monster movies of old).

Monsters the size of skyscrapers that come from a dimensional portal in the Pacific Ocean and the main human mode of defense is the Jaeger, a mechanical construct of similar size and proportion whose primary mode of attack seems to be punching.

As can be expected, the film does not require much thought. The characters are mostly two-dimensional and the dialogue seems more expository than not. Some performances work (Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, and Charlie Day), and some don’t (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam is particularly bland), but the special effects and rampant sense of fun more than make up for its failings and plot holes.

But the most noticeable aspect of the film is it’s (mostly) multinational quality. There is a different Jaeger for every country situated along the, well, rim of the Pacific Ocean, and all are working together to fight the monsters. Furthermore, the Jaegers themselves need two people to control them, and a major part of the relationships between the characters involves finding partners who are compatible to pilot the mechanical monsters together. Naturally, the concept of teamwork, primarily with people of other countries, is a very important theme not just in the plot, but the marketing as well.

Now at this point it is worth mentioning that, even with a story that focuses primarily on the American robot “Gypsy Danger,” and it’s American pilot Raleigh (Hunnam), the cast, which includes actors from England, Australia, and Japan, is more multinational than usual. Indeed, Perlman and Day are the only American actors in the starring cast.

This, combined with the lack of brand recognition, and the apparent over simplicity of the plot may have turned off American audiences, explaining it’s disappointing box-office numbers. But that may not be a problem. The film has, perhaps predictably, managed to turn a slight profit overseas, and that number has been steadily rising with each new country; already the film made a substantial amount on it’s opening day in China, and it has yet to hit Japan, the country that created the genre in the first place

Indeed, it’s not a long shot to say the film seems tailor-made for the country that gave us both the giant monster movie and the giant robot movie.

If a film as worldly as Pacific Rim manages to become a success worldwide in spite of its American performance, Hollywood may be more willing than it already is to make films more suited to a multinational market, as opposed to a strictly American one.

If that means more films like this, it will certainly make summer a more exciting time of year for everyone.

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