Remember when Neo is attached to the Matrix for the first time and ‘logs in’ to the system. Remember that sequence in Fellowship of the Ring where we two enormous statues as the heroes in a small boat cross the Gates of Argonath. Remember when in Terminator 2 the T-1000 is frozen by liquid nitrogen and is shot to smithereens by Arnie. Remember your shit eating grin while you watched all these scenes and the endless hours you spent geeking out with your friends discussing them. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim will generate a whole new generation of geeks, because it has such scenes of, as Panda Po would say, Pure Awesomeness.
It’s not often that we get to see a large scale science fiction blockbuster movie that renders that sense of total admiration on your face. Somewhere in the mid 2000’s giant monsters and robots became a perfunctory, soulless aspect of modern cinema (thanks, Michael Bay). Every tentpole summer blockbuster became simply bigger in scale, but significantly smaller in energy. Del Toro understands that, and rocket punches the apocalypse of mediocre Hollywood cinema in the scrotum. In Pacific Rim he brings his trademark flair for the escapist fun, the entertainingly gross, the nerdy weird, the cheekily comic and the subtly terrifying on a ginormous canvas and delivers the most satisfying action movie in a long, long time. As the audience, we are fortunate that the man adores robots and monsters, because he toys with the material with passionate, childlike enthusiasm with a mature and imaginative foresight to sell it to us.
Del Toro knows the inherent stupidity of the premise, so instead of wasting time with some origin story ala Emmerich and Bay, he cleverly lays out the entire plot in the opening five minutes – there are huge monsters (Kaijus) oozing out of some vortex in the Pacific Ocean and they want to kill everyone, and the only way to fight these guys is to build huge manually controlled robots (Jaegers) to punch them in the face. The opening minutes have more bombastic momentum than the whole of The Avengers, and by offering the buffet of exposition before the title even shows up the film avoids the burden of pulling a rabbit out of a hat and convoluting the story with some lame twist.
An ignorant viewer will be unhappy with the story, characters and dialogue because he will only consider them as clichés, without realizing that Del Toro is playing with most of the clichés that plague Hollywood blockbusters. They won’t realize that they’re in on the joke when in one scene two characters speak in Japanese but are clumsily dubbed over in English, a clear nod to the Godzilla and Motra movies. The protagonist is a square jawed gravelly voiced archetype, and the characters have names like Hannibal Choi, Miko Mori, Herc Hanson and Stacker Pentecost – these are straight out of a comic book and, it is fun to see these guys instead of some superheroes with existentialist angst or mommy issues. There is quirky scientific mumbo jumbo camaraderie between Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as bickering scientists who are clearly a modern day homage to Doc from Back to the future. Stealing the show is Idris Elba who is probably the greatest actor in the world because he convincingly hurls the corniest possible lines in booming zeal beating even Bill Pullman from Independence Day. The last movie that so blatantly fiddled with comic book style typecasts was Paul Verhoeven’s nihilistic satirical classic Starship Troopers.
In the Transformers films one couldn’t give two shits about the diverseness of the robots, in Pacific Rim each Jaeger has a distinct personality depending on the country it originates from – it’s unadulterated geeky pleasure to wolf down the gourmet meal of details that go into their design. One has energy cannons, one has a retractable sword, another has missiles. The attention to detail in the CGI is phenomenal as the hulking seven storey high robots move with the correlation of their physical limitations; they even have limited ammunition which forces them to have brawls with the faster moving Kaiju. The fight scenes are, well, wild and iconic to say the least, best enjoyed in 2D because the 3D becomes jarring in a dark, rainy pitched sea battle. The big disappointment is that Del Toro leaves out the roles of pilots of the non-American Jaegers on the cutting room floor and makes the US Jaeger Gipsy Danger the hero just to make the rednecks scream AMURICAAAA. That said, Del Toro has reminded us what blockbuster cinema used to be like, he has created a terrific new world and mythology, and for a change a more expansive sequel would actually be welcome.
(First published in MiD Day)