Pacific Rim is a film that many would describe as “Power Rangers for adults”. It is a film where giant robots go up against equally giant monsters and if that doesn’t sound like the ultimate nerd fantasy, I don’t know what does. The thing is, though, that in spite of this, Pacific Rim is in fact a wickedly entertaining movie!
Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro‘s bombastic love letter to the monster movies of Japan and I’d say he pays tribute to the genre fairly well by creating a monster movie in which every creature and machine looks, sounds and even feels like they do indeed weigh several thousand tons and could indeed level an entire city should their battle move too close. Basically, a movie that feels this heavy and grandiloquent is a rare and delicious treat!
The year is 2025. A mysterious portal into a hostile dimension has opened at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, causing the Earth to come under attack from ginormous monstrosities known as Kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature”). After the first few assaults, humanity decided to finally fight back by initiating the Jaeger Program, in which two humans, linked by having their minds connected via something called the “Drift”, work together to control colossal war robots. In 2025, it’s being run by stoic badass Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and as the Kaiju enemy grows increasingly powerful, Pantecost approaches a retired Jaeger pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who quit after his brother died during a Jaeger-Kaiju fight, and asks him to pilot a Jaeger to the portal and use a nuclear device to destroy it once and for all.
Raleigh, being the clichéd retired war hero that he is, is reluctant at first and doesn’t really know anyone whom he has a strong enough connection with for their Drifting to work. But Pentecost nevetheless introduces him to Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel fame), a seemingly troubled young woman who Raleigh demands to have as his Jaeger co-pilot after sensing a strong connection to her. For reasons I won’t reveal, Pentecost is hesitant to allow this.
Meanwhile, a goofy scientist working for Pentecost, named Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) conducts experiments on parts of Kaiju brains and intends to use the Drifting technology on them and thus potentially figure out how their portal works. To do this, however, he needs more brain parts and to obtain those he needs to visit the hideout of wealthy psychopath Hannibal Chau, who makes a living dealing Kaiju organs on the black market. He’s played by the always amazing Ron Perlman in what’s easily on of the most entertaining and hilarious roles in the entire film! In fact, the characters of Chau, as well as the eccentric Geiszler and his much more snooty, stereotypically British lab partner Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), are so much campy fun that you wish the movie was all about them!
Yeah, even though I thought the movie was a most fantastic ride, you often wish that more of the comedic elements of the scientists and the Ron Perlman character in the B-plot were carried over into the A-plot with the Jaeger pilots. The rest of the cast includes a technician played by Clifton Collins Jr. and two Australian Jaeger pilot legends played by Robert Kazinsky and Max Martini but not all of them are very funny. Oh and I almost forgot, the Jaeger main computer is voiced Ellen McLain, a.k.a GladOS from the Portal games. That’s pretty damn awesome.
The characters work and you do find yourself rooting for Raleigh and Mako, sure. I just would have loved to see more of the camp we saw in the Geiszler storyline. I also felt more sympathy for the Geiszler character because whereas Raleigh is the invincible war hero we’re all meant to look up to, Geiszler is just an ordinary guy caught in the midst of an apocalypse he’s not equipped to do much to fight off, which I found miles more intriguing! This is, however, a fairly small nitpick on what I otherwise adored all the way!
Why this movie works is basically the exact same reason why Michael Bay‘s Transformers trainwrecks did not. Even though I personally enjoyed the story and characters in Pacific Rim, that’s not really what’s important. This is a movie that’s intended to suck you in mainly through the use of gigantic and well-made action sequences. The action in, say, Transformers 3 was no such thing; not in terms of appealing sound design, visual attractiveness or even something as simple as coherency. All three of those are things that Guillermo del Toro absolutely nails with Pacific Rim, at least for the most part. There may have been one or two scenes where I didn’t catch the action but it does by no means happen as often as in Transformers.
Transformers also failed in creating robots that truly moved like they were colossally heavy battle droids by making them way too flexible and fast. In Pacific Rim, however, you can just feel with every punch, every step and every movement the weight and scale of these towering fighting machines. The sound design and astoundingly made visuals (my father’s friends John Knoll and Hal Hickel were apparently involved in the latter, so big kudos to them) really add to the incredible size of both the creatures/robots in the film and also the film itself. I will deem it wise if you choose not to see this in 3D, because all the 3D really does is make the often-present rain and smoke effects get in the way of the rest of the awesome imagery.
But for heavens sake, go and see Pacific Rim! The monsters look great (it’s a del Toro film so they’re probably all played by Doug Jones), the visuals are stunning, the music is fantastic, the performances are lovely (there’s a child actor in a flashback scene who totally sells it) and the action is some of the most bombastic I’ve seen; the local theater vibrated enough to set off earthquake detectors when they were screening this! Pay these hard workers back and give this film the notoriety it deserves. I know that the movie isn’t out in Japan yet, which I think we all know is where it will aquire its well-deserved fame, but the fact that this movie lost to Adam Sandler‘s Grown Ups 2 at the box office has already said some outright disgusting things about our species as a whole.
I will go as far as to give this film a 5/5, which I realize, upon further inspection, is the first time I’ve rated a film this high since Cloud Atlas. Not bad, del Toro. Not bad at all.