Pacific Rim: a great giant monster film!

Want to see giant monsters rampage through major cities destroying everything in their path? Want to see giant man-made robots fight said monsters? Want spectacular action and special effects in 3-D that immerse you in the unfolding battle for humanity’s survival? Want a richly nuanced, heartening, and humanizing tapestry of personal stories woven throughout the monsters vs. robots action? Well, then, go see Pacific Rim! It’s all that and a bag of chips – or bowl of popcorn, whichever you prefer.

In fact, I haven’t had this much fun at a movie theatre since I was a kid. Unlike the dark, moody, even cynical action/superhero movies of late, director Guillermo del Toro isn’t looking for existential meaning in Pacific Rim.

Don’t misunderstand me, the re-imagined, brooding comic book movies (Batman, Man of Steel, Iron Man, et al), are good movies. I’m actually a big fan – of the movies, and the original comic books. And Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, in my opinion, is a wonderful superheroes-as-dysfunctional-family blockbuster.

However, del Toro’s characters aren’t faced with an existential crisis, like Christopher Nolan’s Batman. These characters have an obvious purpose. Their world may still be absurd, but it isn’t meaningless. Their actions are decisive and geared towards one unifying goal: Save humanity from monsters.

Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a throwback to the classic 1950’s and 60’s era Godzilla movies. In fact, the monsters in Pacific Rim are called kaiju, the Japanese word for ‘strange beast,’ of which Godzilla is the most famous.

To del Toro’s credit, Pacific Rim’s plot is pretty straight forward, not convoluted and obtuse. While some recent action/superhero movies have felt weighed-down by what I would call “analysis paralysis,” Pacific Rim tells a story without paralyzing us with the “why.”

Del Toro doesn’t need to explain every little thing in Pacific Rim, which reminds me of another really good monster movie, J.J. Abram’s Cloverfield.

In fact, del Toro spends very little time on the “why,” and Pacific Rim is a better movie for it – as sometimes the “why” just doesn’t matter, especially when you just want to have a good time and be blown away by some amazing special effects.

Simply put, Pacific Rim is about kaiju (giant monsters/strange beasts) transported through a wormhole from another world sent here to wreak havoc on our world, and the robots that fight them. Enough said! It’s just good old fashioned smash ’em up fun.

That said in this script we find a rich tapestry of human relationships, loyalty, and longing for survival among a cast of characters who aren’t cookie cutter or generic. Surprisingly for an action movie, they seem like real people struggling to figure out what the hell is going on, without dwelling too much on the loss, fear, or absurdness of the world they inhabit.

It’s a delicate balance, and del Toro has done a superb job of building real people into a completely absurd world, which makes the film that much more enjoyable.

The cast includes well known actors – Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel), and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), among others – but not superstars.

The way these characters interact is collective magic.

Rinko Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori is probably the most endearing. She fights the inner demons of a small child confronted by the enormous destructive power of the kaiju, while proving that she is capable, determined, and self-sacrificing. Mako as a small child is probably one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in Pacific Rim. Its subtleness is the very definition of great filmmaking.

Charlie Day adds some comedic relief as an eccentric scientist; if you’ve ever watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia then you know what I mean by eccentric. Idris Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, the commanding officer in charge of the man made robot army; Elba brings a lot of authority and gravity to the role, a unique sternness. And Charlie Hunnam plays a retired robot pilot brought back for one final push against the kaiju.

Like his Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro is a master of visual design. The monsters and robots, called Jaegers, are so full of detail they become characters. The scale, seen in all its 3-D glory, is truly immersive and the action is spectacular.

While some may find (or look for) a deeper meaning is del Toro’s Pacific Rim, I believe his intent was to make a visually stunning, highly entertaining adventure story, something that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while reintroducing the kaiju (monster) and mecha (robots) genres to a new generation of fans. He has told a great, fun story. I think I’m going to go see Pacific Rim again.

Photo: Pacific Rim official Facebook page


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.