SPOILER WARNING:The Following Review Contains some Spoilers for the film Pacific Rim.
The year is 2013 and Aliens have opened a wormhole at the bottom of the ocean in order to visit cities along the coast. Oh, and they’re the size of skyscrapers, look like Godzillas extended family, and are in a very foul mood. So, to combat this new threat, the world bands together in a brilliant display of scientific fortitude to create Jaegers: a series of similarly gargantuan battle-bots piloted by humans and designed to kick some serious alien ass. And then the humans are winning (hurrah!), but then the aliens get smarter and they are losing (boo!), and then they start loosing so badly that the world loses faith in Jaegers and decides to shut down the program (sad day!) and build a wall instead (seriously?). But then the Jaeger general says screw it and tries to save the world anyway (woo!) but then – oh, never mind. The introductory plot of Pacific Rim –the backstory which must be stomached before devouring the good bits – is tedious and overly complex. But, brevity and focus of story, nice though they would be, are not why you’re considering plopping down $10-15 for tickets. What you care about are the battles -- the scenes where a robot the size of the Chrystler building goes head to head with a one hundred fifty foot tall sea monster wielding a cargo ship like a claymore. So, how are these battles, you ask? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, they’re fuckingawesome. I won’t spoil too much but sometimes there are Mechs and sometimes they have swords and when they do childlike giddiness ensues. So, if you are searching for a film to satisfy your summer movie-going needs of brainless blockbuster destruction, look no further. Pacific Rim will do that and then some.
On the other hand if you were hoping for an intelligent science fiction film that fully examines the interesting world it creates, best keep moving for in this regard Del Toro and co-screenwriter Travis Beacham seriously drop the ball. Early on hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) explains that Jaegers must be piloted by two people – one to pilot the right brain and one to pilot the left as the mind meld is too extreme for one person – and that the stronger the connection between these two pilots the better a fighter they are. Brilliant! Suddenly the world of possibilities is endless. No longer is this just a story about a human in a robot suit trying to kill alien invaders, it’s a story about the relationships between people. It’s a story of father and daughter, of brother and brother, of two people slowly falling in love. When they can’t get along their ability to fight these “Kaiju” wavers, but if they work together harmoniously they can defeat the enemy. At least, this is the movie in theory. The reality is quite different.
“I was inside his head when he died,” explains Raleigh, speaking of the moment his brother was killed while they were fighting a Kaiju. “I felt his pain… his terror as he died…You don’t understand what that’s like. I can’t do that again.” Except he can and does, without much trouble I might add, and after a few minutes it’s as though he never experienced a crippling loss that would influence his life forever. If this were an isolated incident this would be fine, but more often than not interesting back stories or plot elements like this are introduced but, despite the energy invested in their explaining, go on to barely influence the course of the story.
This seen again in the side story surrounding the two comical scientists Newton and Gottlieb, splendidly portrayed, I should add, by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. Large amounts of screen time are given to Day’s antics yet they only yield small tidbit of information that barely alters the course of the story. Yes it’s entertaining but surely such a large investment should have a bigger payoff.
Fortunately, Del Toro and his team have created such an immersive imaginative world that such shortcomings are forgivable. Every pixel of the screen brims full of production value, with each shot holding some new wonder Del Toro and his team have dreamed up. The enormous Kaiju and their Jaeger counterparts are some of the best creature designs to date and it’s a mark of true talent that they manages to make each battle more entertaining than the last. However, in a film that’s overflowing with CGI, it’s still the little things that make one smile: the black smith’s bellow attached to Charlie Day’s futuristic science machine or the fabulous suits that the Jaeger pilots wear (a nod to production designers Andrew Neskoromny and Carol Spier as well as costume designer Kate Hawley).
That said, is Pacific Rim worth it? Yes. Without question, yes. Despite its shortcomings, Del Toro has succeeded in creating some the most thoroughly enjoyable popcorn fair in years and I left the theatre with a smile on my face, practically vibrating from the sensory high. But in the back of my mind something was off. For all it’s explosions and special effects Del Toro has forgotten to give his film the much needed ethos and when all is said and done the protagonists’ achievements ring hollow. Yes the world is saved, but who really cares? The characters and their problems are never quite real enough to feel for and in the end Pacific Rim is no more than a visceral roller coaster ride, albeit a fantastic one at that.