Sometimes it’s good to just sit back, relax, and let one’s self be overwhelmed by the sheer awesome power of gigantic alien monsters fighting massive metal robots with the fate of humanity in the balance. Sometimes it’s good to watch a film that presents a conflict that is delightfully simple, with stark contrasts. Sometimes it’s good to be touched emotionally by the power of human friendship and family even in the midst of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it’s good to laugh heartily at the gloriously absurd. Sometimes it’s good to have a film simultaneously take itself both completely seriously and in the same breath mercilessly make fun of itself. Sometimes it’s good to have a nice, clean film during which you do not have to worry about any content issues or subliminal messages aside from a heavy dose of old fashioned heroism and celebration of the human spirit. And sometimes, very rarely, it’s good to have all these things rolled into one movie. Reader, I am happy to announce that Pacific Rim is such a film.
The plot of Pacific Rim is astonishingly simple: massive alien monstrosities, known as Kaiju, have invaded Earth through a dimension-bridge deep in the Pacific Ocean, and humanity has set aside it’s differences for the greater good, building massive Jaegers, giant mechanized warriors piloted by two mind-melded humans to keep the creatures at bay. These pilots must act in perfect unison, even sharing memories, in order to pilot these massive weapons. I will refrain from detailing the plot further, not because plot details are important or their twists mind-blowing in the slightest, but because the joy of having the story unfold and realizing just how straight up heroic and enjoyable it is is an experience I do not want to rob from you. Suffice to say that the main character, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunman), is a classic cocky yet vulnerable American hero you’ll be rooting for in a heartbeat. Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) proves to be a surprisingly empathetic character (as well as delivering one heck of a pre-battle speech towards the end). Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is also a pleasant surprise as a heartwarming character, while two scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman almost steal the show with their hilarious and endearing banter and antics.
And that is what is so phenomenal about Pacific Rim: it endears itself to you. You feel for the humans, amidst all of the over the top destruction. When the Jaegers suffer setbacks in combat, we genuinely fear and mourn. When they triumph (particularly our main American Jaeger, “Gipsy Danger”) we exult and cheer. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro wisely does not use his impressive special effects to bombard his audience into submitting to the peril of the story (as Michael Bay’s Transformers films did, relying on cheap humor to fill gaps between destruction). Rather, del Toro focuses primarily on building genuine characters and an engrossing tale so that when cities start getting flattened and our heroes are in peril we actually care who wins and who loses. When Gipsy Danger swaggers into battle to save helpless humans we cannot help but celebrate, because it is truly heroic.
Pacific Rim’s heroes are offered up to us pure and wholesome, as examples to look up to. Humanity’s enemies are portrayed as monstrous and repulsive, evil we genuinely hate. The film is surprisingly colorful, brash and clear in its portrayal of the conflict. It portrays epic amounts of destruction, allowing us to realize the tremendous stakes, but never revels in excessive violence, with a surprisingly low on-screen body count for all the city-leveling. Cinematography-wise, the camera moves slowly and methodically, allowing us to digest the action, instead of being disoriented by it, thus inspiring genuine awe. Pacific Rim is refreshingly simple and optimistic despite its titanic struggles, and is the type of story one would tell to an imaginative young child. Or perhaps it should rather be described as a story such a child would dream up, and is certainly the better for it.