There was a moment in the early trailers for Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Pacific Rim, when a 250-foot tall robot stomps through the streets of Hong Kong dragging an oil tanker in one hand. The ship is eventually used as a baseball bat to strike an equally large monster much to the audible delight of several people in the audience. While this brief teaser, and the buzz from Comic-Con, had many eager to see Pacific Rim, I had no interest whatsoever. The strange thing was that, by all accounts, Pacific Rim should have been the type of summer spectacle that I would have normally been counting down the days to see. The trailers highlighted that it would be filled with action and it was made by a director whose work I normally love. However, I could not shake the feeling that I had seen all of this before.
Having watched a fair bit of Japanese anime television shows and films, not to mention reading several Manga comics, the concept of humans piloting giant robot suits was not foreign to me at all. Immersing myself in the worlds of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Voltron, Gundam, The Vision of Escaflowne and Robotech, I had reservations about what a film like Pacific Rim could add to the genre. Despite my low expectations going in, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the heights that Guillermo del Toro reaches with this film. Pacific Rim is not only a visual overload to the senses, but more importantly, it brings an element of fun to a summer that was in desperate need of it.
Similar to other iconic summer blockbusters of past years, most notably Independence Day, Pacific Rim is one of those films where the plot can be summed up in the trailer, but still offers some surprises throughout. Set in the near future, a portal mysteriously opens up in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. This doorway allows giant monsters, known as Kaijus, to enter the human realm and wreak havoc. At first mankind considers these to be rare events, however, the Kaijus begin to appear more frequently and with even greater levels of strength. Forced to wage war against this increasing threat, the world leaders unite and pool their resources to build weapons to combat the monsters. These weapons come in the form of 250-foot tall robots called Jaegers, which are piloted by two individuals who are joined by a neural link.
As the war continues over the years, the Jaeger pilots are viewed as rock stars as they frequently put their lives on the line for the benefit of mankind. The dedication of the pilots does not come without its own steep price as pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) soon discovers when a battle with a Kaiju results in the death of his brother and co-pilot (Diego Klattenhoff). After spending five years away from the Jaeger program, and still haunted by his brother’s death, Becket is convinced by program commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to rejoin for one last mission. Due to the evolution of the Kaijus, the Jaegers are not as effective as they once used to be. As a result the world leaders plan to decommission the program within a few months in favour of building a giant wall to keep the Kaijus out. With time running out Pentecost enlists Becket, the rest of the remaining pilots, and even top cadets such as Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to orchestrate one final plan to take the battle to the heart of the Kaijus’ core.
A modern master of fantasy and science fiction, Guillermo del Toro continues his trend of visual splendor with Pacific Rim. From a strictly visual standpoint the film is absolutely stunning. Not only does he succeed in making a live action Manga inspired film, but he brings a lot of originality into the designs of both the monsters and the robots. What I especially loved is how much detail del Toro squeezes into each action sequence. Unlike the Transformers franchise, in which the action between robots is almost indistinguishable, every fight scene is structured in such a way that it is always clear what is occurring. The film even has fun with itself by incorporating several visual gags within the fight scenes. A perfect example of this is when the fist of one of the robots goes smashing through a building, but stops just in time to gently graze a desk and inadvertently set off the Newton’s cradle sitting on top.
What has sadly been lost in all of the marketing for this film is just how fun Pacific Rim is overall. Though the plot is rather thin, Guillermo del Toro manages to incorporate not only humor, but a fair bit of heart into the film. The characters, and actors portraying them, are charismatic enough to keep the film moving at a brisk pace despite the film’s lengthy running time. I found Hunnam, Elba and Kikuchi to be especially good in their respective roles. Though it was obvious as to what paths their characters would take, the actors still managed to keep me engaged in the film far more than I expected it to be.
As with most monster invasion films, Pacific Rim’s main shortcoming is the fact that one rarely gets to learn much about the supporting characters in the film. Outside of Becket, Pentecost, and Mori, the rest of the characters are so thinly written that I forgot most of their names a few hours later. The sad thing about this is that some of the best moments in Pacific Rim come from the quieter human moments, such as Mori’s flashback to when she was a little girl, rather than the robot versus monster battles. Despite its shortcomings, I cannot deny that I had a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim. Similar to Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Guillermo del Toro succeeds in making one of the better live action Manga films to be released in recent years. Though I had no desire to see it at first, I am glad I ultimately decided to take a trip to the Pacific Rim.