I guess I’ve loved giant robots ever since I watched the Transformers cartoon as a kid. Or maybe it was the Megazord from Power Rangers? Let’s just say I’ve always loved giant robots. They defy the limits of reality in such a way that I simply cannot resist being both incredibly aroused when I see them. The problem with that? There’s never been that great Western giant robot movie. For spaceships I had Star Wars and a dozen other options; for giant robots, I had Robot Jox. Guillermo del Toro changed that (praise Jesus) by releasing Pacific Rim, my favorite movie of the year so far.
Let’s take a step back. Yes, Western media has been a huge letdown when it comes to giant robots, but Japan gets it. They have a long tradition of mecha anime, from Gigantor in 1963, to Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979, to Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1997, to whatever weird shit is going on today. These beautiful have a fascination with gigantic city-destroyers, as they are also the country responsible for the kaiju genre of cinema, most notable for giving us Godzilla. However, both of the genres have been limited to animation of dudes in costumes. Japan is the greatest place on earth when it comes to entertainment, but they just don’t have the big bucks like Hollywood does.
I go through all this not because I don’t think you know it already, but because it’s important to keep in mind what Pacific Rim really is: a tribute. It was as if del Toro managed to get the budget Gundam and Godzilla never could, and used it the way he think they would have. That means the movie might have some problems on it’s own, but it also means the movie screams: “Hey! Fuck you Michael Bay! Fuck your Transformer movies! Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!”
Because seriously, this is the opposite of those terrible Transformer movies in most ways. OK, yes, it also has a portal between worlds that has to be blown up, but what movie doesn’t these days? But do the characters make jokes that are funny and not racist? Yes. Does what’s going on make sense all the time? Yes. Is the action exciting and fun to watch and paced in a way that I don’t want to commit suicide? Yes!
So this is set in the future, when Kaiju (giant monsters) invade the world through a portal in the Pacific Ocean. Humanity united and created Jaegers (giant robots) to stop them. It worked. Years later, Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) is a washed up Jaeger pilot who ends up teaming up with his old commander (Idris Elba) and the new hotness (Rinko Kikuchi) on a last-ditch effort to close the portal before the kaiju invasion speeds up to an unstoppable rate. Also, Charlie Day and that guy from The Dark Knight Rises are there trying to understand the kaiju brain, and later Ron Perlman shows up.
Anyway, the action. Here’s the trick: it’s really exciting to watch. The jaegers are ginormous and beautiful works of machinery. They look like unstoppable killing machines. But the kaiju, the evil creatures from the depths, are just as diverse and menacing. Despite how powerful the jaegers were, I always believed they were outmatched by the kaiju. More importantly, even though the pilots were deep inside the machines, they were clearly in danger all the time in every fight. It’s amazing and tense and so fun to watch.
And then you get to the dumb stuff that you have to accept as tropes of the genre or you’ll be driven mad. Yes, they did build giant robots just so they could wrestle the monsters. Yes, for some reason, the sword is way more effective than missiles and lasers. And yes, people are going to yell dumb things when they attempt to kill the kaiju. Melodrama is a massive part of the shows and movies Pacific Rim was inspired by, you just have to be willing to eat it up. And good guy, I was starving.
This is probably the worst review I’ve ever written, because I’m pretty sure I’d defend Pacific Rim to the death. I concede the middle drags a bit and I wish there were fights outside of the ocean, raining, at night. But I was never bored, I liked all the characters, and damnit, I’d have paid damn near any price to see the two or three great battle sequences in this movie. Congratulations, Guillermo del Toro, you saved this disappointing summer for me. I hope they let you make another.