In a summer of unwilling heroes and cynical detachment, Guillermo Del Toro’s Mechs vs. Monsters movie is a breath of fresh air, a shot of adrenaline, and a hi-five from your inner child all at once.
Pacific Rim (2013):
The Plot: Fifteen years ago, Kaiju (Japanese for “giant beast” began emerging from an inter-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Using conventional military weapons, it took us days to bring a single one down. With the fate of humanity at stake, all nations joined forces to create the Jaeger (German for “hunter”) Program, pouring our resources into building giant Mechs to combat the monsters laying waste to cities across the world. Each Jaeger was so big that it needed two pilots, psychically linked to each other and the machine through shared memories. For a while, we won. But then the Kaiju began coming more frequently, bigger and smarter than ever before. Now, with only four Jaegers remaining and the Program all but shut down, a small(ish) group of tacticians, scientists, and Jaeger pilots are all that stand between the Kaiju menace and total annihilation of the human race.
So I know that sounded kind of heavy, and it is, but don’t let that make you think this movie isn’t super fun. Because, guys, this movie is super fun. If you were looking for The Dark Knight of Kaiju movies, then it’s time to readjust your expectations. While there is plenty of serious stuff, Pacific Rim isn’t about the grim and gritty. It’s about hope, heroism, and creating the kind of exhilarating blockbuster spectacle that we’ve been missing for a while now.
Writer Travis Beacham and director Guillermo Del Toro have created an immersive, fully-realized world here. As hugely entertaining as the movie was, I left the theater immediately wanting to see more. Every location, every plot strand feels like part of a larger world. I want to see the Canadian Jaeger—there’s a Canadian Jaeger that didn’t make it into the movie! I want to spend more time with Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi). If they made a movie just about Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) selling Kaiju organs on the Black Market I would watch the shit out of that too.
In case you couldn’t tell, I love this movie. I want everybody to see it, because I want to see more movies like this. Recently, most of our big-budget summer movies have been aimed at disaffected 18-35 year-olds. Since I’m part of that demographic, I’ve been pretty okay with that. But I’m getting a little tired of protagonists who don’t want to be protagonists, and darkness for the sake of darkness. Not everyone is Batman, you guys. Give it a rest. What does it say about our society that we need to ironically distance ourselves from heroes? Or that Hollywood thinks we want that?
We’re past post-modern deconstruction, here. Now we just automatically treat heroes like some kind of joke, as if no one could really be good. So our Captain Kirk is a whiny, cocky douchebag, and Superman kills hundreds of thousands of people while carelessly punching a dude. We’ve covered the range from ironically heroic to just bafflingly thoughtless. And you know what? It was worth trying, but it’s not working anymore.
Pacific Rim proves that it’s possible to have decent, un-ironically heroic protagonists that are both likeable and interesting. They have baggage, but it’s something they need to overcome so they can do what needs to be done. Because that’s what heroes are: people who do the right thing, even when it’s hard. People who put their problems aside for the good of others. They don’t need to be deeply flawed, or hate themselves. Heroes are supposed to inspire us, you guys. I don’t need to see Kirk being a massive tool so that I can feel better about myself. I want to see Kirk being a decent guy so that I can aspire to better myself. Ya dig?
The characters in Pacific Rim are drawn in broad strokes, but we care about them. Raleigh and Mako, the two main Jaeger pilots, feel like real people, and not even in a “bring them down to our level” kind of way. They’ve both lost loved ones to the Kaiju—Raleigh watched his brother die while they were piloting a Jaeger together, and Mako lost her parents as a child—but neither of them is out for revenge. In fact, nobody is. Not them, not the totally badass Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), whose life is dedicated to stopping the Kaiju once and for all. The fight is more than personal: it’s necessary. So instead of Kirk endangering his crew while he goes out for revenge, we get a diverse group of people helping each other overcome personal tragedy. The characters aren’t defined by their anger, they’re defined by compassion, integrity, and hope. The message is clear: when we’re united, we can accomplish anything.
That’s part of what makes Pacific Rim so refreshing. Remember how Man of Steel said all that stuff about Superman “leading humans to the sun” and then totally undercut that message with its over-the-top fights? Pacific Rim is about humans leading ourselves to a better future. How cool is that? And it’s got totally insane action sequences that, and this is the awesome part, are impressive, exciting, visually coherent, and totally appropriate for 10-year-olds. Holy shit, right?
Kids shouldn’t have to choose between Despicable Me 2: Return of the Artificial Cuteness and The Dark Knight Rises. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that excited for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, even if it does have Nathan Fillion and Stanley Tucci in it. Pacific Rim bridges that gap like it ain’t no thang. Everything is perfectly balanced. They never go too far with the humor or the serious stuff. It’s not too heavy for kids or too light for adults. I saw it in the theater, surrounded by kids, parents, 20-somethings, and a few 60-year-olds. Everybody had a great time.
Pacific Rim is totally badass without being overly dark. The soundtrack is awesome, the cast is great, and the fights are really freaking cool. I cannot stress how important it is that you watch a Jaeger club a Kaiju with a boat on the big screen. There are even good people vs. people fights. Like, the choreography is totally sweet and they’re actually motivated by character.
If any of that—sincere heroism, badass fights, a pervasive sense of fun—appeals to you, then go see Pacific Rim. Right now. Do it. If you already have, tell yer friends, and feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments. Thought of the movie, I mean. I already know how much you loved this review.
Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you stay for the credits when you do.
12 thoughts on “Rooster Illusion: ‘Pacific Rim’ is the Movie of the Summer”
And on top of all that, at least 15% of the movie is Idris Elba shouting. Excellent review. Ya nailed it.
It’s sad that the idea of flawed, conflicted heroes was meant to be an interesting alternative to blockbusters and then became generic itself. How great would it be if there was something like diversity in main characters? I know that blockbusters aren’t supposed to be complex and all that, but “the range from ironically heroic to just bafflingly thoughtless” would probably be a lot better if it wasn’t the only cherry tree to pick from. Similarly, I’d get really sick of the character types that it sounds like are in this movie if they were the only options, but considering the blockbusters that’ve been coming out lately, I’m glad that del Toro did exactly what he wanted here.
I do like me some flawed protagonists, but there’s more to it than overexposure. They also aren’t being very well done. Now they’ve become an archetype of their own, instead of an intelligent response to an archetype that had been around for most of cinema. Variety is important, but so is quality. We’ll keep getting shitty heroes and antiheroes forever, just like we’ll keep getting well-written characters. But since the current blockbuster trend is shitty antiheroes, it’s nice to get some good ole fashioned non-shitty heroes every now and then.
James, I read this review. And I loved it enough to sign up and reply. And the bit about you describing heroes made me think of the Teddy Roosevelt quote; “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”
And yes, the soundtrack is how “awesome” would sound, I use it to make everything I do that much more epic.
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Love this movie for everything you’ve mentioned and so much more. It’s worth repeat views. It should have been the juggernaut of the summer. No idea why some US audiences need to have Iron Man to watch a movie. I wish they had showcased more of the Russian and Chinese pilots. They died too fast in my opinion.
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