About a year and a half ago, I saw an ad for Pacific Rim, a new film coming out that, at first glance, looked like an attempt to cash in on the financial success of the Transformers series. However, when I found out that acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro was at the helm of the project, my expectations rose significantly. I’m a fan of both Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, so I figured that Del Toro would be able to pull through with Pacific Rim, as well. So was this 2+ hour kaiju-rama worth the $15 I paid to see it in 3D?
Pacific Rim begins with a narration by our main character Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam, explaining how giant monsters, called Kaiju, first came to earth through an inter-dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean. In order to combat these creatures, the humans have built giant robots called Jaegers, one of which Becket pilots. After losing his brother during a fight with a Kaiju, Becket retires from piloting his Jaeger, Gypsy Danger, only to return to the field when his commander Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba, informs him that he is one of the only people left alive who can pilot his old Jaeger. Becket returns to the field with his new co-pilot Mako, played by Rinko Kikuchi, in an attempt to defeat the Kaiju once and for all.
If there’s one thing that everyone who has seen this movie can agree on, it’s that the scenes in which the Kaiju and Jaegers are fighting are absolutely perfect. These scenes don’t work like some movies where the cameras shift too often and the audience can’t tell what’s going on; instead, we get a full view of both the Kaiju and the Jaegers in combat. These giant beasts move slowly, as we’d expect beings of such a large stature to do. When a punch is thrown, the audience can really feel the weight behind it. I was also very impressed by the creative designs of the Kaiju and Jaegers, and I thought that the layouts of the various Jaegers cockpits were very inventive, as well. Del Toro did an amazing job with the direction in these scenes, as well as his special effects team, and I also believe that editors John Gilroy and Peter Amundson should get nods for the smooth feel of these scenes, as well.
The Jaegers require two pilots in order to be operated safely, and in order to do this, the pair must be linked up mentally through the Jaeger. This created some interesting moments in the movie. In the beginning, when Becket’s brother is torn from Gypsy Danger’s cockpit and devoured by the Jaeger, he is still mentally connected to his brother, and Becket can experience all of the pain that his brother is going through while dying. Later in the movie, when Becket and Mako connect for the first time, Mako becomes traumatized by an old memory of a Jaeger attack in her home city, and Becket has to go into the memory himself in order to pull her out of it. Although many critics and viewers felt that the “neural handshake” idea was just a strange addition to the film, I believe that it allowed for some interesting moments such as the ones that I’ve mentioned here, and allowed for the development of both Mako and Becket’s characters.
Many people who saw this movie also said that the plot didn’t have much depth in comparison to the action scenes, but I have to argue that those viewers missed the entire point of the combat. Because of the great direction of the fight scenes between the Kaiju and Jaegers, we are able to experience the depth of the story during these battles. We can feel the desperation of the Jaeger pilots every time that they are hit by a Kaiju. We can see the rage in the eyes and faces of the inter-dimensional monsters, who will stop at nothing to destroy all that they can. Instead of focusing on human scenes with some monster action at the end, like the new Godzilla movie, Del Toro knew that people going to see Pacific Rim wanted to see Power Rangers vs. Godzilla, and he chose to tell the story through those scenes rather than wasting our money that we spent to see the movie in 3D on a film that is 80% conversations.
The casting in the movie is pretty good. Most people have said that Charlie Hunnam might have not been the best choice for Becket, and I can definitely see their point. However, I also think that it would have helped if Becket was a more interesting character, in general. After his brother dies in the beginning of the film, there aren’t many more scenes where we become invested in Becket’s character. This is made up for by the performances of both Elba and Kikuchi, whose characters have very interesting backstories that are relevant to their actions and behaviors throughout the film. It was also nice to see Charlie Day as the eccentric Dr. Newton Geiszler, a scientist studying Kaijus who ends up being critical to the film’s main plot. And since this is a Guillermo Del Toro film, Ron Perlman makes an appearance in the second half, giving a typically entertaining performance.
Some of my friends think that I’m crazy for the credit that I give to Pacific Rim. Is the acting perfect? Not quite. Is the script cheesy? Well, at times, but I believe that it is decidedly so. However, the movie has an overwhelming sense of fun that I believe shouldn’t be overlooked. Pacific Rim accomplishes everything that the Transformers movies couldn’t; it’s an entertaining film set in a unique world that delivers in every way that it promised. It’s not Oscar material, but it was never meant to be; it’s simply one of the most self-indulgently entertaining sci-fi adventures that we’ve had in years.I also think that Pacific Rim is commendable simply for being an original idea. It’s not very common today to see a sci-fi film that isn’t based on a comic book, novel, or previous movie, and Pacific Rim is just a film on its own. I personally loved Pacific Rim, and I’m excited to see what Del Toro has planned for the sequels.