Pacific Rim is an important movie.
The film's value is rooted not only in director 's marked, unwavering dedication to its lovingly detailed, enthralling spectacle, stirred into a very personal, human narrative. But in addition, if supported by the filmgoing public, Pacific Rim can (and should) serve as a reminder to today's studio system that there is immeasurable worth in bringing original, daring, not entirely commercial storytelling to theaters.
What I'm saying, essentially, is that you need to give this film your money; to throw in with massive beasts crawling from the sea to rumble with the remnants of mankind and their battle-mechs. You may very well be doing the future of cinema sans a deluge of prequels, sequels, and re-imaginings, and by extension yourself, a substantial service.
At some point in the relative near future, giant kaiju beasts emerge from the depths of the Pacific ocean through a rift, and begin attacking cities. Humanity is taken to the brink before fighting back in the form of Jaegers, equally enormous battle-mechs with the ability to meet the Kaiju head-on. For a while, it appears we have the upper-hand, but eventually the beasts adapt, and the world's Jaeger program begins suffering devastating losses.
At the end of one of these losing Jaeger vs. Kaiju battles is Raleigh Becket (), a revered Jaeger pilot alongside his brother Yancy (). Using what is called The Drift, two pilots mind-meld, sharing each other's memories and experiences as a way of syncing to such point as they can each operate one half of their mech in perfect union. When Yancy is killed in the battle with the Kaiju codenamed Knifehead, Raleigh is forced to pilot their crippled Jaeger, Gipsy Danger, alone, back to safety. The subsequent stress of mentally controlling a two-man, skyscraper sized machine and experiencing the death of his brother in his own head is enough to cause Raleigh to call it a career. We find him a few years later, out of the Jaeger program, doing high-risk grunt work building a massive coastal wall designed to protect the major cities from the increasingly sizable Kaiju.
This, however, isn't the end for Raleigh. His former command head, and the man who spearheaded the increasingly underfunded, undermanned Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (), comes calling. With only a few Jaeger's left in his arsenal, and a refurbished Gipsy Danger in need of a pilot who knows how to get the most out of her, Pentecost offers Raleigh a chance to return to the pilot seat, and make one last push to fight the scourge of the Kaiju. His reluctance is short lived, and Becket decides to rejoin the severely downgraded Jaeger program located within the awesomely named Shatterdome. Seriously, I want a Shatterdome.
Raleigh needs a new co-pilot for Gipsy Danger, and after a series of tests designed to match him with the perfect Drift partner, he finds the greatest potential in Mako Mori (), a pilot having trained only in simulators, and protege of Stacker Pentecost. Pentecost, for reasons heartbreakingly (and awe-inspiringly) revealed later in the film, is vehemently against Mako co-piloting a Jaeger, and thus much of the work falls to the additional Jaeger teams while Raleigh waits in the sidelines.
While the pilots and their battle-mechs combat the increasingly large, increasingly adaptive Kaiju, their scientific counterparts work to dissect exactly what it is that makes the beasts emerging from the sea tick, how best to defeat them, and most importantly, how to close the rift before more come. This is left primarily to odd-couple Dr. Newt Geiszler (), and permanently stiff upper-lipped Gottlieb (). Gottlieb predicts that very soon, rather than a single Kaiju emerging from the rift at a time, there will come two, then three, and so on, the newest of the creatures being more dangerous and powerful than ever. Day's Newt sees a wildly dangerous and unproven way to get into the heads of the Kaiju, and in that, prospectively defeat them once and for all, but is initially met with ridicule and resistance.
With a waning arsenal at their disposal, and few viable options left on the table, Elba's Pentecost and the remaining Jaeger crews are forced to make some very final decisions that will ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
This is where the broad strokes that del Toro and screenwriter deftly use to impart the vital colors of the world of Pacific Rim to the audience gain nuance, breaking into shades of character and smaller conflicts/victories. This is where del Toro shines as a filmmaker.
Nobody in this film is a wash of a character, and in spite of the grand spectacle of battle-mechs and giant sea creatures beating the ever-loving shit out of each other in Downtown Tokyo, or in the cold, turbid waters off the coast of Alaska, there is deep and personal impartation of realness given to every character that spends time on screen. Much like in spite of enormous set-pieces, wild creatures, and big action, del Toro's Hellboy is about a man's desire for acceptance from his father, and learning to deal with love and relationships a touch less awkwardly, so too is Pacific Rim ultimately about people.
While Hunnam's Raleigh Becket might not be the most nuanced, commanding lead, he plays the part of hero admirably. He's a damaged man, that literally felt the fear and eventual death of his brother as it was occurring. You sympathize, and understand his motivations. He's not a hotshot for the sake of being so; the guy was as good as he was because he was emotionally connected to another human being. For a story of badasses piloting weapons of great destruction, that's some deeply emotional bedrock to root what should have been the least character-driven aspect of the film.
The same can be said of Mako Mori, who through a series of audience-viewed scenes in The Drift, has her very personal experience with the Kaiju heart-wrenchingly laid bare for the viewers. It's a testament to the writer and Guillermo's visual storytelling that a fairly reserved character like Rinko can be given so many new layers of humanity for audiences to identify with in a single, three minute scene.
The above is no truer than with Elba's Stacker Pentecost. Raleigh Becket may be the stated lead of Pacific Rim, but Pentecost is the heart and soul of the movie. He is everything to everyone. Friend to fellow grizzled veteran Herc Hansen (), pilot of Jaeger Striker Eureka with his son Chuck (), by-the-books, no nonsense leader of the entire Jaeger program, mentor and father figure to Mako, and eventually Raleigh himself. What Pentecost imparts with only a look is astoundingly impactful.
Charlie Day continues to play off the frenetic, nervous-guy energy that makes him a fan favorite on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but he does so with more heart and depth. Newt is a brilliant, socially awkward dope. He's also an integral part of the Jaeger program team, a hero as much as any Jaeger pilot. His interactions with Gorman's Gottlieb are fun and campy, and some of the best scenes in the entire film occur between Newt and 's black market Kaiju-parts dealer, Hannibal Chau. Between the two, Day says one of my absolute favorite lines in film in recent memory.
The power of del Toro is an ability to build a world that exists when it's not on screen; to place characters into play that you fully believe have a life and experiences apart from what you're seeing. There are losses in Pacific Rim. People die that, in the hands of almost any other director, would simply be considered expected, easily moved past collateral in a story much bigger than them. Every death has gravity, because even in that some of the characters are larger than life caricatures of real people, you totally expect that their crazy personas fit perfectly with this world. They had their places when they weren't piloting Jaegers, and I'll be damned if I didn't want to know their stories.
The entire concept of a how the Jaeger pilots are rolled into the pop culture of Pacific Rim's population is interesting all on its own. Essentially, these men and women are what Goose, Iceman, Maverick, and the rest of the Top Gun program pilots would be if their audience was larger than their own ranks, and whomever they're buzzing in the tower. You can't tell me Maverick wouldn't have loved a nation of groupies.
Pacific Rim is a gorgeous film. In watching it I never felt pulled out of the action. In fact, I hardly realized I was in a movie theater seat at all. Not only being able to suspend disbelief, but completely forget where you are is something increasingly rare these days in action films. 's cinematography is genuinely some of the best in the business today. Every building torn asunder has substance, every metal-on-scale punch is impactful and real. I still prefer 2D to the 3D treatment, but its use in the film were unobtrusive from my recollection. It's a beautiful experience for any lover of monster movies to behold. The entire world, every city, is rich and fully realized. I was dazzled for one hundred and thirty two minutes.
Pacific Rim deals with a hell of a lot of dark subject matter, but rest assured, this is a film for wide-eyed kids that need their imaginations engaged as much as for adults that miss feeling like said wide-eyed kids. It's unapologetically hopeful, with nary a touch of cynism. This is the good guys versus the bad guys, and it's that much more fun because the good guys are all of humanity, together in unity, kicking giant monster asses.
How fun is that?
Pacific Rim is in theaters right now. Go see it, twice. Three times. Brings friends.