Pacific Rim will inspire far more action figures than prolonged conversation, and I mean this in the best way possible. I cannot profess to be any great monster-movie expert, but one doesn’t need to be in order to absorb the passionate, comprehensive vision that writer-director Guillermo del Toro has cooked up. del Toro may be among the most famous, glorious nerds on the planet, a man whose encyclopedic love of all things fantasy, genre and post-modern is known to anyone even vaguely familiar with him. With Pacific Rim he crafts his loudest, brashest entertainment — possibly among the loudest of all time, actually — and happily doesn’t sacrifice any of the idiosyncratic ecstasy that comes with the title-card “A Guillermo del Toro Film”. (I offer as evidence of his mastery the bloody Spanish-language fairy-tales Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone, as well as Hellboy II, one of the nuttiest, best comic-book movies of the decade.)
The way Pacific Rim has history going down, at some point this year, a trans-universal portal will emerge on the rim of the Pacific (cha-ching!) and a terrifying 200-foot monster, dubbed a “Kaiju”, will emerge and smash cities. In order to combat this creature, global governments pool their resources to create the “Jaeger” machine, an equally towering combat robot piloted by two warriors. The Jaeger wins, but Kaijus continue to emerge from the portal every few months, leading to a full-blown army of Jaegers being rolled out.
The film opens in the year 2020, as the world seems to be on its last leg. The Jaegers’ ranks are down to four and Kaijus are beginning to arrive two, three at a time. Here we meet our rugged heroes — Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who’s still recouping from the loss of his co-pilot brother a few years back, and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), an intelligent analyst longing to be a pilot. Naturally, these two must end up in a Jaeger together, but the film first insists they work out their respective baggage, making for truly engaging character moments in the mid-section of the film. While closer to archetypes than genuine characters, Hunnam and Kikuchi still infuse more than enough soul and effort to make our sympathies lie with them. Idris Elba has a towering role as the Jaeger’s top commander (in the film’s universe, literally the biggest bad-ass alive) and STILL brings depth, contradiction, even weakness to the role. Charlie Day brings his nutty energy from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to a berserk-scientist role and may be the most lovable guy in the film.
These individuals are largely the reason that Pacific Rim never suffers from what I call “Destruction Porn Syndrome” — where in a movie, the stakes are so ludicrously high (save the city! save the world! grab the girl!), that the audience’s emotional connection is severed and we reject the film’s reality. This said, the film still features three massive battles between Jaeger and Kaiju — battles that take them to space, to the ocean floor and, most notably, to the gorgeous neon-lit streets of Tokyo. del Toro frames and orchestrates these set-pieces with unbelievable brio and visual clarity — not that its much of a challenge to keep 20-story-tall objects in the frame, mind you. Pacific Rim‘s fight sequences are textbook-reference perfect: exciting as shit, clever in their weaponry, visually cohesive, and constantly elevating to levels of near-unbearable stress. Pacific Rim, more than any film I can think of, is combat as an art-form, loaded with indelible images and rugged beauty.
These visuals are the most original aspect of the flick, to be sure, but even the totally derivative aspects are realized with such life and vitality. The plot, while a nutty amalgamation of Godzilla, Top Gun and Star Wars, is such a loving rip-off that its influences are impossible to hold onto too tightly. It’s giddy, it’s clangy, and more often then not, inspires true awe. B+