TL;DR – “At one point a giant mech picks up a cargo ship to use as a cricket bat to take down a giant monster stomping its way through Hong Kong” you will probably know if this film is for you from that snippet alone.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene
Back in the relatively calm year of 2013, how five years can change the world, there was this little gem of a film. It was a homage to the mecha and giant monster films of Japan and at the heart was the simple message that we should all work together. Well, it has been years since I have watched Guillermo del Toro’s monster epic, well at least his giant monster epic, and with the sequel coming out later this week, now is as good as time as ever to dive back into the world of Jaegers* and Kaijus*.
So to set the scene, in 2013 a massive sea monster emerged from a trench in the Pacific Ocean and the first thing anyone knew about it was when it took out the Golden Gate Bridge, and a large chunk of San Francisco. Soon the world discovered that this was not an isolated event as Manilla was attacked and so forth. So the world had one choice, band together or be exterminated and the chose the first option and created Jaegers to fight the Kaijus. Jaeger pilots (there has to be at least two to a Jaeger as they share the mental load) became celebrities as they battled and won, turning back the tide, but like all things, nothing lasts forever. For you see, the Kaijus evolved, getting bigger with each battle and adapting to the fighting techniques of humanity.
This is where we meet Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) as they are stationed in Anchorage. They helm the Gipsy Danger for the Pan Pacific Defense Corps under the command of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Everything is going fine until one day a routine battle goes terribly wrong when a new version of Kaiju ripped the Gipsy Danger apart killing Yancy. Raleigh was only just able to kill the Kaiju and walk the Gipsy Danger back to shore, something almost impossible to do by yourself and not occur permanent damage. Six years later nearly all the Jaegers have been destroyed or decommissioned as the world has moved onto a new policy of building a giant wall around the Pacific Ocean to stop the incursions. A wall that is almost immediately broken near Sydney which would have been disastrous if one of the last reminding Jaegers Striker Eureka was not there, they had decommissioned it the day before. So with money and time running out Pentecost brings Raleigh and the four remaining Jaegers to Hong Kong under the guidance of Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) in a last-ditch effort to save the world from extermination. Now because this film is five years old we have gone past the statute of limitations, but just a warning anyway that there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
The one thing you see almost immediately is just how well the film holds up visually after five years. The Jaegers look amazing they feel real in like you see the jets, motors, and rockets needed to make something that size move, but it is not overly complicated for the sake of being overly complicated like in the Transformers films. The Kaiju are all unique and interesting using touchstones of nature and then taking them to the extreme. You have some taking after sharks, others lizards, however, while they are all different, they also share similarities that make them part of a whole. The battles are all energetic and vibrant, with explosions, carnage, and acid flying around the place. There is also time taken away for small little sight gags that you will either find endearing or obtrusive, I’m the former. The one big stand out for me is the water, so many of the battles happen in coastal waters, so every movement has the water splashing around the combatants. To make the computer-generated water look realistic is not easy and the fact it still holds up after all this time is a testament to the work the effect artists but into the film.
One thing that is really clear is that the filmmakers have a keen eye for beautiful moments that just have you sit back in awe. From larger bombastic moments like a mecha striking a pose as the world collapses behind them, to the small moments with an opening umbrella to frame a single character, or a little girl hiding from a monster. The only reason these wow moments exist is the time that has gone into crafting them, and the world that they live in. You see it in the sets that blend sort of old-school manual buttons that you would see in a 1980s nuclear weapon bunker, with interactive holograms. It is a world of the future, but also a world familiar to us now.
Another area Pacific Rim excels in is in the themes that it is trying to promote, that I think are timeless messages. At the core Pacific Rim is a message that working together is better for the world, I only wish it would not take an alien invasion for us to realise that today. The film is inherently international from the get-go, so you don’t get that saccharin hooah moment of American military films, or some of the more clawing un-subtleness of modern Chinese films. So in this film, we visit America, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines and in many respects, it feels like a film that was at the forefront of the changing cinema landscape.
Pacific Rim is a giant monster battling film and it lets you know that from the first moments of the film as we see what is at stake if everything fails, the end. Indeed this is what gives the seminal line for the movie “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse” so much power because he is not wrong. For a film like this, you need stakes, both in the big picture sense, which the film does really well, but also in the small picture. At every battle, you have to care about if the people come back from it or not and here it is a mixed bag. So, on the one hand, you have this powerful scene when Herc (Max Martini) says goodbye to his son Chuck (Robert Kazinsky) as he goes to fight over the breach. It is a touching moment because for the first time we see that the pilots know that this is a suicide mission, so they are saying goodbye for the last time. It is also the reverse of what we usually see where the father steps in for the son to go off on the suicide mission. It resonates even more so when Chuck does end up sacrificing his life to save the world, however, this is not always the case. Earlier in the film, we see two Jaegers get ripped apart killing the crews and it is nowhere near the same emotional moment because we don’t get to know the pilots at all. They have the costumes that make leads in amine stick out in a classroom, but nothing more than that and a quick roster readout of their kills. In many respects, all the character development in the film is cut back to the bare necessities, and while that does help the pacing, you do lose those connections in the process.
Now it is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, and I am not just talking about the giant leaps in logic that you just have to go with like how deeply unlikely there would be the materials in the world to build a seawall around the entire Pacific Ocean or how if you had that sword why were you not using it before now. There is some really clunky dialogue throughout the film where you can’t help but cringe when you hear it. Also, they do slip into tropes at times like two characters talking past each other while having a conversation, the sort of way you see in soap operas. As well as this, it would have been nice to see more than one female character get some kind of screen time.
In the end, Pacific Rim is one of those films that exactly what is on the tin, you will get big monsters fighting big robots in the middle of cities. It could have settled for being just that, taking that genre and putting a modern coat of paint on it, but instead, it wants to be more. It has something to say about the world we live in and how we should treat one and another, and that building bridges might be better than building walls. Ok, in this case, the bridges are giant mechas with rocket arms, chainsaw swords, but the metaphor still stands. I was able to catch this on Netflix at the moment, so do yourself the favour and catch up the first film if you missed it or have not seen it for a while before you see the sequel Pacific Rim Uprising out this week.
* Yes before you comment, I know that in the original Japanese and German that sticking the s at the end is the incorrect pluralization, but sorry that is what the film uses. So while I know it must make linguists twitch every time they hear it, there is not much that we can do.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Pacific Rim
Directed by – Guillermo del Toro
Story by – Travis Beacham
Screenplay by – Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Music by – Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography by – Guillermo Navarro
Edited by – John Gilroy & Peter Amundson
Starring – Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr., Mana Ashida, Diego Klattenhoff & Ellen McLain
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13