In Pacific Rim, nerd-favorite director Guillermo del Toro turns his imagination on an anime-influenced world filled with giant monsters and giant mech suits used to fight them and, as you’d expect, he does not disappoint. Battles rage in the ocean and through city streets, while the towering mechs called Jaegers (never call them “robots” according to del Toro) use not only their own impressive armaments but whatever improvised weaponry they can pick up. Michael Bay must be scrambling to fix Transformers 4 to even try to compete.
But even more than just being some showcase of special effects wizardry (a laurel on which Pacific Rim could easily rest), del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham have crafted a film filled with characters who (despite – or perhaps partly due to – being archetypes) are knowable and incredibly easy to care about. Every character, no matter how minor, gets some kind of backstory. You even find out how Ron Perlman’s underground Kaiju organ dealer got his name – that’s the level of world building del Toro undertook here.
There are times when you watch a movie and you just know that the only things happening in that world are the events being played out in front of the camera. Some of these are even very good movies, but you never get a sense of any larger world. Have you ever thought about any resistance fighters in the Terminator franchise other than the ones we saw on screen? On the other hand there are movies that you just know exist in a larger world. It’s clear that every student and every shopkeeper in Harry Potter has their own stories and adventures that are almost as interesting as Harry’s. Pacific Rim is that kind of movie. Every Jaeger pilot could anchor their own film. The streets of Hong Kong are alive with people whose stories you want to know.
And Guillermo del Toro uses this to put one hell of a movie on the screen. I will admit that there are some parts in the first act where the film drags a bit. They use a little more narration than they probably should to do some heavy lifting that might be able to be handled by the dialog, but once the set-up is out of the way damn does this thing fly.
In the very-near future we’ve been invaded by and fighting off Kaiju (gigantic creatures from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean) for a few years, and humanity is getting weary. Politicians are ready to mothball the successful Jaeger program in favor of simply putting up a border wall to keep the monsters out. The last few pilots left take a stand. It’s a simple story, but one that resonates especially due to the performances of the humans that make up the cast (though not much of the advertising).
Charles Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket, retired after a particularly traumatic mission, is called back into action and what, at first blush, seems like the typical hero-resisting-the-call story is really more of a hero-concerned-about-his-team-if-he-answers-the-call story. Hunnam (of Sons of Anarchy) plays this exactly right, a need to help others combined with an unwillingness to put them at risk.
Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi (Assault Girls, Brothers Bloom), is an odd character and a hard one to pin down. Is her strange behavior due to a fannish crush or an instant connection? How much of it was on the page and how much of it was an acting choice? Either way, she’s fascinating and impossible to look away from.
Charlie Day is great as a comic relief scientist described in the film as a “Kaiju groupie” though at times he does seem a bit like what his Always Sunny character would be like if he huffed less bleach. The only time he doesn’t outright own a scene is when he shares the screen with Ron Perlman, and then it’s a matter of watching the two of them fight it out.
Of course Idris Elba (Everything, Everyone’s Wishlist for Everything Else), whose part could have been a one-dimensional Commanding Officer role, is both given more to do and demands even more than that. Unsurprisingly, he elevates every line he’s given (even if many of them sound like he cribbed them from Bill Pullman’s ID4 notes).
I would obviously be remiss if I didn’t speak about the Kaiju themselves. The monster designs in Pacific Rim are intense – lumbering beasts that put the Cloverfield monster to shame, both in their nightmarish appearance but also in the destruction they leave in their wake. And did del Toro manage to sneak in a swipe at 1998’s disastrous American Godzilla remake? I believe he did.
This is something you want to see and soon. I’ve seen it twice and am looking forward to seeing it again. This is everything you love about anime and giant monster movies thrown into a blender and put onto the screen by a director who hasn’t made a bad movie yet. It’s just unbelievably fun.
I give it 9 OH MY GOD! WAS THAT A…?s out of 10