Being a fan of anime, particularly ones with giant robots, and giant monster movies like Godzilla, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy Pacific Rim, the latest from Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro, who makes the jump from cerebral horror (check out Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage and you’ll see what I mean) to action sci-fi. And does a heck of a job doing it. Good thing, too, since del Toro – known for his determination to keep the Hellboy as faithful to the original comic as possible – was probably the only one who could’ve done this kind of movie justice. Especially since it borrows a lot from the giant-robot-versus-giant-monster genre made famous in many a Japanese film, TV series and anime.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, mankind comes under attack by giant monsters, dubbed “Kaiju” (Japanese for “monster”), who emerge from a dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. After conventional military weaponry proves ineffective, the nations of the world unite to create Jaegers, giant robots that can match the Kaiju in size and are controlled by two pilots via a shared neural link (a single pilot being unable to handle the load). Though the Jaegers are effective in the beginning, the Kaiju attacks become more frequent, resulting in Jaegers being heavily damaged and destroyed.
The main part of the story takes place in 2025, where the Jaeger program has been discontinued in favor for the construction of massive coastal walls in order to block the Kaiju. Gathering together the world’s last four remaining Jaegers – America’s Gipsy Danger, Russia’s Cherno Alpha, China’s Crimson Typhoon and Australia’s Striker Eureka – Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) plans to make one final attack against the Kaiju in the hopes of finding a way to stop the attacks for good. To do this, he convinces former Gipsy Danger pilot Raleigh Becket, who retired after the loss of his brother and co-pilot, to return to action. Of course, proving himself to his fellow pilots – in particular Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), the cocky pilot of Striker Eureka – is hard enough. Even harder is trying to work with his new co-pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a rookie who has both never piloted a Jaeger before and has her own Kaiju-related trauma. And, of course, there is still trying to figure out how to not only close the rift the Kaiju are coming from, but figure out what they’re up to.
Obviously, Pacific Rim isn’t a film that’s going to be nominated for or win the Oscar for Best Picture. It is, of course, an action film that has giant robots fighting against giant monsters. But come on… it’s GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING GIANT MONSTERS! What’s not to love? And of course, those very elements are reasons enough to see this movie in the theaters, on as big a screen as possible so as to bring those main elements out. Granted only those who are fans of the genre will be the ones who are going to see it, but thankfully, the story, characters and effects are all done so that said fans will be pleased with the result.
One thing that’s interested to note is the way both the Jaeger robots and the Kaiju are designed and animated on-screen. Both are actually done in ways that could be considered realistic in terms of real world applications. The Kaiju all lumber around on four legs instead of two (due, no doubt, to their massive sizes), and aren’t cheesy-looking in appearance, even pulling off powers and abilities that make sense when seen (especially the one that unfolds wings and flies). As for the Jaegers, they move just like you think a massive, giant robot would move: slow. Whether it be turning around or lifting an arm to throw a punch, the robots do not, contrary to what you might’ve seen in anime or one of the many versions of Power Rangers, move as fluidly as a human would (good thing the Kaiju are just as slow, or we’d be in trouble). Even the reasons for the dual-pilot system make sense, particular the part about how a close familiarity between pilots makes for a better connection link (making for an interesting plot point when Raleigh and Mako, who have never met before, try to work their Jaeger together). I get the feeling that if such a type of technology ever does come into existence, this is probably how it’ll work.
As I mentioned before, the movie borrows a lot from the giant-robot-versus-giant-monster genre, right down to the angst-ridden pilot main character and the special military organization set up to battle the threat. Yeah, it’s all be done before, and isn’t always done in ways that seem fresh, but hey, it’s a formula that works, so why mess with it? There are plenty of nods to various series, both live action and anime, but the one fans will spot the most is Neon Genesis Evangelion, the hit ‘90s anime that pretty much saved the genre. Chuck Hansen reminds me a lot of Asuka, another over-confident pilot sure of her superiority, while Charlie Day’s fanboy character, scientist Dr. Newton Geiszler, is very similar to Kensuke, a supporting character from Evangelion who reacts to the robots of that series the same way Newton does around the Kaiju (Newton, though, is in more of a position to take a more active role). And if you look at Mako, not only does she seem to have the same kind of hairstyle as Rei Ayanami, she even has a couple tips in her hair dyed blue! There are some differences, though. Raleigh, for example, unlike Evangelion main character Shinji Ikari, initially refuses to fight not because of cowardice or lack of self-esteem, but due to his traumatic experiences when he piloted before. Also, when compared to NERV’s cold-hearted and scheming commander Gendo Ikari, Pentecost often acts like an asshole, especially when it comes to Mako, but he actually displays emotions and cares about both humanity and those under his command. He also, if you’ve seen the trailers, delivers a great rallying speech prior to the film’s climatic battle, something Gendo would never do.
All in all, Pacific Rim is definitely one of the best films of the summer, and one that has to be seen to be believed. And like I said, it’s not an Oscar-worthy film (maybe for special effects, but that could be a given), but we’re not watching this for its philosophical debating. We’re watching it to enjoy a good sci-fi action film. That’s what makes it awesome.