Pacific Rim might just be the greatest action movie about a hole ever made – a hole between worlds, to be precise. It has everything you could want: grand battle scenes between robots and monsters; a suitably plotted race-against-time story; genuine emotions and fulfilling sub-plots. I’ll admit that when I first saw the trailer I had to groan. But have faith in Guillermo del Toro.
Pacific Rim is also the great climate change movie to date that involves gigantic mechas and inter-dimensional beasts. This is the message of An Inconvenient Truth as told by a teenager who has read far too much manga. It’s a constant touchstone, from the not so subtle statement about how we “basically terraformed” our planet to allow for the invasion of bioengineered beasties, to the reversion from direct action – the Jaegers, the name of the robots – to a more passive tactic, namely building a giant wall. The movie opens with the Jaegars apparently failing to protect humanity any longer, so higher-ups decide that the neoliberal approach of diversionary capital investment will suffice – it creates and jobs and gives the appearance that it will work. Going further, in the final battle, what are the four countries ready to fight? The US, China, Russia and little old Australia: the four who should be taking the first steps against climate change. The movie even ends with the idea that nuclear can still save the day. This is our generation’s action movie. It takes the promise of world-spanning behemoth showdowns and threads it with a global theme.
But don’t think such grand notions were the genesis of the movie. Godzilla and the culture of Kaiju (the name for the monsters in the movie) are the true inspirations. Comic book styling meets del Toro’s flair for creature design and sweet cyberpunk goodness. If you want a movie about huge metallic fists pounding on the gnarled heads of warped horrors, then that’s exactly what you’re going to get. Cities are crushed in the true spirit of the genre, albeit mostly at night which can detract somewhat from the glory of the leviathans. This is offset cleverly by the Jaegars being brightly lit and the Kaiju having phosphorescent hues. Design is, of course, imperative. Del Toro and his team agonised over creature design, culling dozens. Most are humanoid, to a degree, and based on animals like crabs, gorillas and sharks. The Jaegars are also suitably diverse – I have a particular penchant for the Soviet-inspired suit the Russians sport. The action is mostly centred on Hong Kong, an Asian hub away from stereotypical Japan and well-trod US soil. Many genre tropes are covered, but it’s a reimagining and a reawakening.
The film doesn’t surprise you, but that’s not to say it’s predictable. It takes more cues from Neon Genesis: Evangelion than from Transformers or Godzilla. It is surprisingly un-trashy, with a non-typical romance between a Japanese native, Mako (played by Rinko Kikuchi) and brooding hero, Raleigh (played by Charlie Hunnam). After the opening information bomb with a montage, my girlfriend turned to me and asked how it could possibly last another two hours. It did, and spectacularly well. The plot hits all the right notes and never feels dull as our two heroes strive to overcome a variety of traumatic issues in order to save the day (there is an absolutely haunting flashback scene). This main plot is intertwined with the father-son reconciliation of the Australian pilots (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky), the sensei-pupil conundrum between Mako and Stacker Pentecost, the stalwart and venerable commander with a weakness (played by an imposing Idris Elba), and the humorous tension between rival scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) who resolve their differences between logic and luck to ensure humanity’s survival. It isn’t just the fights that are impactful but the human relationships that are essential to a memorable movie.
There’s not a lot wrong with Pacific Rim. The music is matched with aplomb, the cinematography and effects are staggering and even the decision to cast Americans as Aussies and Brits as Yanks feels like a play on the B-movie genre, where miscasting is chronic… The acting and writing isn’t the best, but it is far and above that of similarly styled films. Del Toro set out to envision his – and in the process, many others’ – childhood fantasies with Pacific Rim. Job well done is all that needs to be said.