Thank God for Guillermo Del Toro! The man gets it, he just gets it. If you wanted the shortest movie review in the world, then here it is: Pacific Rim is the most fun you’ll have at the movies all summer! As cliched as that sounds, I mean every bit of it. It’s been such a ho-hum summer for movies that have promised us everything and delivered little to nothing. That’s not the case with Pacific Rim. When I tell you it’s a movie about robots fighting monsters, I mean exactly that. And it is glorious. I know a lot of people have been comparing it to the Transformers franchise, but that’s almost an insult to Pacific Rim because Del Toro, unlike Michael Bay, understands what it means to take a genre like the kaiju movies of Japan and create a movie that is both an homage and a stand alone film in its own right. Del Toro is a fan. He has passion and it shows throughout the entire film. He doesn’t just want to make a kaiju movie, he wants to immerse the audience in the world of a kaiju movie. This is a deliberate attempt to make a popcorn-eating, edge-of-your-seat, fist-pumping summer blockbuster and it succeeds on so many levels.
The plot is refreshingly basic. A portal opens in the Pacific Ocean, releasing monsters, Kaiju, into our world. In order to combat the Kaiju, the world governments band together and create giant robots, Jaegers, to defend the coastal regions where the Kaiju continue to attack. After fifteen years of fighting the Kaiju, the Jaeger program is about to be shut down until the remaining Jaegers and their pilots are brought together for one last mission to stop the Kaiju once and for all. Cut and dry, right? Maybe, but there’s so much more to Pacific Rim than just the set-up. In fact, the plot is almost incidental because Del Toro and screenplay co-writer Travis Beacham spend the bulk of the movie letting you get to know the characters and discovering the post-Kaiju world and what we humans have made of it.
Not only have we made the pilots of Jaegers into rock stars, but there are Kaiju toys, groupies, and an entire black market dedicated to stripping down the carcases of dead Kaiju and selling every part of the monsters to the highest bidders. There’s even a church built into a Kaiju skull! Even as over-the-top as it sounds, what Del Toro shows us isn’t implausible. It’s probably how we as people would react to this new world order. Propaganda, consumerism, the restructuring of religion, these are all ways in which Del Toro tries to incorporate an almost realistic reaction to what seems like the most unrealistic of situations. But at the heart of the movie is the friendship of Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Raleigh and his brother Yancy were the pilots of Gypsy Danger, a diesel-powered Jaeger, off the coast of Alaska. Unfortunately, Yancy is killed during a Kaiju battle and, due to the nature of Jaeger piloting, Raleigh is left with his brother’s memories as well as his emotions up to his death. Five years later when Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) comes a’ callin’ and offers Raleigh another chance to pilot Gypsy, the only candidate compatible with Raleigh is Pentecost’s adopted daughter, Mako, a woman with a vendetta of her own against the Kaiju.
The core of Pacific Rim is about the bonds of friendship and humanity, bonds that become crucial to the piloting of Jaegers, but also give the movie the exact amount of heart it needs to make you root for the characters. Raleigh and Mako are both damaged people, but they overcome their circumstances and experience a true connection of trust and respect that makes them a damn near perfect team. Pentecost is a man on a mission to “cancel the Apocalypse,” but we get to see the vulnerability of the man beneath the badass, especially when it comes to his adopted daughter. Granted, not everyone gets the same treatment as Raleigh, Mako, and Pentecost, but there are brilliant comedic performances by Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Dark Knight Rises) as the bickering Kaiju research team who discover how to end the war once and for all, as well as wonderful supporting roles from Clifton Collins, Jr., Robert Kazinsky as the resident Iceman to Raleigh’s Maverick, and Max Martini. Ron Perlman also turns in an amazing performance, but it’s Ron fucking Perlman, so of course he does!
From a filmmaking perspective, Pacific Rim just wins when it comes to cinematography and special effects. The size and scale of the Jeagers and Kaiju is mindblowing. When one strikes the other, you feel the weight of the assault as you watch the destructive power behind each battle. The fights are brutal and fast-paced, but you can see everything that’s happening. Even during battles that take place in the ocean or in the rain, devices that are normally used to disguise shoddy effects, you can still see everything that’s happening. Del Toro lingers just enough on the Kaiju and Jaeger so you can follow along without feeling confused about what’s fighting what, which is important when you need to distinguish one Kaiju or one Jaeger from the other in scenes with multiples of each. The use of water in this movie makes everything feel grander, like the beginning of a story that will turn into myth. Watching Gypsy Danger drag a steamer ship down the colorfully lit streets of Hong Kong, then holding it like a baseball bat at the ready to strike a Kaiju, while it’s raining, is the epitome of epic. It’s a battle that deserves to be lauded in song as knights face down dragons! They even have swords!
So if this review isn’t enough to get you to see Pacific Rim, I don’t know what it’s going to take. All I know is that this movie probably saved the summer for me and it breaks my heart that Grown Ups 2 is beating it at the box office right now. But, hopefully, word of mouth will turn this into the blockbuster it deserves to be because we need more films like Pacific Rim and we need more filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro. He’s an international treasure and we need to preserve him in carbonite so he can never leave us.
Also: Bring on Justice League Dark!