There is a lot being said about this film. Thankfully, most of it is positive. There was no doubt about what this film would be based on the trailers. We all knew it would be about giant monsters trying to destroy the world and giant robots that would oppose them in order to protect it. Basically, the film would be a series of some of the most hardcore battles on a very large scale. We were promised that and I think we got that in spades. Here’s the thing about Pacific Rim: though we got what we asked for, we managed to get a bit more. Does this surprise you? Well, when you’re dealing with a particularly poetic filmmaker like del Toro, it shouldn’t. I’ll get into a bit more of that, but before I get there I’d like to talk a bit about the story.
The film begins with a prelude that sets up everything the rest of the story will address. The first Kaiju attack is depicted and is followed by others. The world is powerless against the giant monsters until the birth of the Jaeger program, which is put in place to more adequately oppose the Kaiju. The world goes from losing to winning and then the tide turns once more against the human race.
This film, probably more than any of del Toro’s other films, feels like the most fun to experience. I felt a great kinship with him during my viewing of the film and imagined that we would be great friends were we to have grown up in the same generation. This movie is essentially a love letter to the great Kaiju films of del Toro’s youth, which is pretty clear to see. What a privilege it must have been for him to have been able to shepherd a project such as this.
With all the technical prowess and artistic knowledge he brings to this project in terms of the various details of the set pieces, the beautiful designs of each Kaiju and Jaeger, he also brings that inner ten year old, which I’m grateful for. With that ten year old comes the fun and the fun just oozes off the screen. I found an immense pleasure at watching the excellently choreographed battle sequences. There was something very visceral about the battles; I found myself physically reacting to them. There was a part of me that would have been completely fine if the film were nothing more than a series of fights between giant robots and monsters because they are actually fun to watch. However, the fact that there are unique elements in the story that serves as the foundation to such battles made the film that much cooler to me.
For instance, while this film has the obligatory caucasian hero in Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), the film isn’t necessarily about him and his journey, though it is partly. This film is more about community; the many as opposed to the one. It’s about teamwork and finding common ground with your fellow man no matter what your race or religion to get the job done. del Toro once said that he wanted to make a film about “the world saving the world” and that is essentially what this film is about in the bigger picture, which is refreshing to see.
It reminded me from something out of Power Rangers, which I also loved as a kid, in terms of theme. One of the biggest themes of Power Rangers is teamwork. You have Rangers (which is funny now that I’m thinking about this because the pilots in this film were also called rangers), from different ethnic backgrounds and genders working as a team defending the Earth against alien monsters who wish to rule it. When things get really tough and the monsters get big like the Kaiju in this film, the Rangers must call upon their Zords, which can come together to form a Megazord to combat the threat. Here in Rim, the people of Earth have done the same. I thought that this film could be a great reference point for any future Power Ranger film approached from a darker perspective.
The film is also a bit of a commentary on relationships of all types and the trust that is necessary for those relationships to hold any weight. The concept of two pilots sharing the neural load, which means sharing each others memories and ways of thinking, in order to control the massive Jaegers as a unit was a really cool way to illustrate that. It made the idea of man and machine functioning as one mean something more than it typically does for me.
The dynamic between Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Raleigh benefits greatly from this plot device. Their relationship is deepened and suggests more nuance than other male/female pairings in movies similar to this. I appreciated very much how there really wasn’t a love story between the two of them. Blockbusters like this almost always have some flimsy love story thrown in to the mix to make things interesting, when it isn’t always necessary for a great and entertaining story. That is not the case here and that made me love the film a little bit more. It was like the cherry on top.
While I’m on the character dynamics, I’d like to highlight Mako as a character for a moment and say that I very much appreciated how she wasn’t sexualized as an attractive woman. She is a solid character who means more than women tend to mean in films like this. She isn’t the ‘booty call’ or the love interest. Rather, she is a woman ranger who holds just as much weight as Raleigh or any other character in the film. Another character who carries great weight is Marshall Stacker Pentecost (played marvelously by Idris Elba) who leads the resistance. The film does a great job of peeling back the layers of his character so that we slowly come to understand who this man is and what drives him.
Pacific Rim in my humble opinion, is a great and entertaining summer action film that manages to go a little deeper than the usual summer action fare. I haven’t had as much fun at the movies probably since last year’s The Avengers. I wouldn’t call it an intellectual piece, but it is at times lyrical both in its indulgence of the spectacle of the battles and in the smaller, more intimate character moments. I thought it was so good, that I don’t even want to see a sequel even though del Toro and writing partner Travis Beacham are writing one. We’ll see, what happens on that.