I can write nice things about topics important to me, too, you know? For starters, I thoroughly enjoyed Pacific Rim, the latest film by evil mastermind (and George R.R. Martin lookalike) Guillermo del Toro. It was everything my five year-old self dreamed of and more; giant robots and monsters duking it out over near-futuristic cityscapes. It was something out of Power Rangers and Godzilla, and yet it had something more: an okay story.
Action movies rarely have strong stories nowadays. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a film like Transformers than one like Die Hard. Though intense action scenes and well-choreographed violence can work to a film’s advantage (especially in my age demographic), an equally strong story is needed to glue the various scenes together, in order to create both context and emotional investment. That’s exactly what Pacific Rim gets right, albeit a little cliched at times.
Raleigh Becket is your typical good-looking hero carrying the emotional baggage of a class-5 kaiju. What lends a bit more credence to his emotional turmoil is that he is constantly reliving the final memories of his brother, Yancey, who died while operating a jaeger alongside Raleigh; a necessary mental bond of shared memories and emotions allows the two pilots to control the mechs without damaging their cognitive and physical states. Raleigh’s new partner, Mako Mori, eventually enters this bond with the protagonist, and the two (implied by the film) fall in love. It’s presented a lot more as a platonic or companionship bond, which is a nice change, but the implication is there nonetheless. The standard archetypes of the hero (Raleigh), the egotistical hotshot (Chuck Hansen), the by-the-books leader who eventually has to ease up and do the right thing (Pentecost), and the crazy scientists (Newton and Gottlieb) are all present, but the actors bring their own flavor to the roles, alongside the scriptwork of Travis Beachem and del Toro, who, thankfully, do not treat the audience like idiots. The typical tropes of sacrificing oneself, going against orders for the pragmatic good, and saving the day at great cost are all there, but don’t detract from the experience because, as stated earlier, the writers treat us with respect and realize that a cohesive story that works is necessary, regardless of genre.
Obviously, the best part of the film was the special effects. del Toro’s visual style of monsters and aesthetics run rampant in the designs of the kaiju and their world, giving everything that old-world Godzilla feel but with a new twist of Cthuloid-esque details. The jaegers themselves all look awesome, from the older and battle-hardened Cherno Alpha, the three-armed Crimson Typhoon, the newer yet experienced Striker Eureka, and the heroes’ own Gipsy Danger. Each separate and recognizable alongside one another, the action scenes were quite intelligible and straightforward to follow. Even the monsters, sharing the same black, leathery skin with blue detailing, were unique and identifiable among the carnage and explosions. It can be argued that some of the armor details and weapons among the jaegers were there for no purpose other than to look awesome, but what’s wrong with looking awesome in an action blockbuster?
In my previous post on Monsters University, I argued that because the film was too formulaic and involved too few original ideas, it was ultimately a flop. The reason that Pacific Rim stands out and is ultimately a better film (apart from it being essentially a non-stop adrenaline rush) is because the cliches and tropes aren’t the meat of the film but merely an aspect that help tie this action film together. It may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it’s entertaining, which makes it is a paragon among this recent generation of action movies.