Where was this movie when I was 12?
I think I should offer a, sort of, disclaimer before I begin. The formative years of the Scrivener were spent watching programs like Transformers and later consuming mass amounts of giant robot anime. I've been obsessed with the kaiju (giant monster) movie sub-genre for years now. So, this movie? It was pretty much made for me.
This is a future where massive monstrosities, spilling in from an inter-dimensional portal in the Pacific Ocean, have been unrelenting in their assault on mankind. We banded together and constructed Jaegers (Giant robots) to defend port cities against the Kaiju (giant monster) threat. We started to win then things changed. The beasts got bigger, nastier and even more evolved. Our story begins with mankind in retreat and the world on the brink of destruction.
The Jaegers are constructed in such a way that two pilots are required to man it. One for each hemisphere of the brain. They move in tandem while melding minds. Sounds familiar. The Kaiju are amalgamations of real-world animalia and almost Lovecraftian terror at times. Guillermo del Toro's design aesthetic can definitely be seen within the monsters themselves. Not surprising really as he's been dwelling in the realm of awful creatures for years now as a filmmaker. Whenever the two meet on screen it is a sight to behold. The combat is meaty, with each punch carrying devastating weight and power, while the Kaiju (at first) attack with such savagery and reckless abandon. I rather enjoyed that the combat (which there is a LOT of) found sort a middle ground between the more chaotic and sometimes muddled visuals of now with the withdrawn more measured action of days long since past. There were scenes of sheer mechanized beauty as punches cut the chill air or a chain sword sliced through the gut of a charging monster. Each subsequent conflict is just further escalation and it never stops. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're going to do action of any kind and keep ratcheting it up without losing the effect it has to feel like a freight train. This movie just kept upping the ante time and time again and it worked so well.
This is, no doubt, a movie about giant robots fighting monsters to hopefully save the planet. It is also possessed of far more emotion than I was anticipating. Our hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) was a former pilot who gave up the life after losing his older brother Yancy during a brutal fight with a Kaiju. (shown in the beginning prologue) . That shared piloting can come with a cost. Whenever Yancy was killed their minds were still connected and, as such, Raleigh felt all the fear, pain, anger and awful emotions his brother felt before his death. The scars of it have lingered for years.
The commanding officer, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) seeks out our hero in an attempt to bring him back into the fold as a soldier A new pilot, however, must be found. Enter Mako Mori (Rinko Kukichi) who is quite a balance to the rather uneven nature of Raleigh. She lost her parents during an attack on Tokyo and has wanted to be a pilot ever since. Their relationship isn't just pilot/co-pilot but one of brother and sister almost. It, thankfully, doesn't even attempt to tread into romantic territory. The sharing of minds, all those memories, isn't easy and the budding relationship between the two is a major part of the story.
There is more to be found too. The relationship between the Marshal and Mako carries some weight to it as Stacker looks upon Mako almost as a daughter. He wishes for her safety above all despite her abilities as a pilot. The two scientists, Netwon Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), play off of each other well but also provide a comparison between a much more forward-thinking approach to the science behind it all or just strictly sticking to the numbers. These instances of relationships and a lot of the movie is presented in such a straight-forward way it was a welcome change. it didn't have to be dark. These people have ridiculous names (Hercules Hensen is one of them. Awesome.) and overdone backstories but the connections and the problems are very real.
We also get comedic relief in the form of Charlie Day's Newton and Ron Perlman's organ wheeler-dealer Hannibal that is actually funny. Perlman overacts to Shatneresque heights while Charlie Day is, essentially, Charlie Day but with glasses on. It was that light-heartedness that was so central to the plot that made this movie as well-rounded as it was. The action is all well and good but it would have felt extremely hollow had we not gotten the manic nature of Newton or the smaller humorous moments that are peppered throughout. It is that weaving of light and dark that Guillermo does really well.
What I really loved was that we got a sense of this being a world that was lived in. We saw brief mentions of this being just a part of existence, these Kaiju attacks. Large cities are collections of rubble and rebuilt urban sprawl, decaying skeletal pieces and just worn and tired. This is a future that is not fun but is quite dark.
Was this perfect? Nope. For all my praise of the relationships between different pairings the dialogue between them, more often than not was stilted and not great (spare Idris Elba who is just good in everything he does). It really carried with a B-movie sensibility in terms of its approach to scripting yet here we explored pretty grand ideas about our place, how we work as a people in groups, what the world would be like if this event had happened and how do we, as a species, react. Sci-fi ideas can be marvelous and well-worth watching if executed correctly. For the flaws that can be found they ultimately don't matter all that much because, in the end, Star Wars , for example, isn't about being an Oscar caliber movie. It's about the experience. Pacific Rim is an experience that needs to be had. It is a fun clanking adventure that features brilliant special effects work and real heart.
Ebert said something a long time back that has always stuck with me. "It's not what a movie is about, its how is it about it." Guillermo del Toro's robots and monsters movie is exactly "About it". It delivers all it promises. I see this film as being one that many younger kids will view as "their" Terminator 2, their Raiders of the Lost Ark or their Matrix. It's an event. I will be going to see this movie again and maybe again after that. It's far too much of a fun summer spectacle not to.