I don’t know if I can legitimately label Pacific Rim a smart movie. Its source inspiration is after all, a man waving in a rubber suit, waving his arms and crushing cardboard mock-ups of Tokyo. And it’s not as if this style of entertainment has evolved terrifically over the past half a century because even the modern iterations of Power Rangers still has a men dressed in plastic armor clashing with men in rubber suits.
But Pacific Rim has clearly struck a chord with audiences who grew up on Kaiju films like Godzilla and Mothra, on action serials like Power Rangers and Ultraman and even the millions who adore mecha anime ranging from Macross and Gundam to Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. It is a beautiful homage to a genre that appreciates simplicity, because who doesn’t love robots smashing into monsters?
The premise of Pacific Rim is simple enough, gargantuan aliens invade the earth, sent through a rift deep at the Pacific Ocean’s floor. Conventional methods were not effective at bringing down the building sized behemoths, named Kaiju as a nod to the Japanese film genre, so in a unified international effort, the Jaeger program took off. Each Jaeger is controlled by a pair of pilots who share their consciousness through a process called the drift. With their combined brain power, they are able to act as the left and right hemispheres of the Jaeger’s brain. The result is interesting with both pilots moving in complete unison, piloting the Jaeger through shared gestures and actions.
Going into the drift with another pilot is critical in that both pilots need to have high mental capacity and compatibility with their partner. Compatibility is made simpler when the most successful Jaeger teams are comprised of siblings or parent-child. Pilots not only share thoughts but also memories and emotions and maintaining a steady sync requires a balance between both conscious pilots as to not get lost in the distractions of the drift.
It’s an interesting concept and one that plays well into the developing of relationships throughout the course of Pacific Rim. Charlie Hunnam plays Raleigh Beckett, an American pilot who left the Jaeger program after the death of his co-pilot, his older brother Yancy. He is brought back into the Jaeger program as part of a last ditch effort by coordinator Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) who is gathering the last remaining Jaegers after the program was discontinued in 2025 due to rising costs and an increase in Kaiju attacks. Raleigh is haunted by the emotions of having his brother ripped out of the cockpit of their Jaeger, Gypsy Danger, so he rejoins the program with hesitance and a clear disregard for his own safety.
The film continues as Beckett plays the central part in feeling out the rivalries with the young Australian pilot and the Japanese prodigy Mako Mori. Mori is played wonderfully by Rinko Kikuchi as she brings qualities of grace and stoic temperament to her highly gifted character. Raleigh and Stacker rarely see eye to eye and the tension the film brings out the superior officer and the brash pilot is palpable. Both Hunnam and Elba bring fire to their characters that goes beyond the limitations of the cheesy script.
As much as I loved the setting and the progression of Pacific Rim’s story, I have to knock the film for awkward dialogue, cheese-filled cliches and a paper thin supporting cast. For as good as the trio of Hunnam, Elba and Kikuchi were, the script can be a chore when dealing with tertiary characters. The Australian pilot Chuck Hansen is constantly reminding the entire Jaeger program who the all-star is, Ron Perlman’s black market dealer Hannibal Chau is seedy and un-mysterious, and buying Charlie Day as Kaiju specialist Dr. Newton Geiszler is about as believable as Denise Richards playing Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. Day isn’t terrible as a guy who geeks out over Kaiju anatomy, but I just don’t get excited for a professor who frantically squeals every line of dialogue. It feels as if the side characters are mostly throwaway caricatures, existing only to provide a distraction from the constant melodrama between the three leads.
But as much as the story drives the movie forward, at the end of the day, you want to see giant robots smashing things. And Pacific Rim delivers in spades. Never once throughout the film did I feel that the scale of the Jaegers and the Kaiju was anything short of massive. Guillermo del Toro has always done a fantastic job at creating monsters and creatures, and the Kaiju are no different. They vary in appearance and ability, but there is a feeling of progression from the smaller Kaiju in the opening act to the much larger and more evolved Kaiju in the finale. The Jaeger also have distinct personalities, Gypsy Danger lumbers about in a proud and powerful manner while in contrast the advanced Australian Striker Eureka is fast and lethal. Each Jaeger has a specific backstory and logic to its design, making it easy to appreciate each one.
I was fortunate to see this movie in 3D and have to admit that it is some of the best use of the technology since Avatar. Water splashes on a virtual camera lens as it peers up to see Kaiju and Jaeger clash. The 3D is a true asset to the testament of size that Pacific Rim represents, everything feels grand and amazing. I wholeheartedly recommend seeing this film in 3D as well as in large film formats like IMAX.
Pacific Rim is a film that is unabashed at what it is. An incredible science fiction action film that is as imaginative as it is gargantuan. A resounding success of innovation and technology, it is a spectacle to witness on the big screen. While it suffers from sci-fi cliches and cardboard cutout support characters, it is ultimately about massive fights on a massive scale.