In an era of summer blockbuster filmmaking that tries to mine its drama from our heroes feeling conflicted about whether or not to behave heroically, Pacific Rim provides a breath of fresh air in giving us a movie populated with characters behaving heroically from the start while learning the value of working together. By establishing its premise and stakes (interdimensional fissure in the Pacific Ocean unleashes Kaiju/giant beasts on the world’s coastlines and giant human-operated Jaegers/robots are all that stand between us and utter destruction) with lightning precision (we have giant monsters rampaging approximately a minute into the movie), it feels like a transmission from a bygone era when character motivation and narrative focus were things given any level of consideration during the filmmaking process. This is perfect summer entertainment; a film that doesn’t require you to turn your brain off, instead lighting up your pleasure centers like a Christmas tree while telling a simple but strong underdog story in the process.
Pacific Rim is exactly the kind of film that will begin torrid love affairs with science fiction cinema for younger theatergoers (this film is massively family-friendly, depending on your child’s tolerance for giant monsters and the like); Del Toro has created a rich environment that will form the setting for many epic playground battles in the coming years. He’s fashioned an immersive world that sprawls beyond the edges of the film and gives the unique impression that absolutely fascinating stories are happening in every corner of this world. The set design is near miraculous, giving the whole universe of the film a deeply worn and lived-in feel (a lesson movies such as the visually antiseptic Oblivion could learn from) that says more visually that any clunky exposition about the toll this war has taken on the world could ever say.
Guillermo Del Toro’s life-long love of Kaiju pictures and Saturday morning “Mech” series such as Patlabor Z and Ultraman were all the research he needed in order to bring this mega-scale project to life; his uncanny ability to create a sense of grotesque wonder through creature design pays off in spades here, concocting nightmarish creatures equal parts Lovecraft and Toho for our heroes to fend off. He also knows better than to repeat himself; the locales and logic behind each battle changes allowing for dynamic action so the initial excitement of seeing such epic imagery showcased on screen doesn’t wane through the use of dull repetition. His sense of scale is immaculate, never losing the human aspect of the battle that allows for his epic smackdowns to retain a human element even when none are visible on screen.
Knowing full well that the main attraction is bot-on-beast action, Del Toro doesn’t try to spend an inordinate amount of time with his humans, preferring to deal in broad strokes. Co-writer Travis Beacham does a wonderful job of giving each character their own arc, allowing nobody to feel superfluous to the plot. Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi don’t set the world ablaze with their chemistry, but their interactions coupled with Idris Elba (whose every comment and gesture in this movie creates a tidal wave of gravitas that turns the first 20 rows of every theater into a Gallagher-esque splash zone) create a strong emotional base for the movie to built on. Del Toro also knows the value of populating the periphery of his picture with delightful character actors who are able to spin moderate screen time into memorable roles, most notably Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) as bickering scientists whose competing theories may prove to be civilization’s last hope along with Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, as unscrupulous dealer of Kaiju remains Hannibal Chau. Don’t even get me started on how awesome the names in this movie are (Stacker Pentecost! Herc Hanson!)
At the end of the day, I’m doing a whole bunch of intellectualizing of a movie that knows the intrinsic value of having a giant robot dome a sea monster with an oil tanker. There’s a beautiful elegance to what Del Toro accomplished here, concocting a fully formed world genuinely and inspiringly kicks ass. It’s a simple story about people overcoming past traumas together in order to overcome a common enemy packaged in one of the most visually dynamic chassis I’ve ever seen assembled for the big screen. Pacific Rim is easily one of your best bets for this or any other summer in recent memory. You owe it to yourself to check it out.