Article By: Dan Clark
In the world of today’s blockbusters the trait of originality is an endangered species. We live in a world full of sequels, trilogies, quadrilogies, and franchise that seemingly go on forever. So when something new comes along it is a welcome change of pace. This summer’s change of pace comes in the form of Guillermo del Toro’s massive monster bashing brawl Pacific Rim. On the service level someone could confuse Pacific Rim as nothing more than a visual assault of pure hallow spectacle. Truth is it is more than service level entertainment. Inside its big budget special effects is a loving homage to classic anime and the Kaiju monster films of yesteryear. Though you don’t need heaps of background knowledge to join in on the joyous fun Pacific Rim provides. There is something to be said about a movie like this that loves living in the world it creates. It’s akin to watching someone’s childhood dream manifest itself into a living exhibition of pure entertainment. Some of the characters maybe paper thin and the deeper moments lack any actual weight, but you could not ask for a better exercise in unadulterated summer entertainment. Pacific Rim is what the summer movie season was made for.
Typically an alien invasion comes from the skies, but the source of this invasion originates from deep within our ocean’s waters. Gigantic monsters begin to emerge from a dimensional portal on the ocean floor. When the first one hit our world was not ready. It laid waste to San Francisco and much of the United States west coast until it was finally taken down by a barrage of tanks, bombs, and military aircraft. Unfortunately for the population of Earth this was not an isolated event as more and more Kaiju creatures emerge from the portal. They attack cities across the globe causing the world to come together to devise a plan to fight back. Their answer to this monster problem is to engineer Jaegers—massive robots suited with high tech weaponry that can take to fight to the Kaiju.
These Kaiju-Jaegers battles are the perfect examples of why so many of us go to the movies. Yes high art cinema has its place, and I’m all for seeing a well-crafted auteur design a film full of profound passion and deep philosophical meaning. There are also times when you want to see something as simplistic as giant robots fighting giant monsters—as long as it’s done in an interesting and intriguing way. That is certainly the case with Pacific Rim. The sheer scale of devastation is overwhelming to your sensory perception. Seeing a Kaiju make mincemeat of the Golden Gate Bridge or a Jaeger use an oil tanker as makeshift katana was an outright delight. These battles also take place in a number of intriguing environments. Whether it’s among the neon illuminated skyscrapers of Tokyo or inside a powerful hurricane these new aged boxers are resourceful in using their settings in creative ways. At times with all the business of crashing waves and swirling winds it does become difficult to fully comprehend what is happening, nevertheless even within the confusion fun is ever-present.
Guillermo del Toro directs with such a glee his smile almost appears on screen. He gives us the modern Godzilla movie we have always wanted and adds it with the Transformers movie so many have been longing for. Unlike certain directors del Toro embraces the fanboy culture that is so prevalent today, yet he is not beholden to it. He will do something small like having the voice actor of the infamous GLaDOS from the video game series Portal be the voice of the films computer system. For those aware of the connection it enhances a small bit of the film. For those unaware it is just another computer voice. Del Toro is a masterful at crafting his films to appeal to his core fans while not isolating the general audience.
On paper this plot may appear paper thin–less of a story and more of a reason for monsters to fight robots. To a certain extent that preconception is not far off. The narrative is by no means transcendent of the genre nor all that elaborate. That’s not to say there are not certain intricacies that make it more than loosely linked mindless action sequences. Elements like the Jaegers design allow for interpersonal character development. Jaegers require a pilot, but the toll they put on the human body is too much for one person. Two pilots are placed into the machine and are connected through a neural bridge. This connection transforms both pilots into a well-tuned fighting machine, but it also has the side effect of bringing your partner inside your head. They can see all your thoughts, desires, and even your memories. This element carries a sense of humanity into this hectic carnage. The fate of these two kindred souls becomes tied together beyond a basic need for survival.
That connection does have a serious downside. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) got to experience what it was like to lose his copilot when a Kaiju killed him in battle. Losing his copilot, who was also his brother, caused him to leave the program. Not only did he get to see his brother die, he also felt his pain as it happened. Unbeknownst to Raleigh at the time the Kaiju had evolved to better fight the Jaegers. His near defeat was only an early warning side as Jaegers across the globe began to fall. These once heroes are now considered a failure so the world begins shutting their program down. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) is one man who still views the Jaegers as humanities last hope. He enlists Raleigh to join in on his final assault to take on the Kaiju once and for all.
As the main lead Charlie Hunnam was lacking. His persona was a cookie cutter archetype that follows the stereotypical pathway—the reluctant hero that somehow rises to the challenge against great odds. Hunnam’s performance did little to help matters. Acting in general wasn’t the films strong suit. Characters feel more like characters and less like people. Idris Elba was the one person who brought any real acting prowess. His statue esc physical presence was even greater than the mechanical Jaegers. Elba could read off hokey dialogue like, “We are canceling the apocalypse” with such an utter vigor you cannot help but buy in.
Buying in is easy when so much is working so well. Pacific Rim takes itself seriously, but not too seriously. It has that Jurassic Park quality that is willing to reckoning its own ridiculousness. Instead of running from that ridiculousness it embraces it by creating colossal monster and robots that beg you to join in on the fun. So far this summer has been rather disappointing with movies that play it safe by repeating the same things we have seen immeasurable times before. Pacific Rim does everything possible to change that. Here’s hoping the world is lucky enough to get more films like Pacific Rim less pointless franchise fodder.