If this proves to be the only summer blockbuster I upon its release in 2013 I will be more than content, because to be honest it is the perfect escapist big budget film, one that is greatly aided by its 3D option, not to mention including fully realized and expertly executed CGI, something that would seem second nature at this point in movie technology, but is sadly often lacking. I could have gotten behind this film were it solely a movie about big ass robots fighting equally large sea monsters, because I am a burgeoning kaiju-fanatic who will consume pretty much any piece of media that involves large monsters both within its traditional Japanese framework, as well as outside of this into the more "non-traditional" types of kaiju. Hell, the fact that Guillermo Del Toro directed this movie only added an extra layer of enjoyability, one that is at times completely noticeable (so many nosebleeds in this movie) while at other times the directors hand seems decidedly absent. I want to be quite careful, however, in separating this film from what I would decidedly call cinema, because even with its ties to the cinematic tradition of kaiju and a director who has certainly made works deserved of the moniker, Pacific Rim is a summer movie, one that does not take itself too seriously nor should it, because it exists primarily to rake in the money of moviegoers hoping to escape the sweltering heat in exchange for gratuitous amounts of damage. The acting in this movie is exceptionally awful, and I recently caught up with Sharknado, and there are moments of dialogue so on-the-nose that it is almost cringeworthy. Indeed were it not for the saving presence of Clifton Collins, Jr., Charlie Day and Ron Perlman I would be inclined to write the cast off completely. Furthermore, despite being a movie that clocks in well past two hours, Pacific Rim avoids delving too deeply into some of the more philosophical and societal issues in which its entire narrative rests, again indicative not of it being a bad movie, but one whose primary focus is to entertain, admittedly, however, my hyper-analytical mind desperately hoped for more to pull from for not only my critical analysis as it relates to this blog post, but for prospective academic papers in the future. Ultimately, Pacific Rim stands in a homage to all that is kaiju, a genre Del Toro, undoubtedly, adores, and takes very seriously. It will not go down as a great film, but over the years, I would not be surprised to see it gain second wind as a piece of underrated science fiction.
Pacific Rim is set in the near future, a time when the world is under the constant attack of a group of sea monsters known as kaiju, whose namesake literally means giant beast. While the global community initially attempted to fight the incessant attacks of the beast with traditional military power, their continual attacks lead to the jaegar (the German word for hunter) initiative, involving the building of large mechanized humanoid machines co-piloted by two or more individuals. A particularly adept piloting duo being Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancey Becket (Diego Klattenhoff) set out to continue their reign as the world's most respected jaegar pilots. Tragedy strikes, however, when during a fight with a particularly brutal kaiju, Yancey is ripped from the cockpit and killed, leading to a traumatic experience on the part of Raleigh, who has not only lost his brother, but is mentally scarred considering that in order to successfully co-pilot the persons involved must engage in what is known as drifting, or sharing memories to create a symbiotic fusion. Needless to say this loss drives Raleigh into retirement for years, during which the scale and frequency of kaiju attacks increase until it becomes quite obvious that the global community will eventually fall under the pressure. Years later, Raleigh finds himself employed as a construction worker building a wall of hope in Alaska one that the world's political leaders believe will keep the monsters at bay, a foolish notion that is quickly dismissed when a monster breaks through the wall of Sydney in a matter of an hour. Desperate to end the problem Jaeger leader and former pilot Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) reenlists Raleigh into the program, knowing that his unmatched skills are necessary as the kaiju attacks continue to strengthen. Initially hesitant to join the cause, Raleigh, nonetheless, agrees to helping knowing that he would rather die inside a jaeger than on the scaffolding of a futile wall. It is at this point that Raleigh is introduced to the last vestiges of the global jaeger program, including only four functioning robots, one from China, one from Russia, another from Great Britain and his own former machine Gipsy Danger. Of course, training must commence for a new co-pilot for Raleigh, which is found in a Chinese woman named Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). All the while two scientists Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) attempt to discover the larger reasons for the kaiju attacks. The discovery so large and unprecedented as to seem impossible, ultimately, taking every last effort and possible body/jaeger scrap to take down the attacks.
Pacific Rim is about the big ideas of a cause, focusing on the actions that will have the greatest effect for the largest amount of people, indicated in the opening moments of the film when while on assignment Gipsy Danger is told to ignore the presence of a small boating ship of ten people, because their main concern is preventing large scale damage by an impending kaiju attack. Yet, favoring the safety of even a singular person, Raleigh and Yancey save the vessel, thus leading to Yancey's demise. This sacrifice for the lesser in the name of doing what is right comes to serve as the metaphor for the film as a whole, the problem being that while Del Toro is clearly trying to play upon this idea it usually gets lost in the battle sequences and cinematic layers of the film, or when called upon seems so highly-stylized as to be part of the idea of the gradiose as opposed to the small. This is most obvious in the super over-the-top moment when the fight between a jaeger and kaiju leads to zooming in on a Newton's Cradle to show it being slightly affected by the attack. The moment is assumedly intended to carry the metaphor of the "butterfly affect" theory suggesting that even the slightest of movements play into a larger outcome and to alter them in the slightest could change the course of time. Pairing this with the act of drifting is rather intriguing, because the result is a shared mental bond between two persons, one that leads to their complete understanding of even the most internal and oppressed of thoughts. Again the film could deal with these implications in rather intriguing and engaging ways, but, particularly with the father son relationship of one jaeger, or the burgeoning relationship between Raleigh and Mako. Hell, there is even the possibility of a unison between the humans and the extra-terrestrial/subterranean kaiju monsters. The problem is that the concern for the spectacle gets in the way of the metaphysical considerations of the film, because while the fight sequences are tight, well-edited and highly engaging, the drifting sequences might well be the most cinematic moments in the film, even when they exist in moments of complete CGI fabrication. I feel as though the initial film asked a lot more questions, which were quickly muffled by studio execs whose only concern was audience response. The film also deals with some fascinating masculinity issues, perhaps on accident, but it is something I hope to cover in the future via an academic piece.
Key Scene: There is a moment when Geizler and a kaiju come face-to-face that could on its own justify the entire existence of 3D films.
This will likely be the peak of summer blockbusters and I would strongly encourage you to seek it out, because I am quite certain its awe will fail to transfer to the home entertainment setting.