This review was originally posted on The Geek Girl Project but with the holidays fast approaching I wanted to repost it here. I always seem to think of the people I’ve lost during the holidays and this year is no exception. So here is my review of Pacific Rim and a little story about why I love Kaiju, and especially Godizlla, so much.
Imagine a middle class home in a little town in the Midwest in the 1970’s. The aluminum siding is that avocado green that predominated the latest home decor of the time. The den, or “family room,” has hardwood floors and a little color television up on a stand with rabbit ears on top. One of the rabbit ears has a little bit of foil wrapped around the end. The Rolling Stones sometimes play on the 8-Track tape deck.
If you’re picturing the ‘70’s equivalent of the Cleavers, you’ve just about got it. The father is a blue-collar worker who works in the steel foundry in town, the mom stays at home and they have two cats and a 5-year-old daughter with big coke bottle glasses who likes to climb trees and play football in the back yard with her father.
In the early 1970’s UHF became prevalent and with all that extra bandwidth to fill a lot of local stations ran Saturday matinees of old monster movies. Things like the Creature Double Feature or Monster Matinee were often aired in the early afternoon before prime time.
Now the mother in our little time travel story does not like for the girl to see shows that might damage her delicate little psyche. So the father waits, patiently, every Saturday for the mother to go out to get groceries for the week. Then he calls his daughter into the family room and turns the television on and they drink soda and watch the monster movies together. It’s their secret.
The mother almost certainly knows what they’re up to but she doesn’t break their fun. In fact the grocery trip almost always takes exactly as long as the first feature. Then she goes out to meet her girl friends for almost exactly as long as the second feature, which creates a little excitement for the father and daughter at the mid point of the double feature when the mother comes home and they have to pretend they’ve not been watching the monster movies.
So what, you may ask, does this have to do with Pacific Rim? Pacific Rim is a giant love note to those old monster movies. The very first Kaiju was Godzilla and every one that’s come after has followed in the giant radioactive lizard’s iconic footsteps. Guillermo del Toro made a movie to appeal to the people who grew up loving the classic monster movies. He has said in interviews that he wanted to make a movie that would appeal to his inner 12 year old, and he did. Watching those old movies with my father is where my love of Kaiju comes from.
So of course I could hardly wait to seePacific Rim and I was not disappointed. The plot is strong enough to be more than just an excuse for giant Kaiju to fight giant robots (which, frankly is a bonus because I’d pony up my two bits just to see giant Kaiju and giant robots fight).
True to the old movies there are strong characters. Yes they are archetypes of the kinds of characters we find in the best of the classic Kaiju movies but that is deliberate and Guillermo del Toro still manages to breathe new life into them. He even threw some extras into the mix just for fun and they brought the flavor of classic science fiction movies in with them.
For example there is Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) the mad scientist, as in mad enough to experiment on himself. We’ve all seen that before in such classics as The Fly and The Invisible Man. It rarely ends well. He also has what is arguably one of the best humor lines in the movie and Charlie Day plays him so well that it’s easy to believe the character. Paired up with him is the archetypical uptight German scientist Dr. Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). It’s a match made in mad scientist heaven and the two bicker like Fred and Ethel Mertz.
Ron Pearlman as Hannibal Chau is a delightful scoundrel who manages to be disagreeable enough without being completely unlikable. Idris Elba is brilliant and I found Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Beckett a great choice. I loved Rinko KiKuchi as Mako. I loved Mako. She was strong and intelligent and didn’t pretend to be anything less for anyone nor did she make any excuses. Also Mana Ashida as young Mako was amazing. Her acting haunted me for a while after the movie was over.
Guillermo del Toro used every scene very effectively to convey as much information about the people involved as he could. The Russian pilots of theJaeger named Cherno Alpha were not on screen for very long at all. Their entire screen time in the movie may have been less than 10 minutes but in those minutes I grew to like them. They presented as tough minded, no-nonsense people who really did put their lives on the line to protect their people and all people everywhere.
That is the genius of del Toro, beyond his remarkable vision and his ability to bring his vision to life in the media of film. His ability to make us understand the archetypes he’s working with in a very brief time. There is a lot going on in Pacific Rim and there’s a lot of information to take in to keep up with the story and the characters. Guillermo del Toro gives each character a moment of their own to shine in the movie. Because everyone has a chance to shine it becomes more than just a story about a rebel hero, or a strong woman, or a courageous leader but a story about a group of people who work together and find strength in each other. They all have their flaws and they all have their strengths and only through their common humanity can they become a whole greater than the sum of their parts.
Sure there were some flaws. The most obvious one having to do with the final, exciting gambit played by the Resistance to defeat the Kaiju but it was a very minor issue and off the top of my head I could think of a half a dozen ways it could be reasonably explained within the context of what we’d been told. Clocking in at 2 hours and 11 minutes I don’t begrudge them assuming we will take it on faith that it worked to keep the movie fast paced and not bloat it with needless reiterations of things they’ve already said to put it together for us.
In IMAX 3D Pacific Rim is an experience, in 2D it’s a fun popcorn movie. While there is some monster vs. robot violence the movie steers away from being gory or gruesome. There are a couple of scenes where Kaiju are blasted or cut to ribbons and some scenes where Jaegers are torn apart by Kaiju but there is very little human blood or trauma shown directly.
I would strongly recommend seeing this movie. It’s a spectacle. It’s an adventure and it is action packed. The Kaiju are overwhelming and the Jaegers are awesome. And I wish more than anything that my father had hung on for two more weeks, because he would have loved it.