Pacific Rim (2013)

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Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi)
Aliens versus robots. Meat versus metal. Kaiju versus Jaegers. It’s the battle for Earth and the winner takes all. If combat between beast and machine strikes you as lame, you’re going to need to gain some perspective for Pacific Rim. Understandably, the concept is easy to dismiss with flicks like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or Mega Python vs. Gatoroid; movies with a giant monster agenda tend to plague the bowels of the film world. And it doesn’t really come as any surprise, not when a film’s talent relies solely on questionable CGI and the acting abilities of 80s has-been pop stars. The only action these kinds of films really get are those brief moments in Netflix purgatory when an exasperated viewer literally can’t bring themselves to keep scouring the crimson abyss. Or with more deliberate reasoning, the B-status monster bash relies on that hipster cinephile’s eager click and the coveted words, “it’s so bad it’s good” in that drawn-out ironic drawl. And unfortunately, that’s the best it’ll ever get for this brand of movie. Thankfully though, there’s a beacon of hope on the horizon, and his name is Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro answered the call for a resurrection of a dying genre, and by God he nailed it. His latest work is a far cry from del Toro’s most celebrated fantasy work, Pan’s Labyrinth, but it holds its own, and not just in the realm of battling, city-destroying giants. Pacific Rim is a new breed altogether, and frankly, it's fantastic.

“When alien life entered our world, it was from deep beneath the Pacific Ocean.” It’s the year 2020. Kaiju, behemoth alien creatures, have been rising from an interdimensional portal since 2013. In order to combat these monsters, the Jaeger program was born. Equally colossal mechanized war giants, adapted to go head-to-head with a Kaiju. The only way to work a Jaeger though is with a human pilot, or rather pilots. Working as one unstoppable unit, a team of two pilots has to be able to engage in a kind of mind-meld, known as being “drift-compatible”. By accessing the drift, and firmly strapped into the metal body of a Jaeger, a team of two can move with perfect fluidity and intuition, as if one mind. Our story begins with Raleigh Becket, a young hotshot with a can’t-be-killed attitude, who, along with his brother, Yancy, pilot the Jaeger named Gipsy Danger. When out on a routine Kaiju-thumping mission on an Alaskan coastline, Yancy is killed while he and Raleigh are still in the drift. In an irreparable state of emotional pain, Raleigh retires from his rock star status as a Jaeger pilot to help construct a coastal wall, the defensive alternative to the offensive Jaegers. Five years later in 2025, Raleigh is brought back to the dwindling Jaeger program to fulfill the age-old story of the veteran fighter called back for one last mission. Overseeing the revitalization of the Jaeger program is Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba), who has under his command, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a wannabe Jaeger pilot, drift-compatible with Raleigh, and Newton (Charlie Day), the Kaiju/bomb expert who’s going to try and destroy the link between the Kaiju world and the human world once and for all.

Pacific Rim may have started out as just a summer blockbuster, but it's certainly deserving of a higher title. From absolutely gorgeous visuals of breathtaking battles through midnight rain-slicked cities, to destroying the norms of typical action movies, Pacific Rim is basically awesome as all hell. Obviously its immediate goals may have been to make money and sell merchandise, but on a filmic level Pacific Rim accomplishes so much more than that. We’re not talking about the next Citizen Kane here…this is still a monsters versus robots movie after all, but what Pacific Rim does do is set new expectations for your run-of-the-mill big budget summer movies. One especially endearing quality of the film is its tendency to shy away from a centrally American storyline. Too often, an alien invasion will occur in Los Angeles, or New York or any other number of landmark American cities as if alien life is expected to have some pre-dispositioned vendetta against yanks. Pacific Rim breaks that stigma with focused attacks ranging from Russia to Malaysia to the final all-out battle in Hong Kong. Granted, we get a taste for the USA with our main protagonist, a square-jawed, blonde, all-American kind of guy, but that’s where the link starts and where it ends.

Speaking of the notorious son of anarchy, Charlie Hunnam (our Maverick hero, Raleigh),  despite having probably the most shit American accent ever, does a really decent job of eliciting the troubled G.I. Joe vibe of a haunted solider. And then we have the beautiful Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, quiet but fierce and troubled by a tragic past, she and Raleigh work as one perfect machine with only one thing on the mind: Kaiju combat. As well as inflicting an impressive degree of damage on her opponents, it’s refreshing to finally see an Asian character not falling into the easy Hollywood stereotypes of either the submissive sex kitten or the dragon lady. Mako Mori is a breath of fresh air, not being able to fit into any neatly pre-packaged Hollywood clichés. And on top of that, when all indicators point to a blossoming love story, in actuality what’s blossoming is a beautiful friendship. Both Mako and Raleigh are deeply emotionally damaged beings, doing everything within their power to smother the ill feelings that left them broken. Through the neural bridge created while in the drift, Mako and Raleigh share a headspace, accessing each other’s thoughts and memories and in doing so, can begin to open up once again. The relationship between these two is really great because its one based on mutual respect and a profound sense of trust. It’s practically a miracle that an emotional, but strictly platonic relationship can exist between a man and a woman on the action movie spectrum. Bravo del Toro for not succumbing to the old stigmas. And adding to this already stellar cast of Kaiju crushers is Idris Elba as Commander Pentecost, a man burdened with the penance of all humanity. Even in his bravest, most virtuous moments, Elba never fails to remember the turmoil Pentecost carries with him on his shoulders.

A general rule of thumb is the larger the titan war machines, the lesser the quality of the film, and the more likely it is to fade into eventual blockbuster obscurity. And while Pacific Rim fulfills the robots and monster quota and then some, an enduring aspect of quality lifts it leaps and bounds beyond its supposed counterparts. Obviously not everyone is going to agree with me on this one but at least what I expected to be just another typical summer blockbuster (with all the quality of a Michael Bay movie) Pacific Rim has truly redefined my expectations of a monster action flick. Defying action movie tropes left and right, Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to monster movies across the spectrum is really a masterful feat of extraordinary special effects and human stories.

My rating: 7.5 cats out of 10

Pacific Rim (2013)
Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day
131 mins | USA

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