Monsters, machines, and lots of mayhem. This is what Pacific Rim essentially boils down to- and it’s awesome. Yes, Pacific Rim is highly derivative, borrowing from other sci-fi properties that deal with monsters, world destruction, and dare I say it…Power Rangers. But this film turns it up to 11 (my This Is Spinal Tap reference of the week), producing technicolor neon cities, 20+ story tall Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, and destruction on the scale of Man of Steel. With Guillermo del Toro at the helm, I knew that Pacific Rim would be uniquely fun, but I never expected it to be this much fun. In a summer where blockbusters are starting to be overburdensome and tiring, this was a most refreshing exception, providing the best experience I’ve had all summer at the movies.
In the near future, a portal opens up in a trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, sending “kaiju” (huge monsters) through to wreck havoc along the coastal cities, causing massive destruction and casualties before they are finally taken down. With the reoccurrence of kaiju from the portal, and the massive toil they take after every attack, the nations of the world join together to build “jaegers” (gigantic robots) to combat the kaiju. The jaegers are controlled by two pilots through a neural link that allows their minds to be simultaneously connected and thus share the mental strain of controlling these huge machines that would otherwise be much to bear for an individual. The jaegers are initially successful at thwarting the kaiju attacks, but over time, the kaiju appear more frequently from the portal, each time better prepared for the jaeger defenses. Thus the jaeger program is eventually shutdown and everts are instead focused on building a huge wall along the coastlines to protect the cities. Jaeger commander, Stacker Pentecost, however, devises a plan using the four remaining jaegers and an illegally obtained nuclear warhead to close the portal, and thus end the war with the kaiju. To help pilot the fourth jaeger, Stacker enlists former pilot, Raleigh Becket, who five years prior, lost his brother (and fellow co-pilot) while fighting a kaiju off the Alaskan coast. Raleigh asks to be paired with Miko Miro, who as a child also experienced loss after a kaiju attack resulted in the death of her parents. Stacker reluctantly gives in to Raleigh’s request, putting into action the daring plan to save humanity.
Pacific Rim is filled with every action movie cliche- a stern, stubborn commander; a talented yet reluctant hero; a cocky, egotistical comrade who eventually matures; two quirky characters who provide the comic relief; as well as many more. These cliches would normally spell a generic, by-the-numbers sci-fi action film, but in the hands of Guillermo del Toro, feels unique and exciting. In many ways, Pacific Rim comes across as self aware, taking these cliches and ramping them up instead of hiding them. Del Toro’s eye for visuals lends itself well in the neon tinged cityscapes, the industrial inner workings of the Shatterdome, as well as the large-scale battles between the kaiju and jaegers. Del Toro’s greatest achievement is building a believable world, albeit a world inhabited by towering robots and reptilian monsters. The peril feels tangible, the characters relatable, the battles believable. All of this is due to the impressive CGI, creating not only a futuristic world in ruins, but bringing to life the kaiju and jaegers that dwell within. So impressive are the effects, that many times I found myself forgetting that I was watching a movie; and a big smile on my face when I did remember. It also helps that an international cast was assembled, adding to the idea that this is a global effort to help take down the kaiju. The cast, especially Idris Elba as Stacker and Rinko Kikuchi as Miko, are excellent, as well as Charlie Day providing the comic relief.
On paper, Pacific Rim sounds like another Michael Bay attempt in excess banality. Instead, we have an uniquely imaginative, if not wholly original, film that looks to be the highlight in a summer filled with mostly mediocrity. Pacific Rim is huge, loud, and insanely entertaining, bringing a smile to my face every time I think about how much fun I had watching it.