‘Pacific Rim,’ Review by Vincent M. Gaine, Independent Researcher

[Warner Bros Pictures 2013. Dir: Guillermo del Toro; Writers: Travis Beachham & Guilleromo del Toro; Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam & Rinko Kikuchi].

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The big-things-hitting-each-other genre has a surprisingly high number of entries. Since King Kong wrestled with dinosaurs in 1933, we have seen Godzilla grappling with Ghidorah, Gigan, Megalon, Mothra, Mechagodzilla and the other monsters of Toho Studios, as well as the gems Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus and Boa VS Python, as well as King Kong wrestling with dinosaurs (again). More recently, Michael Bay brought the beloved Transformers to the big screen in three bombastic instalments, with a fourth on the way. Transformers and its sequels are notorious for being everything that is wrong with modern blockbusters, somewhat unfairly in my view as, for all their faults, Bay’s films do deliver big-things-hitting-each-other, and what more do you really want?

Pacific Rim answers that question by delivering on the action front and so much more. The Kaiju monsters, an homage to the genre of the same name, display extraordinary detail as one would expect from Guillermo Del Toro, maestro of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. Pacific Rim features a range of menacing monsters with different abilities, necessitating an equally varied range of giant Jaeger robots, paying homage to the mecha genre, to fight them. Pacific Rim’s action sequences are truly spectacular and, crucially, creative. Big-things-hitting-each-other can become tedious, but Del Toro avoids this by having his combatants use a variety of techniques including acid spraying, plasma cannons, elbow rockets and my personal favourite, the use of an oil tanker as a club.

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The creativity of the combat echoes the martial arts genre, another influence on Pacific Rim. Scenes of kendo combat between the Jaeger pilots highlight this influence, as well as the importance of the two pilots being mentally attuned. Furthermore, the battles between Jaeger and Kaiju are highly mobile, the combatants hurled around cities to crash into tower blocks and bridges, much like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan would smash through windows and doors. Like these martial artists’ fight scenes, Pacific Rim’s action sequences convey a sense of weight and impact, but with wide angle shots and thundering sound effects that present the scale of these gargantuan combatants. And while the Kaiju are purely monstrous, the human pilots of the Jaegers provide an interesting extra dimension.

Monster movies often have a distinct narrative strand involving the human characters avoiding the giant-scale carnage, but Pacific Rim’s masterstroke is to include humans in the battle. The heart of the film is the active involvement of human combatants, sharing the neural link called the “Drift”. This allows the viewer direct access to character emotion and history, especially in the film’s standout sequence, when we see Mako Mori’s (Rinko Kikuchi) memory of a Kaiju attack in a heart-wrenching and genuinely scary moment.

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Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnan) has his own issues to deal with, and the bond that forges between him and Mako gives the film an intimate emotional arc as well as the epic arc of saving the world.

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Pacific Rim has one major flaw: a separate plotline of scientists Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) trying to discover the secrets of the Kaiju. While this narrative thread is vital to the story, the scientists remain too peripheral to the main action. Geiszler and Gottlieb are introduced part way through, whereas had they been integrated from the beginning, the film might have been more satisfying as a whole.

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When Raleigh rejoins the Jaeger Corps, he is reunited with Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and Tendo Choi (Clifton Collins Jr.), and the scientists could have been part of that reunion as well, had they been there from the beginning. As it stands, the film is unbalanced, the plotlines given unequal attention. It is not that the scientists are annoying or useless, but that the film’s disparate narrative directions distract from each other.

Aside from this infelicity, Pacific Rim is a glorious romp, Del Toro balancing an ominous sense of doom with punch-the-air (or Kaiju) excitement and a nostalgic charm through its homage to other genres. More reminiscent of Independence Day, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and (the original) Godzilla than Transformers, Harry Potter or X-Men, Pacific Rim is that rarest of cinematic offerings – an original blockbuster. Every year, it seems, one of these comes along and gives us something different in an era of sequels, prequels, adaptations, remakes and reboots. Pacific Rim therefore joins the distinguished company of Avatar, Inception, Super 8 and Looper – large scale films that combine originality with familiarity.

About

Vincent M. Gaine is an independent researcher seeking academic employment. His monograph, Existentialism and Social Engagement in the Films of Michael Mann, is published by Palgrave (2011). He has been published chapters in The 21st Century Superhero: Essays on Gender, Genre and Globalization in Film (McFarland, 2011) and Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood (Palgrave, 2013), and articles in Cinema Journal as well as the Journal of Technology, Theology and Religion. He is a regular contributor to the Journal of World Cinema (Intellect), and publishes reviews and commentary on his blog, http://vincentmgaine.wordpress.com/.