It would be a lie to say that I haven’t been excited about this one for quite some time. On the surface, “Pacific Rim” (2013) looks like your typical monsters vs. robots action spectacle (if there is such a thing), and the first time I heard about this movie going into production I wrote it off as just that. But then Guillermo del Toro signed on to produce and co-write, along with screenwriter Travis Beacham, who came up with the original concept. It was later that del Toro, having had another project fall through, signed on to direct as well. And that’s when everything came together, as Guillermo del Toro is the only man suited to bring a film of this stature to the screen.
If you have seen the trailer for “Pacific Rim,” than you understand the basic concept for the film. A portal has opened deep within the Pacific Ocean, and alien creatures known as the Kaiju (Japanese- meaning strange beast) have come out and attacked coastal cities. The Kaiju emerge one at a time, with large gaps between appearances, but each time the gap decreases. In order to fight the Kaiju, the world has come together, sharing technology and creating giant robots known as Jaeger (German meaning hunter). The Jaegers require two pilots, whose minds are connected by a neural link known as “drifting.” They share thoughts, feeling and emotions- the stronger the connection, the better the warrior they become. What the trailer doesn’t show is that all of this is just back story. This has already taken place, and this strategy is no longer successful. Slowly, the Kaiju have gotten bigger and stronger, and now the Jaegers are no longer as effective.
The main character of the film is Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam). He was a Jaeger pilot years ago with his brother, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), but when his brother was killed in battle, Raleigh was forced to feel his pain and share in his death. Since then, he has left the program and is hiding out in Alaska. Now that the Jaeger program is all but extinct, the commanding officer, Pentecost (Idris Elba), has come up with one final plan to destroy the portal. He has gathered the last four remaining Jaegers, and is going to attempt to detonate a nuclear device inside the tunnel. He has three teams of pilots ready, but the fourth Jaeger is an older model, which only one living man has ever controlled… Raleigh.
Pentecost convinces Raleigh to join the fight, but he also will need a new compatible co-pilot. Enter Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), an aspiring Jaeger pilot who lost her family in one of the first Kaiju attacks when she was a small girl. She was saved and taken in by Pentecost, who has raised her as his own. Despite Raleigh and Mako’s compatibility, Pentecost wants to protect her, so he attempts to keep her out of the Jaeger’s pilot seat.
I don’t want to pretend that “Pacific Rim” isn’t a great monster/robot fighting picture, full of brutal violence done with the highest quality visual effects, because it is. It embodies everything that makes Godzilla great, and it’s everything that a “Transformers” movie wishes it could be. The last 30 minutes or so has an exorbitant amount of fighting- in the water, in the air and on the city streets of Tokyo. The rest of the film, however, is much deeper and has something that so many action films forget to include: a real story. Similar to del Toro’s Spanish-language films, “Cronos” (1993), “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001) and “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), the characters have real heart and emotional depth, helping to make them more relatable and extremely interesting to watch. Just because these films deal with vampires, ghosts, fantasy creatures, monsters and robots, doesn’t mean that they can’t also be films that deal with human drama. Thankfully, Guillermo del Toro understands this, and continues to share his love of both humanity and all manner of nightmarish creatures with the world.
Is this a perfect movie? Certainly not. Despite having capable actors, the script seems to be overrun with cliched dialogue and unnecessary sub-plots. None of the actors are bad, but they don’t stand out either. (Except, of course, for Guillermo del Toro regular Ron Perlman, as a black marker Kaiju dealer- he’s absolutely priceless!) Action films often suffer from too many characters, and the picture needed to focus more on a select few characters and not pull our attention in so many various directions. After all, the Kaiju and Jaeger will always be the stars of the film, no matter what is happening with the people. Still, with del Toro’s imagination and a studio like Warner Brothers allowing him to develop his wildest childhood fantasies on the silver screen, there’s no telling what he has in store next time.
This is the final installment in Lasso the Movies look back at the career on Guillermo del Toro. I’ve enjoyed revisiting these films tremendously, and look forward to the ones in Guillermo del Toro’s future. Be sure to check out the reviews on all of his other films, as well.
“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
“Blade II” (2002)
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)