I love this movie. I’m not quite sure I can explain why, except that it hit a chord with me, as I’m sure has happened to you with songs, books, movies, etc. Sometimes there’s no surprise, and sometimes you’re a little baffled that something hit you so strongly.
For those of you that are not big fans of science fiction, or action, or giant monsters or giant robots, you may not be so interested. This is one of the most genre of genre films I have seen. Matt Zoller Seitz at rogerebert.com gave it four stars. It is a tribute and homage to past films, and most specifically to Japanese “kaiju” movies.
Like most films I catch these days, I did not see this one in a theater, but oh how I wish I could have. This movie is about big things — big monsters, and big robots, called “jaegers” (YAY-gers). So I had to make do with my flat-screen TV, but that was okay. I had a huge grin on my face, I think, for most of it when I first saw it.
A synopsis of sorts, and there will likely be spoilers, but the film is from 2013, so I think if you haven’t seen it by now, you probably don’t care so much. In 2013, the first kaiju comes to Earth via “The Breach,” a fissure between two tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean. Because monsters must destroy recognizable landmarks, this first kaiju (Trespasser) destroys the Golden Gate Bridge, and a few more things down the CA coast. He is destroyed, but six months later, there is another. Then another in six more months.
In one of those utopian movie moments, the world comes together to fight a common enemy, and to fight giants, we build giants — huge robots, piloted by a pair of people are mentally compatible so that when they “drift,” they can connect to both each other and the robot to operate it. This works incredibly well, and as the movie’s narrator, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) puts it, we got really good at winning.
Until things change, and Becket’s jaeger is destroyed in taking out a kaiju. His brother is killed in the process, and Raleigh refuses to “jockey” anymore.
But this is a genre movie with certain clichés and expectations, and director Guillermo del Toro and writer Travis Beacham do not disappoint. Raleigh is the burdened veteran pressed to return to service; Chuck Hansen is the hot-shot Australian pilot who’s unimpressed with Raleigh’s story; Stacker Pentecost (how can you not love that name), played by Idris Elba, is the strong commander who cares and does what he must to complete the mission; Mako Mori (Rinko Kukichi) is the young woman who wants to become a fighter after having been a victim, but is held back by Pentecost, her adoptive father, but out of love and not lack of confidence.
Yet all these characters, despite their expected existence, are individuals. You can relate to all of them to some degree, and the presence of a woman like Mako in this movie is fantastic. She is just there, and no one questions her right to be there, her intelligence, or anything else. She will rise or fall on her own merits, and that is so refreshing. There may or may not be something romantic between Mako and Raleigh (again, expected), but it is not the point. They have a job to do, and they want to do it, and that comes first. Mako is smart and resourceful; please give us more movies with characters like her, no matter the genre.
But really, let’s talk about the robots, right? Come on, you know you want to. They are so cool. Their names — Gipsy Danger, Crimson Typhoon, Striker Eureka — how great is that? And they are international. When the chips are down, the four jaegers left come from various countries that border the Pacific Ocean. Gipsy Danger from the US; Crimson Typhoon from China (with three arms and piloted by triplets!); Cherno Alpha from Russia (looking a bit like Gort from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still); and Striker Eureka from Australia. All are brought to Hong Kong, where they are housed in the Shatterdome. Is that not excellent?
There are, of course, many fights between the robots and the monsters, and I think credit is due to del Toro for not rushing things, or cutting every half a second, so that the viewer can follow the action. We know who hit whom, or what, and where they are, and what happened. When a jaeger goes down, your heart’s in your throat; you feel for the crew and you want a last-minute miracle. When a jaeger lands a blow on a kaiju, you’re relieved.
But the science, far-fetched perhaps, is not forgotten, and two scientists figure prominently in the story as well. Geiszler and Gottlieb are an odd couple — neat v. messy, formal v. informal, etc. — but they are smart men who realize that when the world is ending, you follow the most likely path to success or at least answers and you don’t worry so much about who’s supposed to be right or wrong. Without their work, the final plan devised by Pentecost would be doomed to failure, and Pentecost respects them enough to rethink the plan.
Oh there’s more. There’s the tension between Chuck and Raleigh, between Mako and Pentecost, and a darkly humorous side brought in by Ron Perlman as a black-market dealer in kaiju remains. The terrific final battle, underwater, and the ensuing human victory.
I like that despite all of the fighting and impending apocalypse, there is hope in this movie. I recently discovered that I’ve had my fill, for a while, of anti-heroes and people trying to get by after a civilization meltdown, be it The Walking Dead or HBO’s The Leftovers. Pacific Rim gives me action, and some sorrow, but an underlying hopeful note, and these days, you can’t have too many of those.
P.S. If you see or have seen the movie, check out the film’s Wiki for back story, kaiju names, etc. It’s great fun.