PACIFIC RIM: The Monsters at Our Door

Pacific Rim Poster
Pacific Rim (2013) – Directed by Guillermo del Toro – Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Burn Gorman, Clifton Collins Jr., and Ron Perlman.

Please be aware that SPOILERS exist beyond this point.

For me, it was G.I. Joe and Transformers. And Crystar. Star Wars was in its own segregated universe and the Masters of the Universe figures were too big, but I loved to mash my G.I. Joe and Transformers (and Crystar) toys into a single story and let my imagination run wild.

If you ever did that as a kid, you get the appeal of PACIFIC RIM, Guillermo del Toro’s ode to one of the most awesome parts of childhood: smashing your toys from different universes together to see what happened when Godzilla met Robotech. Or when Star Trek invaded Hoth. Or when Jazz wondered if they could trust the Thundercats and Optimus told him there was good in everyone’s heart, even if it was inside the chest of a cat person who stole their catchphrase from Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Hooooooooo!

There is nothing complicated about PACIFIC RIM, and there is little of the heart of Hellboy or the intricacy of Pan’s Labyrinth that we find in past del Toro movies. No, PACIFIC RIM is awesome because it is designed to be so, because when small people look up at giants fighting, it cannot be anything but awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

The joy of PACIFIC RIM is that del Toro makes it awesome for me to watch, too.

Watching this film is like watching a five-year old play with toys, but filtered through a massive CGI lens. It’s a childhood fantasy writ large, with del Toro making the mind’s fantasy a reality through CGI wizardry and a solid enough story that largely stays out of the way.

To be clear, PACIFIC RIM is not a smart movie in the traditional sense, but neither is it an unintentionally dumb movie. It’s a smartly made dumb movie; del Toro knows that people are going to sit and watch his movie because they want to see giant monsters fighting giant robots and so that’s what he gives us. Yes, there are people, but most of their personal foibles exist only to make us care more about the fight sequences. It’s impressive how much emotion del Toro manages to squeeze out of such stock, thinly designed characters. The leads work because Idris Elba is the rock the film builds around, because Charlie Humman has a square jaw, because the Australians have square jaws, and because Rinko Kikuchi manages to make you believe she is embarrassed to see Humman without his shirt on, even if she’s surrounded in a battle station made up almost entirely of dudes.

Burn Gorman’s Dr. Gottlieb is a disaster of a character: forced, obvious, clownish, Gorman plays Gottlieb likes he’s doing a dinner theater performance of Clue. It’s embarrassing.

And sort of perfect.

Gorman’s Gottleib exactly what I mean when I say this is a smartly made dumb movie. The character should not work, and in any other movie out this summer, it wouldn’t work, but it provides exactly what PACIFIC RIM needs. This is a heavy film – the characters might be thinly drawn, but they have serious issues – and it needs some absurdity to balance things out. Dr. Gottlieb and his associate, Dr. Geiszler (the much better Charlie Day), provide this levity. They’re both brilliant scientists, but they squabble with one another like children or Warehouse 13 agents. When they come together near the end of the film to put aside their differences and team up, it’s a genuine moment.

Logic dictates to me that Gorman’s Gottlieb is not a good character or a good performance, yet it’s exactly what the film needs, so it’s actually an excellent character and an excellent performance.

Del Toro thankfully skips past much of the origin story to get to the good stuff, where damaged people climb into robots to punch alien monsters. We get a very concise and effectively rendered back story – Kaiju arrive, tear shit up, the world comes together and builds Jaegers to fight them. It seems like there would be a better method available, but I’m glad they didn’t find it. (The film does take a clear shot at contemporary politics when the Jaeger program is sidelined in order for world governments to start building walls that are supposed to work but don’t.) We get a quick roll through the years, through early successes and latter failures, and by the time Marshall Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba) brings Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) back into the fold, the Jaeger program is a shell of its former self (get it? a shell?) and down to just four Jaegers.

The Jaegers are awesome, and del Toro has made a wise decision in making each Jaeger need to be co-piloted between two people who have their minds melded together while operating the machines. I hated this idea, at first, but it works wonderfully in the film, as del Toro makes the emotional issues between the pilots pop when they’re in the Jaegers.

PACIFIC RIM is divided into three segments: the serious third (the pilots), the humorous third (the scientists and Ron Perlman), and the awesome third (the Kaiju versus Jaegers). The balance between them is perfectly orchestrated so the film is always moving forward and always giving you a different vibe to keep you engaged. and in all three portions we get to a moment (or moments) where the theme of people putting aside their differences to come together.

The two acting standouts in RIM are Elba’s Stacker and Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori, who ends up as Raleigh’s co-pilot. The flashback sequence that shows Mako as a little girl running through a damaged city as she’s stalked by a Kaiju and saved by Stacker’s Jaeger is really well done and provides the one really solid emotional moment the film needs to make the Mako/Stacker and Mako/Raleigh relationships work. Where RIM blasts through the back story of the world, it takes its time with the character relationships and it’s a powerful combination.

Yet as impressive as Mako is as a character, we still get stupid scenes where she looks at Raleigh as if she’s never seen a man before and shuts the door on him. That’s right – she wants to climb into a Jaeger to fight Kaiju, but she’s not brave enough to look at a dude’s bared upper body.

Charlie Day is also pretty darn great as Newt in the humorous segments of the film, and his manic persona works really well to add some levity to the film. In Gottlieb’s words, he’s a “Kaiju Groupie,” and it’s Newt’s self-experimentation with Kaiju brain that creates the overall story arc, so the people who are here to punch can concentrate on punching.

PACIFIC RIM is big and loud and thoroughly awesome. Del Toro has seemingly been linked with 1,000 films that never got made, and it’s not hard to see PACIFIC RIM as a really talented director just cutting loose with a simpler story – when this happens to Spielberg, he makes The Terminal. When it happens to del Toro, he makes PACIFIC RIM. It’s maybe not the best film of the summer, but it’s the best film of the summer for 8 year-old Me, and the film from this year that I’ll likely re-watch the most. For the first time in a really long time, I left the theater wanting to own every toy of every character I just watched, and making me wish there was an IMAX 3D theater that was easy for me to get to so I could give Warner Bros. even more of my money.

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Harpsichord Cover Mock-UpWhen he’s not reviewing movies or walking his dog, Mark Bousquet is doing some creative writing. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including The Haunting of Kraken Moor (horror), Gunfighter Gothic (weird western), Stuffed Animals for Hire (children lit), Dreamer’s Syndrome (urban fantasy), Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches (cosmic pulp), and Adventures of the Five (children lit). He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.

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2 thoughts on “PACIFIC RIM: The Monsters at Our Door

  1. It is worth noting that this is one of two films I was most looking forward to this year. The other being MACHETE KILLS.

    As I have said elsewhere, this is the first film for YEARS that held my attention (even Avengers didn’t do that) from the first frame till the credits. I didn’t get fidgety, bored or even glance at my watch to see what the time was. When I left the cinema and realised almost 3 hours had passed, I was amazed.

    It is also the first film in a long while where I found myself planning to go back for a second viewing. I will be buying this in Blu-Ray and wearing out the disc.

    And I DID see this in IMAX. :)

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