So, I just watched Pacific Rim. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Was it a brilliant piece of storytelling? Not really. But then, does it need to be? After all, this is a movie about giant robots fighting Godzilla inspired monsters. If you insist on every single fact being explained scientifically, then you will not enjoy this film. Asking questions like “Why are monsters coming out of a portal in the Pacific Ocean?” or “Why can’t we just nuke them?” is definitely going to impact your enjoyment of this movie.
With this out of the way, I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. The high octane action is quite something and hopefully it will keep you at the edge of your seat. This is a movie that you have to see on a big screen. The effects are spectacular and the fights are very well choreographed. Unlike many other movies that rely on shaky-cam and slow motion, the action is very easy to watch and to follow, which feels quite refreshing. When Jaegers hit or are hit by Kaijus, you can definitely feel the impact of the blows.
There is an economy and efficiency to the way that this movie is handled. Things are explained and some context is given, but not enough to slow down the proceedings. The movie as a whole moves at a brisk pace, with rarely a scene that is wasted. Some of the more questionable scenes had to be included as a build up to a potential sequel. While when viewed in such context these scenes are a fine, if Pacific Rim were to be a standalone movie, it could do with some editing and cuts.
Rather than spending time overexplaining the situation, Guillermo del Toro instead opts to compress all of it into a montage. The origin of Kaiju and humanity’s choice of weapon (Jaegers) are detailed. Some smaller world building details are also added and will delight you if you are into this sort of thing. I quite enjoyed the fact that in this universe Kaiju became a new norm, with their remains being scavenged, them becoming a fixture in entertainment and successful Jaeger pilots being treated as rockstars.
The film itself has a very distinct feel to it. The rockstar comparison for the Jaeger pilots is quite apt as all of them possess a certain air of “coolness”. To be frank, the whole movie possesses this air of “coolness”. While other movies are content with highlighting a cool moment and essentially saying “That was really cool”, Pacific Rim lives and breathes “coolness”. While there are definitely moments that stand out, stopping for a second and considering things like the costumes of the cast, names of the Jagers and even the hair of certain characters made me think: “Damn. That was a very cool movie”. It has a certain heightened reality feel, not quite unlike anime, with characters dressing and acting in a very specific way.
This tone is established pretty early on, with two Jaeger pilots getting ready to fight. The fact that they do so while sporting huge grins, wearing combat boots and leather jackets emblazoned with their Jaeger logo really tells you all you need to know. While this may sound campy, it is done quite well, blending in, instead of sticking out. This is not a serious grim movie. While the predicament that characters are facing is rather severe, the movie never feels overly pessimistic or depressing. However, this is not to say that everything is done with a wink and a smile. Characters react as you’d expect them to, with disappointment and sometimes anger when things do not go smoothly.
Character work is pretty simple, but it is hard to imagine it being more extensive without taking away from the action sequences. Characters fit basic archetypes with Raleigh (Hunnam) being that brash, cocksure pilot, Stacker (Elba) being a stern but fair leader and Mako (Kikuchi) being an inexperienced pilot, eager to join the fight. There is even a character who follows the “arrogant kung-fu guy” trope to a letter, doing it so well that it is quite easy to feel animosity towards him. Characters are described in broad strokes, with their past being a prime reason for them acting the way they do. Arguably, the relationship between Stacker and Mako is the emotional backbone of the movie, and it would be interesting to see it more developed. Side characters are also quite interesting, in particular other Jaeger pilots. Inclusion of Ron Perlman is also a boon, him giving Hannibal Chau enough flourish to stand out and be remembered. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman provide some humour, which to be frank was not to my taste.
Some of the themes that this movie touched upon, such as finding a partner on a battlefield, overcoming the odds through co-operation and dealing with one’s traumatic memories/battlefield stress are quite interesting, but are slightly underdeveloped. I particularly enjoyed how Kaijus were seen as a threat that has to be dealt with on a worldwide scale, rather than one single country’s problem. There was a sense of togetherness in the movie, a theme that in order to solve problems co-operation is necessary. While this is definitely not a new theme and has been used extensively prior, it stood out quite a bit to me. Rather than have a movie where America saves the day, this movie was about a combined effort (main character’s Jaeger being American notwithstanding)
- That soundtrack was sure something. Hearing that guitar riff during some battles was extremely thrilling and made me want to pump my fist in the air. You can listen to it here
- Guillermo del Toro’s attention to detail remains intact. Whether it is Russian pilots using proper Russian or Chinese people actually speaking Mandarin, there was a plethora of small touches that made the world as authentic as possible. Architectural decisions that were made when constructing the sets were very well researched, emulating the way the area would look in the real world. A featurette detailing the way a cockpit set was made is pretty amazing
- It is also quite clear that Guillermo del Toro enjoys building the world rather than destroying it. There is a lot of worldbuilding present, which will delight you. It also enables further development in the sequel if this does well.
- The fact that Mako was not reduced to a pure love interest makes me quite happy. While the characters would benefit from more depth, reducing her to a romantic interest would be quite a disservice. On this note, there is a complete lack of titillation in this movie, which is rather refreshing if you consider the way Megan Fox is portrayed in Transformers
- Charlie Hunnam is quite good as Raleigh Beckett, bringing some charm and confidence into the role. However, there really is not much for him to work with, thus his impact may be quite limited. On the separate note, he is in a TREMENDOUS shape.
- Idris Elba continues to wow me as usual. For a stock role he does extremely well, providing a tremendous presence. He chews through some of his character’s cheesier lines like there is no tomorrow, making them sound believable.
- Rinko Kikuchi does well with what she got. I got an impression that she was supposed to mimic that big eyed anime girl stereotype at some points which may grate some. However, this can’t really be her fault as she does what she can with the limited characterization that she got. Getting a heroine that is not afraid to get into a fight is quite refreshing however
- Charlie Day provides some levity as Dr Newt Geiszler, but the humour did not do much for me. Perhaps this is more to do with Charlie Day’s delivery more than anything. I am admittedly not a fan, having seen him in some other movies. His character, a Kaiju nerd would be quite interesting if the movie was not so centered on the fights
- Ron Perlman is another standout in a movie. Just due to his presence, the need to explain his character was rendered moot. Just looking at him was enough to understand just what kind of man he is.
Conclusion – All in all, Pacific Rim is a movie executed with a lot of panache and love. If you enjoy seeing action and don’t mind sacrificing a little bit of character work in the genre which is not particular optimal for character work, you will enjoy it. Now go out and see it. I am keeping my fingers crossed for Pacific Rim 2.