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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Pacific Rim

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service


Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi star in a scene from the movie "Pacific Rim."
Anyone with a hankering for a 21st-century Godzilla movie, or anxiously awaiting the next "Transformers" installment, will cheer the advent of "Pacific Rim" (Warner Bros.).

Those not clamoring for either of the above yet amenable to an escapist sci-fi spectacle (also available in 3-D and Imax) should also welcome it.

The only major content pitfalls are intermittent bad language and the genre's usual blind spot concerning the destruction and suffering endured prior to someone or something saving the day. Unnerving rather than morally inappropriate, the action is too intense for children.

In the very near future, a breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean becomes a portal for alien monsters redolent of Godzilla, the mutant marauder of 1950s Japanese cinema. The first wave of Kaiju, Japanese for "giant beast," attacks San Francisco, Manila and Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

The world's armies eventually repel them using tanks and aircraft, but it's obvious a new kind of weapon is needed. So nations band together to construct huge robots called Jaegers, after the German word for fighters. Humans operate the machines, yet to fully control them the minds of two pilots must be melded through a neural bridge.

In an early scene, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) take their Jaeger into battle off the coast of Alaska. When they disobey orders and rescue a fishing vessel, their mission goes tragically awry and Raleigh quits the pilot corps. Five years later, world leaders decide to decommission the Jaegers and build a wall to protect mankind.

The soldier in charge of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), enlists Raleigh's help in a last-ditch plan to stop the increasingly destructive incursions using the four remaining robots. From a Hong Kong base, Chinese, Russian and Australian teams, along with Raleigh and an untested female pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), try to seal the breach with a nuclear warhead.

The fate of everyone on earth rests in the hands of a small group of intrepid soldiers and engineers. Comic relief is provided by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), a whiny scientist who attempts a mind meld between a human and a Kaiju. Meaningful human interactions are woven into the story -- for example, testosterone-fueled friction amongst rival pilots and romance between Raleigh and Mako-but they're incidental.

"Pacific Rim" is primarily interested in our fascination with monsters, machines and mayhem. And there's no one better to imagine fantasy, fear and fisticuffs on a massive scale than Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, the genius behind the "Hellboy" movies and critically acclaimed titles such as "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Devil's Backbone."

For his most commercial project to date, del Toro collaborated with Industrial Light & Magic ("Star Wars") to fashion special effects that often trigger awe. The overall design is dominated by steel and iron -- even the Kaiju appear more synthetic than organic -- which contributes to the film's dark look. Constant rainfall and setting the majority of sequences at night on the surface of, or beneath, the sea accentuates the murkiness. Still, it's difficult to gainsay the stunning visuals.

Del Toro and co-screenwriter Travis Beacham take a minimalist approach to exposition, doling out information with a breezy confidence that discourages questions. Whether everything passes scientific muster, the shortage of details makes for a smoother ride. That said, any glossing over of the incalculable devastation and loss of life that occurs en route to civilization being saved is troubling.

Using the selfless heroism of the principal combatants to highlight the strength of the human spirit constitutes action-movie boilerplate. A slightly less common theme is the solidarity exhibited by the peoples and governments of the world when a common enemy surfaces.

Undoubtedly, mankind coming together and using technology to thwart an alien invasion is a positive thing. In reality, however, it's much more probable that men will use killing machines like Jaegers against one another. We may flock to summer movies to forget about real-life problems for a short time, but there's no escaping the fact that this scenario is more frightening than computer-generated Kaiju rising from a virtual sea.

The film contains much intense but bloodless sci-fi violence between robots and alien creatures, brief sexual banter and occasional crude and profane language. Possibly acceptable for older teens. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.

The Spirit of Saint Francis

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Blessed Junipero Serra
This Franciscan friar was instrumental in founding many of California’s mission churches.

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