I’ll just get it out of the way right now! Go! See! Pacific Rim! No, don’t go see it because it is a wholly original work in a season made solely of franchise reboots, sequels, and reimaginings. Don’t go see it because it is made by one of the true visionaries in fantasy and science fiction working today. Go see it because it is amazing, a exhilarating, majestic, imaginative, and flat out AWESOME action movie, packed to the gills with one scene after another that will leave you beaming from ear to ear. Pacific Rim is like something out of the past, caring nothing for serious moral introspection or a deconstruction of the nature of heroism or villainy. All it cares about it delivering on one thing, giant robots fighting giant monsters, and boy does it ever deliver. Throw in fully realized, if archetypical, characters, a healthy dose of humor, jaw dropping effects, a badass score, and a clear respect and love for the films and stories that inspired it, and Pacific Rim might just be the best time I’ve had at the movies this year. Actually, scratch that. In many years!
Some time in the near future, a trans-dimensional portal opens deep in the Pacific Ocean, and out come the Kaiju, giant, lizard like monsters with a serious hankering to destroy our cities and devastate our population. Normal military tactics prove ineffective, so to combat this new threat, the world’s nations put aside their differences and put all their stock into one program, Jaegers. Giant, heavily armed mecha piloted by two individuals who are mentally linked, these war machines manage to hold the Kaiju back for a time. Fast forward five years later, and the Kaiju are on the brink of victory. In a last ditch effort to win the day, what remains of the Jaeger program goes on a full offensive, led by a veteran pilot and his rookie partner, driving a famous, but outdated Jaeger. It’s pedal to the metal from then on out.
What is refreshing about Pacific Rim is its simplicity. You can explain the premise to your friend in one sentence: “Pacific Rim is about giant, human piloted mech suits fighting giant monsters.” “That’s it?” “Pretty much.” It’s true though. Where most blockbuster action films these days get away from why people go to these movies anyway in an effort to tap into the vein of anything Christopher Nolan has made, Pacific Rim and director Guillermo del Toro couldn’t be bothered. What character development there is is only in the service of the giant robots punching the crap out of the giant monsters. That may sound like a criticism, but it’s not. All character development here is in service of the story. Since all pilots are neurally linked while driving their Jaeger, they are fully in tune with each other’s emotions, thoughts, and memories. Absolute trust and compatibility are required to drive a Jaeger. It’s not something that comes easy, and there’s your character development right there. These men and women need to overcome their emotional baggage and discover their own strength, not because it makes for a good story, or because they owe it to their brothers in arms. No, it’s because doing so will make them more effective when it comes time to beat up some Kaiju. And, I don’t know about you, but that’s brilliant.
Pacific Rim, like The Avengers and like Independence Day realizes that simple doesn’t for a second mean stupid. Is Pacific Rim a dumb movie? Oh, god yes! It has no pretensions to be anything more than what it is, pure, unadulterated filmmaking with the intention to make every single person in the audience feel like a little kid again. The world is at stake here, but the whole carries a very light feel. You can’t not beam as these forces collide, because it’s presented with so much conviction and love. Despite its apocalyptic subject matter, Pacific Rim is actually a very optimistic and hopeful movie. I mean, any film that depicts a multi national effort to save the world, where every country from Russia, to China, Japan, and Australia is represented, and America isn’t the one big hero, is about as radical as anything we’re gonna get these days!
Everyone involved in every stage of the production contributed to that love. Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi make a sympathetic and cheer worthy team of Jaeger pilots, even though they are basically playing cartoons. Charlie Day is an absolute riot as a frantic scientist obsessed with understanding the Kaiju. Ron Perlman is Ron Perlman doing his Ron Perlman thing to the max, and I’ve said before, if anyone can do Ron Perlman’s thing, it’s Ron Perlman! And Idris Elba… well, you no doubt heard his speech a thousand times in every trailer, so to say that he runs away with the movie is just air wasted!
The creature and robot designs are inspired. The Kaiju look exactly what the classic monsters from all those Godzilla movies would look like if WETA Digital got their hands on them. The creatures are so influenced by those films, that each and every Kaiju looks like it could very well be a suit with a guy inside it. And the Jaegers all look like they marched out of an anime fanatic’s sketchbook. The effects are astounding, doing away with muddy browns and grays and instead catering in vibrant blues, oranges, and neon.
And the action is awesome. Jaegers are really cool inventions, packed to the brim with awesome shit. But, del Toro has a keen sense of what is necessary for the film to be as fun as it could be. He’s setting out to indulge the fantasies of every kid who every dreamed of this kind of thing. So, yes, it would be more practical for hero Jaeger Gipsy Danger to use its arm swords all the time. Think of the number of Kaiju it could kill with those. Why doesn’t it? Because using those swords is not nearly as bad ass as picking up an oil tanker and wielding it like a baseball bat! Everything here is in favor of the experience. The action is framed confidently and with a clearly defined sense of space and momentum. We are always privy to the juiciest shot. The music, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is your usual blockbuster score, that is until the action picks up. Then it turns into a head banging, hard rock symphony with all the crunchy guitars and pounding bass you could want.
Pacific Rim is that rare breed of movie where it delivers in shining spades exactly what was promised. Almost every movie these days, regardless of overall quality, falls short of this. Not Pacific Rim. You go in expecting balls to the wall robot on monster action and that is exactly what you get. As an action movie, it humbles every other movie from this summer and many others, from Transformers to Man of Steel. As a work of imaginative science fiction, it stands right up there with District 9, Independence Day, and The Matrix as something truly different and exciting. Everyone involved brings serious conviction and adoration to the project, and that commitment to the material shines bright! Is it, on an objective level, a good movie? God no! The script isn’t gonna be winning any awards. Ditto for the acting. It’s a big, goofy, childlike ball. And you know what? Del Toro told us, from the very beginning, that it was going to be just that. Well done sir! Well done indeed!