Pacific Rim Review: “We win by cancelling the apocalypse on our independence day, Gracie!”

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I grew up watching shows, cartoons and movies about gargantuan creatures and giant robots. Sometimes they fought each other, sometimes they fought with each other, and sometimes they just sat around while their teenage pilots whined about how hard it was to be the only ones gifted enough to use the giant *!&^ing death machines; thanks, Evangelion, Z.O.E. and every Gundam series except 08th MS Team. The end result is a deep and abiding love of watching as one 60-foot-tall thing punches another one in the face, so long as it’s not directed by Michael Bay (The Devil).

You can imagine my excitement, then, when it was announced the Guillermo del Toro was making Pacific Rim, a film about giant monsters and robots, all of which would have his signature artistic style. I went and saw it this weekend in IMAX 3D with my friend Adam, who is my preferred film companion for such cinematic ventures. What followed was a little over two hours of raw, childish glee, interspersed with moments of trying not to think too hard about what was going on.

Pacific Rim is essentially Cloverfield Part Deux, to the point where J.J. Abrams should have an acknowledgement in the credits. Giant creatures called kaiju start coming out of an inter-dimensional tear called “The Bridge” in the Pacific and wreaking havoc on coastal cities, while the military desperately tries to stop them. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the attacks aren’t going to stop, and so the world comes together to create an international guard team of giant robots known as jaegers.

PR Jaegers

The jaegers prove to be exceptional at stopping the kaiju, but the strain of using the neural interface that controls them proves too much for a single pilot. To overcome this, a system (the drift) is developed that allows two pilots to access each other’s minds and control the jaeger in unison. This requires that the pilots be compatible in fighting technique, and pilots who share the same memories gain an exceptional advantage.

All of this happens in the first ten minutes of the movie, while the main character Raleigh Becket narrates, leading up to the deployment of the jaeger that he and his brother Yancy pilot: Gipsy Danger. Their objective is to patrol the waters ten miles out from Anchorage and be ready to protect in from a category three kaiju – categories indicate the level of combat evolution and theoretical danger – that has been detected nearby. Instead, they decide to face it head-on when they detect a fishing boat about to fall victim; the resulting fight is a sight to behold, but doesn’t go quite as planned, setting up one of the movie’s key conflicts.

At this point, the story jumps ahead another five years, and the jaeger program is being scrapped; governments have grown weary of the costs, and so are trying to tout a guard wall project that will supposedly keep the kaiju at bay. The head of the program, Marshal Stacker Pentecost, knows that this won’t be enough, and so recruits Raleigh and the other three remaining jaeger teams to attempt an attack on the Bridge that will hopefully seal it shut. The three jaegers other than Gipsy Danger are from China, Russia, and Australia respectively: Crimson Typhoon is an agility-focused, three-armed model piloted by triplets; Cherno Alpha is a heavy-hitting juggernaut whose pilots patrolled Siberia for six straight years; and a father-son team operates Striker Eureka, the newest and fastest model, with the highest kaiju kill count on record.

PR Dead Kaiju

That leaves Raleigh and Gipsy Danger, both a little worse for the wear, and generally considered the most unpredictable in the field. There’s also the issue of Raleigh needing a co-pilot (remember that key conflict from before?) and not necessarily being in any shape to drift with someone new. The best bet is Mako Mori, a female Japanese pilot with outstanding scores, but who has a tragedy in her memories that makes her a wild card while interfaced. She also shares some sort of connection with the Marshal which makes him reticent to let her pilot and keeps her from challenging him on the issue directly.

There’s also a duo of scientists trying to understand the kaiju, the Bridge, and their connection, albeit in completely separate ways: One is a biologist and “kaiju groupie,” who is obsessed with the creatures and thinks that he might be able to learn more by drifting with a living kaiju brain; the other is a stoic, introverted mathematician, whose predictive analysis of kaiju attacks shows it’s only a matter of time before we are completely overrun.

Sounds like a fairly decent set-up for a movie about big things punching other big things, right? Yes, for the most part, but the problem is that it never really becomes more than a backdrop. I’d be surprised if this all didn’t sound familiar; this movie has a lot of Independence Day and Armageddon running through its veins. Where those movies succeed in making me care about the characters, Pacific Rim gives me too many faces and names, without any reason to genuinely care about them. For instance, this global-disaster-level action movie features a heroic sacrifice (Spoiler warning? I guess if you don’t watch movies.), but it lacks the impact of Russell Casse or Harry Stamper’s last moments.

The few story moments that stand out are genuinely great, I’ll admit. The rivalry between Raleigh and the younger Striker pilot Chuck Hansen hits a few good notes, culminating in a very satisfying fist-fight between the two. There is also a fantastic sequence in which Raleigh experiences Mako’s tragic memory first-hand via the drift; in fact, everything with Mako is slightly better than the rest of the movie. This is ultimately due to the fact that we’re given a genuine piece of history relating to the character that almost doesn’t exist for any of the others.

Herein is my biggest complaint with Pacific Rim: The whole thing feels a bit rushed, and I’m asked to care about too many people without any reasons. I can get past plot holes, hokey dialogue, and bland acting if the story being told is a compelling one. In this case, the most compelling parts of the concept – the first devastating kaiju attacks, the rush to develop jaegers, the sacrifice and losses that would make the victories seem worthwhile – are taken care of in that first ten minutes I talked about.

PR Sacrifice

I mulled it over, and what I decided is that Pacific Rim feels like the final movie in an awesome trilogy we never got to see: The first film would cover the initial kaiju attacks, the race to develop jaegers, and the first big victory; in the second film, humanity would be winning left and right, and people would be lining up to be pilots, but the governments would be getting complacent, and the movie would end with the incident in Anchorage; and then this movie would be the finale, with everything that happened before reinforcing its climax.

What we get instead isn’t terrible, but the lulls between kaiju fights tended to be when I would get distracted and start thinking too much about the plot. That being said, the fights themselves were almost completely worth the price of admission; if you’re going to see this film, see it in IMAX 3D. The sense of size on the jaegers and kaiju is impressive, and each blow rattles your teeth. There are jaw-dropping moments on each side; once when a lizard-like kaiju reveals a new mutation, and once when Gipsy Danger absolutely destroys a sea-serpent-type beast. There are a handful of smaller moments that are equally awesome, and my inner ten-year-old wanted all of the action figures for these things the moment we left the theater.

Ultimately, though, that can’t be everything a movie is; remember when I mentioned the Director Who Must Not Be Named above? Pacific Rim is far-and-away better than the garbage known as Transformers, but I honestly don’t know that it’s any less forgettable. For me, the difference is this: I enjoyed watching Pacific Rim on a “giant things hitting each other” level, and wanted to enjoy it more on a story level. I could never manage that with Transformers – those films are garbage, and I guarantee you I will win this argument – but I can now relate better to the concept of enjoying them.

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I honestly don’t know if I will own Pacific Rim; I might just spend that money on an awesome statue of a jaeger and put it next to me on the couch while watching Big O reruns. I’m not unhappy I saw it, by any means, and I firmly believe it wouldn’t have been worth it on the small screen. If you’ve gotten several of the references I’ve made, grab a friend and go cancel the apocalypse. Otherwise, just grab copies of Cloverfield and The Iron Giant and rotate scenes from each one.

Honestly, just go watch [amazon_link id=”B00009M9BK” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Iron Giant[/amazon_link] anyway, because that movie rules.

*Nerd Rating while Watching – 9/10

*Nerd Rating after Thinking 7/10


One response to “Pacific Rim Review: “We win by cancelling the apocalypse on our independence day, Gracie!””

  1. Jeremiah Wolfwood Avatar
    Jeremiah Wolfwood

    I will own it but not on day one

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