Film Reviews

Pacific Rim Guillermo del Toro

Rating - 8/10


It’s a shame that giant monster movies -- of the man-in-suit variety -- have faded out of favor in mainstream Hollywood for so long. It’s a niche genre that’s largely been left for dead since Roland Emmerich’s stale Godzilla remake of the ‘90s, and hasn’t seen a true renaissance in the states since Godzilla 1985. Truly, in a world filled with an overabundance of CGI-fueled remakes and uninspired blockbuster concepts, a marvelously stupid spectacle like Pacific Rim is a breath of fresh air. Indeed, Pacific Rim is big and clunky and dumb, and I unabashedly loved every second of it! Fanboy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is back again with what is quite possibly his most nerd-indulgent film to date. And I’ve really got to put an emphasis (in the most endearing sense) on the word “nerd” here -- after all, this is a movie featuring giant, lumbering mechs punching the crap out of hulking leviathans, whilst tearing apart multiple cities in the process. Need I go any further?

The plot is delightfully simple. A portal to another world has opened up between two tectonic plates along the Pacific Ocean, and through it emerge the Kaiju, giant monsters of Gamera proportions, who wreak havoc upon the planet. After a few Kaiju beat-downs, humanity eventually fights back in the form of Jaegers, giant robots that effectively fight the Kaiju in glorious hand-to-hand combat. And believe it or not, everything was going pretty well, until a fight between Gipsy Danger, an American-made mech piloted by Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), suffers a devastating defeat against a Kaiju, ringing in a new era of staggering losses. 

Running out of options and money, Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) must rally his pilots for one last stand against the insidious beasts, or suffer the extinction of the entire human family. Stacker tracks down an emotionally wounded Raleigh and offers him the chance to co-pilot his old robot once again. The young man agrees to do so only if the elder will go along with his choice for co-pilot, Japanese belle Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who has a pretty obvious personal connection with Stacker.

Let’s face it, this is hardly the understated fairy-tale plot of del Toro’s art house efforts like Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth, nor is it a cut of the same big budget brood of the Hellboy series. No, this is the kind of film that could only emerge from the vivid, visceral imagination of an eight year-old weaned on science fiction and anime, smashing his toys together whilst gleefully thrashing about a schoolyard sandbox. However, Guillermo del Toro is a forty-eight year old man-child playing in the world’s biggest sandbox with an unbelievable amount of money to build his Kaiju creations. Really, when confronted with this sort of premise, you can either suspend your disbelief and sit tight for what is most definitely a fun ride, or you can dive headlong into minor plot holes, gaps in logic, and confused characterization -- of which there are plenty! If you choose the latter, you’re already missing the point and might as well execute your inner child now, if you haven’t done so already.

But even the film’s apparent flaws can be interpreted as somewhat of an homage to anime and Japanese monster movies of yesteryear. Certainly the old Toho flicks of the late ‘60s had their fair share of meandering human drama, and in those few instances that the plot loses momentum, Pacific Rim channels those tropes 110%. However, even the most highbrow critic has to give the film credit for not hitting the same circular, pointless beats that most monster movies do. The humans in this film actually have a purpose beyond simple filler between monster-on-robot money shots and cityscape demolitions. The concept of “the drift”, a feature where two pilots essentially become one hemisphere of the brain to operate the Jaegers, ensures that each character gets a nice chunk of unforced development in the film. The idea is that these mechs are so massive that the neural connection required to pilot one is too overwhelming for a single human brain to handle, hence both individuals must “share the load”. Through the drift, both pilots simultaneously share their thoughts, memories, and fears with one another -- a clever way of not only making these characters more interesting, but also giving the cast-iron Jaegers a fundamental (and believable) human weakness.

While the film’s lack of subtlety (seriously, it’s about GIANT ROBOTS, what did you expect?) may disappoint some fans of del Toro’s early oeuvre, rest assure his unique eye for detailed design and macabre beauty aren’t lost here. The film’s dedication to practical effects alone are something to be admired. The Jaegers’ cockpit is quite a sight to see, not only for its gritty, scarred hull, but for its surprisingly realistic responsiveness. When a Jaeger is impacted by a Kaiju claw, the cockpit reacts by actually shaking and tossing the pilots around. When the cockpit is lowered into the Jaeger, you can visually see the pilots in a state of free-fall. I mean seriously, how cool is that?

And for those viewers interested in the weirdly distinct Guillermo-isms inherent with his productions, there’s plenty to be had here. There's jars filled with all types of gross goo, Ron Perlman being Ron Perlman, a particularly odd fetus, and an awesome Kaiju autopsy! The latter being one of the most visually arresting moments of the film that I don't think del Toro will ever be able to top. It's cool to cut open a monster on a table to show how it works, but it's a totally different ballpark when you invite the audience to step inside and walk around in it. And let’s not forget the Kaiju themselves! Again, del Toro is a stickler for detail, and makes sure that every scaly nook and cranny is properly animated and visually noticeable. The physical traits of these monsters are at once an homage to the bulky suits of Toho films and reminiscent of real-world creatures. Looking at the film’s first Kaiju, aptly named Knifehead, one can detect equal parts Destoroyah just as well as Mako shark, which makes its subsequent oceanic rampage all the more frightening.

There’s very few movies that can reach inside my soul and tickle my inner child in the same way that Pacific Rim has. Coming out of the theater, I had the same giddy, butterfly feelings akin to the after-effects of a top-notch amusement park ride, and literally had to fight off the urge to run back in for another go. Is Pacific Rim a smart movie? No. Is it a landmark film for its genre? Probably not. It’s movie escapism at its finest. And while many cinephiles may have objections to that notion, that films can simply entertain rather than meditate with brooding intellectualism, what does it matter when the experience is so utterly palpable? Pacific Rim isn't trying to prove its importance or trick you with a mind-bending ending. It's exactly what it wants to be: a heartfelt tribute to all that is wonderfully geeky and quintessentially classic in cinema.