When technology allows you to go gigantic, you do it. When technology gives you the freedom to make your monsters and your robots big beyond imagination, you do it. When technology works to enhance your story, while giving its audience a visual extravaganza, you snatch that opportunity. You go all out. Because why wouldn’t you?
Pacific Rim is a big, big movie. “Epic” doesn’t even begin to cover its basics. It is about giant monsters and giant machines, locked in a death match that cares not for the millions and millions of lives lost in collateral damage. It looks ahead to the big picture, the greater good. What are a few million lives when billions can be saved? Other movies have come and gone, each with their own insane body count, but none of them justify the need for so many deaths like Pacific Rim does. I watched the movie with my brother, and at one point he said to me “There is just too much destruction”. I replied by saying “But there is a reason behind the destruction. You should watch Man Of Steel; the destruction there is pointless”.
Of course, there isn’t a real reason for the destruction, but we can understand why it happens, and we can accept it. When buildings crumble, we see them as obstacles in the way of the monsters and robots, not as towering structures with living beings in them. Guillermo Del Toro downscales cities and towns by such a large quantity that our perspective on everything is warped. That’s good though, otherwise we’d be too busy crying over the people dying in thrown cars and lugged oil tankers.
Del Toro, famous for Pan’s Labyrinth and the two Hellboy movies, is quite obviously a very visual person. His sets and cinematography reflect grandeur in excess, and the designs of his productions are intricate and audacious. With Pacific Rim, he lets his childhood fantasies run amok by creating very gnarled and grotesque looking monsters, known as Kaiju (which is Japanese for “strange creature”, even though the movie’s opening title card tells us otherwise). They are massive things with equally massive ambitions: To destroy Earth’s most populous cities.
They rise up out of a fissure in the Earth’s crust, somewhere along the Pacific rim, and stroll their way down famous streets. The fissure is actually a gateway to another dimension, and it’s later discovered that the Kaiju are clones, nothing but workers serving a higher power. The humans have devised a way to combat these monsters: They have built mega robots, called Jaegers (German for “hunters”), that require two pilots–connected via a neural link that accesses their memories–to operate. These machines are thoroughly impressive. Marvels not just in the diegetic world of the movie, but also of the capabilities of modern day visual effects technology. They are big, laden with weapons, some are fast, but all of them are fragile.
We meet Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), a good Jaeger pilot who has retreated to the shadows for five years after the death of his brother. When the Kaiju attack threatens to become bigger and more destructive, he is called back into action by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the commanding officer in charge of the entire Jaeger operation. Together with Jaeger analyst, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and a couple of Australians, Raleigh and Stacker plan to “cancel the apocalypse”.
The story’s pretty straight forward, and we know how it will turn out way before the end arrives. The magic of Pacific Rim lies instead in the complexity of the Kaiju infrastructure, the ability of Del Toro to merge action with character development, and his bravery to snatch and steal influences from every corner of the globe. Just off the top of my head, I can list Avatar, Iron-Man, “StarCraft”, “Portal”, Ultra-Man, Power Rangers, and Godzilla as having an impact in one way or another. Stealing is wrong, but when you steal to modify and form something spectacularly new, it couldn’t be more right.
Pacific Rim swirls all these influences into one enormous bowl of your favourite cereal. It is a souped up, rugged, machine-heavy take on the classic Japanese monster shows of old. If Ultra-Man had a metallic armoured suit, he’d be a Jaeger. It is a strong example of the unity of the human spirit, against odds that really cannot be overcome. As the movie progresses, two scientists–Charlie Day and Burn Gorman–notice that the Kaiju are evolving and adapting. They are growing smarter, larger, and developing organic weapons similar to the EMP blasts seen in The Matrix. They are not to be trifled with, and the humans know this. Surprisingly, the men in command are not as big-headed and obnoxious as at first they would seem. Stacker actually listens to scientific advice, and considers it before deciding to end things the American way by blowing a nuclear hole in the fissure.
There is a whole lot of chaos, and a lot of cool weaponry, but Del Toro manages to keep them all in check to allow his characters some semblance of humanity, and not to come off as airheaded soldiers, fighting for an unknown cause. They are individuals, yes, and their motives and backstories are clear. I would, however, have preferred it if some of them had been cast differently, Raleigh in particular.
The bottom line is that Pacific Rim is not as shallow (no pun intended) as it’s made out to be. Behind all the fighting is a war against invasion that pulls its weight and stands its ground. It is a fountain of new and old ideas, boldly represented on screen in a scale that cannot go anywhere else but bigger. It’s a pound-for-pound movie that doesn’t hold back its punches, and unlike the young Mako caught between a Kaiju and a Jaeger, we want to be around when the axe falls.
Best Moment | Many of the fight scenes are really impressive. I’d be hard pressed to pick just one. Also, Mako giving a battle cry in Japanese just before her Jaeger slices a Kaiju open is super badass.
Worst Moment | Some of Raleigh’s scenes just didn’t cut it for me. Sub-par acting and a ridiculous walk. Not good.