What child doesn’t want to see giant robots fighting giant monsters? In Pacific Rim, director Guillermo Del Toro attempts to bring the wonderfully playfully world of Kaiju cinema to another generation of Western audiences. Kaiju is Japanese for ‘strange beast’ but was seen its translation turn into ‘Giant Monster’ and it is from this idea that films like Godzilla evolved. This form of cinema also had a trickles down influence on the Best worst and B-Movie genres and both are more than noticeable in Pacific Rim.
In the near future a rift has opened up at the bottom of the ocean, which allows Kaiju monsters through to wreak havoc on human towns and cities. Initially unprepared the humans launch the Jaegar program, which involves the construction of giant mecha robots to use in defense of their planet. As the attacks become more frequent, a washed-up Jaegar pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is drafted back in active duty by Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Reunited with his former mech (the awesomely named) Gypsy Danger and a new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) Raleigh is tasked with protecting the best mech still active Striker Eureka while it attempts to drop a nuclear bomb into the rift in hopes that it will close the link between the two worlds.
Pacific Rim is a huge hulking beast of a summer blockbuster that does as much right and is gets horribly wrong. Starting with the obvious problems, it would be criminal to ignore the dialogue and general scripting of the non-action scenes. Del Toro has clearly been influenced by the Japanese Kaiju films, but it extends to the comicly cheesy lines that sound like they belong on a dubbed foreign language film. When the unbearably wooden Hunnam, whose casting as a human being remains a mystery, dishes out pearls of wisdom like “the deeper you bond, the better you fight” it is truly a moment to slap your palm to your face. Hunnam and the slightly more impressive (although that’s not saying much) Kikuchi both prove woefully inept in the leading role and were it not for a great supporting cast including Idris Elba, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day Pacific Rim might have been a total flop. But like the Kaijus themselves, the film finds another gear during the action.
Del Toro’s beautiful art design has clearly gone into overdrive to create a neon backdrop for his jaw-dropping fist-fights between the hulking Jaegar’s and the other-worldly Kaijus. His creature creations are now recognisable and any of the Kaijus wouldn’t be out of place in Pan’s Labyrinth or Hellboy 2, but here it is the sheer scale that leaves the audience to marvel. Even when some of the action set-pieces begin to overstay their welcome, there’s still enough visceral magnificence to remain engaging, although if you’re housing a super-powerful sword in your arsenal, maybe don’t wait until near-death to use it.
What is most interesting is the idea of ‘drifting’ where the two pilots must effectively mind-meld to use the jaegar. This very simple idea promotes a sense of unity that breaks down the walls of race, gender and history. In fact the whole film works around the idea of the necessity of war rather than the glory of it. These are people who have to fight to survive, but they don’t revel in it, there’s no country bias. The Earth only continues to survive because of collaboration with one another. This even extends to the scenes of devastation in the cities. While Superman and Zod tore Metropolis apart in Man of Steel and no doubt killed tens of thousands of peeople, Pacific Rim makes sure to get civilians to safety before leveling the empty buildings. It a nice touch that goes a long way to solidifying the central message of peace.
If Del Toro’s goal was to create an antidote for the cynical, dark and brooding blockbusters of recent years, in Pacific Rim he has succeeded. It is a strangely non-military action film that presents a message of unity, co-operation and peace throughout, a sort of Mighty Morphin Power Jaegars if you will. Thus despite the logic leaps, poor acting and inexplicable ending it remains a lot of fun and every kid should be asking for a Kaiju or Jaegar toy this summer. And so will I.