Pacific Rim is the latest film from director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth). After losing out on directing The Hobbit, Guillermo moved on to this love letter to Mecha, Kaiju, Anime, and the summer blockbuster. This film is inspired by innumerable pieces of media and yet manages to build an entirely unique world complete with its own history before the film title even appears on the screen. The reason its so important that the plot is extremely clear so quickly is that the film cannot afford to falter in any way if it is going to be a success. There have been quite a few articles published by film trades like Variety that show the film is headed towards a disastrous opening weekend. Warner Brothers and the filmmakers have responded with an incredible ad/review blitz on twitter from celebrities, film reviewers, video game creators, nerds with lots of followers, etc. Accompanied by viral videos on YouTube and a refocused television ad campaign highlighting the human element of the film, there has been an uptick in the predictions but not by much. Is the film more than just Giant Robots vs Giant Monsters? Is the film good enough that through word of mouth it can bring it back from the edge of disaster? Or are the trades absolutely correct that this film will fail?
It’s easy to take away from the advertising that Pacific Rim is about nameless faceless characters in Giant Robots fighting an unrelenting horde of Giant Monsters but in actuality the film really does focus on the people risking their lives to save humanity. The opening of the film the film is narrated by Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam – Sons of Anarchy, Green Street Hooligans). He tells the story of how the first Kaiju made landfall in San Francisco and after a six day battle that destroyed three cities they managed to kill it. Humanity mourned and rebuilt only to have another attack in Manilla six months later. Then the attacks became more frequent, and the Kaiju got bigger …
Mankind had to pool it’s resources in order to fight the monsters and the Jaeger program was born. After much trial and error Jaegers proved to be the answer. At first they tried solo pilots but the neural load was too much for a single human brain so they developed a neural bonding technology called The Drift. Using Drift Combatible pilots humanity actually begins winning the war. The pilots became rock stars and even as the Kaiju grew to a third size they were still being successfully defeated. Until the day Raleigh and his brother, who pilot an American Jaeger called Gypsy Danger, are sent on a mission in the Bering Sea to face the very first Category 4 Kaiju. That day becomes the turning point in the war. Raleigh’s brother dies while they are in the Drift together and he manages to complete the mission and pilot Gypsy Danger back to land on his own but that small measure of victory is humanity’s last. Category 4 Kaiju begin destroying Jaegers left and right, Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba – Luther, The Wire) has to watch as team after team is destroyed by bigger-faster-stronger monsters. In the end the United governments lose faith in the Jaegers and decide to decommission them, in turn choosing to build a specialized anti-Kaiju wall. Pentecost warns them that they’re wrong, he wants to make an all out assault on the Kaiju with his remaining Jaegers. They tell him his funding runs out in eight months when the wall will be finished. He orders all teams and remaining Jaegers to leave their home ports and meet him in Hong Kong.
If that sounds like the first issue of a comic book mixed with the first episode of a long running anime series that is not wrong. Pacific Rim’s greatest attribute is that even though it seems like those things, there’s no specific series that comes to mind when watching the film. As one would would expect from the modern master of creature design the Kaiju aren’t all similar looking no-name monsters. The creatures follow a set of basic guidelines regarding their look, but after that they are all unique. They fight differently, they move differently, they each have unique powers and they even have names. All of that same thought goes into the design of the Jaegers … Everything like the country the teams are from to the specific pilots to the philosophy of the builders goes into the design of each of the mechs. They could have worked on a single design and palette swapped them and been done with it but those elements were so important they become part of the storyline of the film. It matters that one mech is older and another is faster, the technicians can tell you what metals are in the armor and the power source driving the device … Gypsy Danger for example is iron, runs on nuclear power, and looks like a WW II Bomber complete with rivets, white stars and a pinup painted on the hull. Gypsy Danger it should be noted by the time the film really gets going is many years obsolete and Becket hasn’t jockeyed a Jaeger since the loss of his brother.
The marshaling of forces to Hong Kong brings together the best people in the United defense force. arshall Pentecost’s right hand woman and aspiring Jaeger pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi – The Brothers Bloom, Babel), researchers like Kaiju enthusiast Dr. Newton (Charlie Day – Horrible Bosses, It’s Always Sunny…) and statistician Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman – Torchwood, The Dark Knight Rises), and the Australian Jaeger father/son team the Hansens. Herc Hansen (Max Martini – The Unit, Saving Private Ryan) is a grizzled veteran with nearly as much time in the service as Pentecost but his son Chuck (Robert Kazinsky – East Enders, Red Tails) is a young hotshot who blames the pilots who’ve been killed for humanity’s current plight. Finally, the enigmatic Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman – Hellboy, Drive) is not a member of the Jaeger program but lives in Hong Kong and has information on the Kaiju even the government does not. Each of these characters bring something major to the story but the actors who portray them are what is key. This film could easily be grey metallic thing smashing into big glowing thing = city go boom; but when the actors bring genuinely funny or heart wrenching moments to a film like this it becomes something special. It speaks to the quality of the film Guillermo Del Toro was aspiring to when his lead actors are Hunnam and Elba. These are men who work on two of the best dramas on television right now in Sons of Anarchy and Luther; not to mention Elba’s work on The Wire. Giving them a major summer tentpole film like this, based on a brand new IP, with a cast of character actors to back them up speaks to the performances these two men are capable of. That said these men are not the only driving factor of the film, Rinko Kikuchi steals more than hearts she nearly steals the entire film. She is given a lot to work with and since nearly every one of her scenes involves our two main leads the fact that she more than holds her own should mean that we’ll see much more of her in the future.
Breaking down this film into its components does nothing to give you the feel of what experiencing this flick is really like. Depending on your age you remember the modern summer blockbuster renaissance. You remember seeing dinosaurs come to life in Jurassic Park or major US cities being destroyed in Independence Day or you saw an oil driller named Harry destroy an asteroid in Armageddon. Blockbusters have always relied on visual language but they’ve also become a lot smarter since then. Films like The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Inception, and Super 8 present to audiences that these films can be much more than just spectacles. Pacific Rim is not a return to the visual only blockbusters of years past that many seem to think it is. It is not just a mashup of Transformers vs Godzilla. Pacific Rim is a fantastic film with a unique world that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. It is a fun time at the movies as well as a well acted film. Guillermo Del Toro has created a film that makes adults feel like kids and makes kids want to make films when they’re adults. It has everything you want from a classic summer blockbuster experience. Go with your friends and bring the kids (whatever age they may outwardly appear to be) because this is your smart, fun, over the top blockbuster of the year.
– Mr. Khon