Pacific Rim is struggling at the box office, which saddens me for a great many reasons (for one, it’s one of the few films in theaters that isn’t a sequel, prequel or reboot). It seems that while plenty of people have noted the film’s impressive special effects, few have taken the time to consider the possibility that it’s anything more than a pretty face.
But don’t worry. That’s what I’m here for.
To anyone even remotely intrigued by the idea of giant robots fighting giant monsters, I say: Go see it. Now.
To anyone wondering why I’m spending my time extolling the virtues of what looks like a schlocky Transformers knock-off, read on (I’ve organized themes into amusing(?) sub-heads for your reading pleasure).
A summary beyond “It’s robots versus monsters”
Set in the near future, the story of Pacific Rim begins with an interdimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean. Soon, kaiju—terrifying creatures that dwarf the tallest skyscrapers—begin crossing over into our world and wreaking havoc. Humanity quickly realizes that traditional combat methods won’t cut it against these monsters. And so, we create jaegers—massive robots piloted by two humans—to take down the kaiju. As you can see, the premise is simple, but director Guillermo del Toro crafts a wildly engaging universe around it.
Seriously, guys, look at this movie
First off, I can’t emphasize enough how incredible this movie looks. During the first battle scene, it took me a few minutes to realize that my mouth was hanging open (this happened more than once throughout the movie). The effects used to create the jaegars and kaiju are absolutely incredible— you can feel their texture and weight just by looking at them. Also, because the fantastic cinematography gives the film a palpable sense of scale, I’d recommend seeing the film in IMAX if you have the option. Pacific Rim, more so than any other film I’ve seen, was made for IMAX.
Don’t forget the little guy
What made me particularly happy is that Pacific Rim, unlike pretty much every other action flick out there right now, takes no joy in showcasing large-scale destruction for the sake of showcasing large-scale destruction. Pacific Rim never lets the audience forget that these sea monsters and metal behemoths are doing battle in populated cities. We hear heavy footfalls set off countless car alarms and see civilians flood into public shelters constructed specifically for kaiju attacks. The film never loses sight of humanity during these moments, and even manages to inject surprising bits of levity into the clashes between machine and monster. Del Toro accomplishes a rare feat: he dwells enough on the human element for us to care that a city is being destroyed, but all the while manages to keep the fights fun.
Building a better tomorrow (by building giant robots)
I want to talk just a little about the universe of Pacific Rim (specifically, the ideology under which this future society operates). An important detail to remember is that the jaegers require two mentally compatible humans to pilot the gargantuan robots and share the neural load. This importance placed on interdependence and inter-connectedness stood out to me, especially since most action tales revolve around a single hero saving the world on his own. The world del Toro creates is one that values cooperation and human relationships above all. At every turn, the film deemphasizes the importance of personal accomplishments or self-gratification because what we can accomplish when we work together is much, much greater than anything we could do on our own. Some may call it corny or idealistic, but I find it hopeful, even Star Trek-ian in a way. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was all about showing us humanity’s potential—what we were capable of when we put our differences aside. It’s the same idea here. The world of Pacific Rim is hardly utopian, but it’s all about people of different backgrounds banding together to achieve the impossible.
Hey, look—a female in functional body armor!
On top of gorgeous visuals and an intriguing universe, Pacific Rim has a good handful of likable, engaging characters. My personal favorite was Charlie Day as the twitchy, heavily tattooed scientist Newton Geiszler whose passionate (verging on obsessive) study of kaiju proves invaluable later on in the film. But really, all the characters are enjoyable in their own right. Idris Elba commands respect as the stoic badass Stacker Pentecost, while Ron Perlman brings the laughs as Hannibal Chau, the flamboyant yet threatening dealer of kaiju parts.
Now, can I get a nice, drawn-out round of applause for del Toro for the characterization of women in this movie? Not a single one of the female characters is relegated to being eye candy or a helpless damsel in distress. The females are treated no differently than the males in their field: they are strong, smart, and capable. That isn’t to say that these women are steely, emotionless ice queens. They are people with baggage, weaknesses and flaws. You don’t know how happy it makes me—as a woman and a lover of sci-fi/action— to see a director completely eschew the all-too-common practice of trivializing women in male-dominated genres.
There was a moment during one battle sequence when my friend, my brother and I simultaneously pumped our fists in the air in a “heck yeah!” fashion
I’ve come to terms with the fact that some people may roll their eyes at the film’s cheesier lines or the Saturday morning cartoon themes of friendship and vengeance. These things didn’t bother me, though, for one very important reason: Pacific Rim doesn’t have an ounce of cynicism in it. This is a movie without an agenda, without irony. Del Toro said in an interview that he wanted to make an adventure movie, and he has succeeded.
Bottom line: Pacific Rim is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. It’s more than worth a viewing.