Pacific Rim is Imperfect, but Rocks!

Pacific Rim poster from Collider

I grew up watching TV shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, The Big O, Voltron, and similar shows about giant robots that fought each other. To me, then, Pacific Rim represents something of a fantasy of mine come true: a big-budget Hollywood film about robots like those going into battle. Just watching how these things could be depicted with top-of-the-line special effects and budgets is a real treat for me. I’m sure that I’m far from the only person who feels that way.

Having said that, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures took a huge risk in green-lighting this film. We’re talking about a movie that depicts giant robots fighting giant monsters. This classic trope in Japanese filmmaking has never really been tried by a Hollywood studio on this scale ever before. The closest analogue would be Hollywood adaptations of popular anime shows, and those don’t have the best track records of success. On top of that, the director they got for the job, Guillermo del Toro, has made some pretty great movies but has never really had a big breakthrough hit. The screenwriter, Travis Beacham, has only penned two other feature-length movies before. Add to that a cast of actors who are not household names, and we’re talking about one of the biggest gambles attempted by a major studio in a very, very long time.

It may just have payed off.

First of all, the movie just… looks right. I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but like I said before, I grew up with this stuff. I’m used to the look and feel that giant robot stories should have – there is a certain aesthetic quality to them that comes from how these old TV shows were animated. They have certain stylistic features they should have, and this movie captures them all perfectly. It looks like how my mind imagined this stuff would look. Here, let me show you some examples of what I’m talking about…

Neon Genesis Evangelion image from We Remember Love

Pacific Rim image from Comic Vine

Zaku II image from MAHQ

PACIFIC RIM image from Entertainment Weekly

That in and of itself really impressed me. It’s pretty clear that del Toro and the special effects teams are fans of this stuff themselves, or at least did their homework when making their designs.

And the action! Oh, man, this movie has some of the best action sequences I have seen so far this year. Yes, better than Man of Steel. Yes, better than Star Trek: Into Darkness. Yes, better than Ir… okay, so maybe on the same level as Iron Man 3. Basically, if you like movies about stuff blowing up, this has the action fix you need.

Having said all of that, though, this film is far from perfect. It has some pretty obvious problems that you just can’t help but notice. For example, the plot. Have you seen Top Gun? If you have, then you can pretty much predict the plot of Pacific Rim right from the get-go.

The story is that sometime in the near future, a dimensional portal to another universe opens up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and giant monsters called “Kaiju” emerge from it and start destroying city after city. To stop these monsters, the countries of the world decide to set aside their differences and combine their efforts to fight back. They build giant robots called “Jaegers” that are designed specifically to fight these Kaiju. Each Jaeger is piloted by two people who are psychically connected to each others’ minds by a neural link that controls the robot. At first, the Jaegers seem to be working, but over time, the Kaiju adapt to these new weapons and start turning the tide. Our heroes must race against time to find a way to keep the Kaiju from coming through the portal before they destroy what’s left of humanity.

Into this situation is thrown our hero, Raleigh Becket, a maverick pilot who frequently ignores the rules and challenges his authority figures. Gee, where have I seen that before? Oh, and it turns out he starts to develop a rivalry with one of the other ace pilots. Golly, I wonder if they’re going to find a way to overcome their differences during combat? It doesn’t help that the actor portraying our hero (Charlie Hunnam) doesn’t do a terribly great job. Oh, he’s not bad, but he’s just sort of… there. He gets across the dialogue he needs to move on to the next action scene, and that’s pretty much it. He doesn’t bring a whole lot of character to his character.

That’s another major problem with this movie. The dialogue is frequently clumsy. The characters spell things out for each other in the most “I’m just blatantly explaining things to the audience so they aren’t confused” way possible. I appreciate that you want us to follow along, movie, but actual human beings don’t talk that way to each other in everyday conversation.

Not only that, but we get to sit through some really poor attempts at comedy relief through our two bumbling, eccentric scientist characters played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. They do help move the plot along and explain the more convoluted parts of how the Kaiju are supposed to work, but mostly they just try to be funny and fail miserably. Their jokes misfire and they feel like a needless distraction.

Luckily, the film is saved by Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi, both of whom turn in spectacular performances that are able to compensate for the bad parts and carry the weight of the movie. Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, the commander of the Jaeger force, and Kikuchi plays Mako Mori, the chief Jaeger scientist. Elba’s amazing performance really steals the show, as we feel his character’s struggles with the weight of the whole world and humanity’s future on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Kikuchi tears at your heartstrings as you watch her character struggle with a secret past and learn what truly motivates her.

Yes, Pacific Rim is imperfect. Having said that, I still left the theater with a smile on my face. What can I say? I got to see a Hollywood movie about giant robots that got “the look” right, some amazing action sequences that blew my mind, and two great performances by two amazing actors. Even with the film’s weaknesses, it is still a rocking good time.