Posted on 7/20/13 08:37 PM
When giant monsters or 'kaiju' began emerging from a dimensional rift deep below the Pacific Ocean, the nations of the world pooled their resources to create giant bipedal robots called Jaegers as humanity's first line of defense. But when mounting losses prompt world leaders to look to other, perhaps less effective methods against the intensifying attacks, the remaining members of the Jaeger program gather everything they have left for one desperate strike to close the rift and save Earth.
Alright, so you know walking into Pacific Rim that you're not going to get stunning plot twists, unconventional storytelling, contemplations on deep themes, or insight into serious real world issues. You're here to watch giant monsters and giant robots throw down. And do they ever. The battles are fast paced, physical, expertly staged, and beautifully filmed. The quality of the fight choreography is the highest I've seen in any giant monster movie. The designs of the mechs and monsters are excellent, and they're gorgeously brought to life with a mix of CGI motion capture, detailed models, and occasionally by what appeared to be good old fashioned rubber suits. It's like Ultraman or Power Rangers, only a hundred times better. The upcoming Godzilla reboot is going to have to work hard to equal this.
Beyond the action and the effects, what sets this apart from your average kaiju flick or a certain other franchise built around giant robots is the wit, humor, and even intelligence it displays. Neither the acting nor the writing is likely to win any Oscars, but unlike far too many entries in the genre, they're actually pretty good. Character's actions actually have motivations. Instead of wooden acting and stilted lines delivered without feelings we get people who show emotion and talk the way you would expect real people to talk. Compared to the choppy dubbing jobs kaiju fans are used to, this is a godsend.
The most original part of Pacific Rim is a rather interesting process called drifting. Each Jaeger carries two pilots, who share a direct neural link not only with their machine but also with each other. When this link is established their thoughts and memories become shared, as they 'drift' through their own and each other's pasts. Besides being kind of trippy, this provides the excuse for powerful flashbacks that let us and their co-pilots see who they are and what they've been through more effectively than any amount of conversation or narration. This is especially true in the case of Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) a young Japanese pilot who lost her family in one of the first kaiju attacks.
Importantly, this movie doesn't take itself too seriously. It goes into enough scientific explanation to be plausible, but not so much that you're eyes will glaze over. It features destruction on a massive scale and characters that have experienced deep personal loss, but it never becomes grim or overwrought. And it leaves room for some very good comic relief, most of it centered on a pair of eccentric researchers who share a pronounced Odd Couple dynamic.
By all reasoning a movie that can be summarized as giant monsters vs. giant robots should have been just another soulless explosion filled special effects fest. And it probably would have been if not for director/co writer Guillermo Del Toro, who would never let one of his projects stoop to such a level. Instead he's paired the action and explosions with solid directing and storytelling. As awesome and adrenaline pumping as the battles are, it's the human element that makes Pacific Rim one of the most fun movies of the summer.