Despite being a massive Kaiju fan since I was toenail high to Godzilla, I’ll admit it took me a while to “get” Pacific Rim.
I’ve always been in love with the genre; the scale, the creature designs, the wanton raising of home insurance everytime a massive lizard makes landfall, Godzilla, Gamera, the Gargantuas and other rubbery monsters that DON’T begin with a G have all occupied a big-ass space in my chest cavity so when news broke that Guillermo Del frickin’ Toro was writing and directing a movie exclusively about skyscraping mechas and towering creatures enthusiastically dealing out knuckle sandwiches to each other I damn near lost my mind.
Del Toro, fresh off NOT making The Hobbit for three years needed a palette cleanser and fast as trying to get the prequels to Lord Of The Rings off the ground by sheer will alone had embittered him somewhat to the Hollywood experience so sketching out a full on sci-fi/action blockbuster from scratch was just what the doctor ordered for him.
I admit, I kinda needed it myself as no real major Kaiju movie had surfaced since Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield or Gareth Edwards’ Monsters and even then they were kind of small scale despite being both awesome.
No, this was going to be the real fucking deal with a master visualist tackling a massive canvas in a way only Del Toro can, simultaneously merging the muscular action chops of Blade 2 with the terrible beauty and whimsical intelligence of Pan’s Labyrinth to make something swaggingly cool and esoteric as Hellboy 2.
And yet, during that first screening something wasn’t quite right that I couldn’t put my finger on. It’s all so stilted, silly and what the Hell is Charlie Hunnam doing with his line readings?
A quick plot summary: gigantic monsters from another dimension appear from a rift in the Pacific Ocean to tear our cities a new asshole so mankind eventually fought back with the Jaegers, massive robot gladiators that require two pilots sharing a “neural link” to operate. Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) and his brother are two such pilots who drive the Jaeger known as “Gypsy Danger”, but after a brawl with a Kaiju – with a head shaped like it could open the world’s biggest envelope – leaves his sibling dead, Becket quits the program.
Years later, on the eve of the entire Jaeger initiative being scrapped, improbably named General Stacker Penticost (Idris Elba once again magnificently portraying Idris Elba) tries to re-enlist Becket for a last ditch effort to close the rift once and for all but with the exquisitely designed Kaiju arriving at an accelerated rate, can the humans last ditch effort have any hope of success?
The secret of cracking Pacific Rim is a matter of perspective; for example, I went in expecting a post-modern deconstruction of the Kaiju genre on a scale previously unseen in American cinema befitting an artistic talent of Del Toro’s stature. This film is NOT that all all and I was initially deflated and yet repeated viewings revealed the film for what it actually is. Del Toro didn’t make a film INSPIRED BY cheesy old monster movies, this IS a cheesy old monster movie enhanced with state of the art visuals and once you embrace the silly, Pacific Rim starts to become a whole lot more fun. This becomes super apparent during an extended action extravaganza at the mid point where the film finally finds it’s feet and three Jaeger and two Kaiju indulge in a chaotic free for all that includes elbow-rocket assisted super punches, a cargo ship being used as a baseball bat and a flaming freefall from the stratosphere. It’s giddy fun and essentially saves the film with style to spare by pumping your eyeballs with gaudily coloured urban streets getting pounded into gravel and all to the sounds of Ramin Djawadi’s insanely cool score and plus Charlie Day and Ron Pearlman get to share scenes together! If that doesn’t clue you into the tone, nothing will.
Where Del Toro’s characterization and plot could be politely described as “light” (although, to be fair, he seems to be going for a more streamlined anime feel with his storytelling), his world building is expansive and all encompassing with everything from building architecture to specific uses of colour to signify plot and changes in character arcs.
By no means Del Toro’s finest work (not even close) this is still a master storyteller letting his hair down and having fun with a genre he obviously cares very deeply about and once you’re open to the experience, so will you.
Not exactly Del Toro at the height of his powers but he still proves himself as an able Jaeger-Meister.