If I were twelve-years-old, Pacific Rim Would probably top my short list of favorite films of all time. Now that I’m a cranky and snobby thirty-three-year-old "adult" who lost his childhood innocence, it’ll have to settle with being one of the most entertaining summer movies of 2013.
If you’re only looking for a simple ride down nostalgia lane and feast your eyes on giant robots kicking some giant monster ass, you’ve come to the right place. For those of you who want to relive that youthful sensation of watching Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl full of whole milk (None of that %2 crap) and Lucky Charms, I recommend Pacific Rim a thousand times over Transformers movies.
To be honest, I had to think very hard on why I had a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim while still hating Transformers movies, of which I can only describe as pointless migraine attacks.
Both products depict seemingly endless sequences of giant creatures destroying hundreds of years of civilizations in half a minute while the extremely loud soundtrack violates our eardrums. Of course in between the beat downs we have to sit through an absurd plot that feeds us one overwrought cliché after the other.
But director Guillermo Del Toro has two very important advantages over Michael Bay: Dramatic consistency as well as respect and loyalty toward the audience’s expectations. Bay showed us that he could present a tonally consistent film when he actually cared about the story with Pain & Gain, no matter how insane that tone might have been. However, his approach to Transformers is mired with an arrogance that reads, "These idiots will eat anything up as long as it’s branded with Transformers logo".
These films fill up their seemingly interminable two and a half hour running times with robot fight scenes executed with a random visual approach where we cannot get a grip on what the hell is going on at any given time, intercut with robots (Who do not possess genitalia) humping Megan Fox’s leg.
Del Toro, on the other hand, settles on a very specific, straightforward dramatic and visual style and sticks to it from beginning to end, even though he must know how absurd the "Monsters Vs. Robots" concept is from the get go.
The plot is extremely simple. Skyscraper-sized grotesque creatures nicknamed Kaiju (Giant Monster in Japanese) make their way into our planet through a mysterious interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. I hate it when that happens.
As The Kaiju wreak havoc on cities easily recognizable by most of the general audience, humans find out that their usual planes and ships are useless, so they create giant robots nicknamed Jaeger (Hunter in German). Jaeger Shot jokes in 3... 2... 1...
Of course in between the mega brawls we are treated to a screenplay that mixes Top Gun and Independence Day as the tough leader Stacker (Idris Elba) leads his troop of Jaeger pilots who are also copy-pasted from other generic blockbuster fare.
We have Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who has a predictable problem with authority that comes with being the young protagonist in a sci-fi actioner, Mako (Rinku Kikuchi), who has a dark and painful past which will be revealed at an opportune time in order to rile her up to save the day and Chuck (Robert Kazinsky), who doesn’t like Raleigh simply because we need a macho hand-to-hand fight scene to speed up the second half.
Even though Del Toro must know that the battle scenes are the bread and butter of the production, he takes this cliché-ridden screenplay with a completely straight face, which kind of works. I refuse to believe that the bland blockbuster dialogue and the stilted, over-the-top, obvious acting were due to a lack of control and creativity on Del Toro’s part. I believe it was completely on purpose.
What Del Toro tries to relay is a 190 million dollar version of the serious acting style of the Japanese casts of Godzilla productions. In these films, a man in a fake looking costume knocking down cardboard buildings were intercut with actors who took the material as seriously as a Noh play. There wasn’t any self-referential and tongue-in-cheek humor there. The silliness came from the concept and concept alone.
When it comes to constructing the fight sequences between Jaegers and The Kaiju, Del Toro at least creates tangible dramatic pacing and doesn’t simply start and end every action sequence with maximum sensory overload.
The tension rises in increments. When a Jaeger beats up a Kaiju using a giant cargo ship as a two-by-four during the thrilling Hong Kong sequence, everything that leads up to that moment prepares us for the surrealism of the scene. Ramin Djawadi’s bombastic early 90s Hollywood score really helps seal the deal.
Of course approaching this material with a modicum of rationality destroys the illusion immediately. If people know exactly where the portal is, why don’t they set up nuclear weapons there so they can blast away any Kaiju as soon as they emerge at the bottom of the ocean?
Or if Jaegers come fully equipped with giant swords that can effortlessly cut a Kaiju in half, why do the pilots wait for the last possible second to turn them into Kaiju Kebabs? It’s best to forget the Independence Day-level dumb finale.
But at the end of the day we’re going to Pacific Rim for a very specific experience, to relive the joy we felt watching crudely animated monsters beat each other to death. Del Toro doesn’t offer much else, and much else should not be expected from him.