Mon
Jul 15 2013 9:30am
Pacific Rim, You Are So Stupid and I Love You For It

Pacific Rim movie review

If you transported monster-punching blockbuster spectacle Pacific Rim to any summer movie season in the 1980s, you’d have created a generation-defining cinematic experience, one that would flourish in the nostalgic reckonings of today’s 30 and 40-somethings. This is the year 2013, however, and Guillermo del Toro’s live-action love letter to technology and nutty Romanticist painters is just noise; one of a dozen movies creating a cacophonous summer movie season.

Thus, my expectations were low, but specific. Pacific Rim, I thought, didn’t have to be the best or the smartest. It just had to deliver $20 worth of monsters, robots, punching, and Ron Perlman, without letting anything else get in the way.

Wonderfully, marvelously, Pacific Rim nails this target, although even that wouldn’t be notable if this year’s crop of summer blockbusters weren’t so infuriatingly stupid. In only the past few weeks Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, and Man of Steel have all failed in their attempts to tell an engrossing story worthy of their subjects. Star Trek delivered a carbon copy of the previous Starfleet smash-em-up, World War Z turned a bright, multifaceted, already-movie-ready novel into grey paste, and Man of Steel combined a callous regard for its subject with story choices that seemingly came out of nowhere. (If you’re my super-powered son and I am standing in the path of a tornado YOU FUCKING SAVE ME.)

In this context, Pacific Rim is bright and uncomplicated. It doesn’t throw you out of its narrative or leave you hoping that the sequel is better. (Spock and Kirk are finally going to explore alien planets maybe!) It advertises delicious science fiction carnage and delivers. It’s not striving for commentary on humanity, technology, or our indomitable will to something something something. It just wants to see a sword the size of a building slice Godzilla in half. And it wants to look good doing it. Which it does.

Aside from the straightforward nature of Pacific Rim, del Toro and the actors make several smart choices in crafting the unfolding story, fashioning certain action movie tropes to the world of Pacific Rim in order to keep you engaged. Here are some of the more notable aspects of that effort. Spoilers ahead!

1.) Pacific Rim serves as its own sequel.

Before the movie title even comes up you are given the story of how we went from the world of today to a world where monsters (kaiju) have decimated our cities and made us a worldwide civilization that focuses on defense via giant robots (jaegers). You see the escalation step by step, how our culture adapts to it, and you’re introduced to the main character during a lengthy kaiju fight. The entire sequence is so joyful that when it abruptly turns you’re gutted. The movie then starts with the battle already waged and with the war at its lowest point. Because Pacific Rim has already run through all the usual action movie scenarios in its first 15 minutes its premise continues to seem fresh.

2.) There’s no forced romantic subplot!

You have no idea how happy this made me. There is approximately one (1!) woman in the film with a speaking role and in any action movie this usually means she’s there to Get Rescued and fall in love with The Hero and oh my god is that ever boring.

Pacific Rim movie review Mako Mori

Instead, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is there to become a jaeger pilot and inflict as much trauma on the kaiju as they have on her. (The two flashback sequences that illustrate her history with the kaiju are very well done, intense, and chilling even though you’re already accustomed to the monster’s carnage at that point.) Her story parallels nicely with the film’s hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who is also struggling with kaiju trauma from the beginning sequence in the film. The two eventually become jaeger piloting partners, and while there is absolutely some weird sexual tension on display, their relationship is allowed to grow organically. The best part is that even by the end of the film they haven’t kissed, giving you the sense that their story continues long after the credits roll. Did this cartoonish movie just give me a realistic relationship? YES!

3.) All of the stock characters get other things to do, making them more fun to watch.

The Stern General There To Lead Us To Victory (as played by Idris Elba) also has a father/daughter storyline with Kikuchi. Plus, for the majority of the movie the only reason there are jaegers to fight the kaiju is because he’s single-handedly keeping them running. His obligatory troops-rallying speech at the end, heard in the trailer as the doofy “We cancel the apocalypse!” line, is nicely underscored by the fact that those listening to Elba’s speech have no idea he’s about to kill himself.

The Super Nerd (played by Charlie Day) doesn’t at any point use the term “hack the [blank]” and is extremely proactive in his mission to break into a kaiju’s mind, leading us to a terrific interlude involving Ron Perlman as kaiju black market kingpin Hannibal Chau. The Bumbling Scientist (played by Torchwood’s Burn Gorman in his first non-evil role ever, probably) has an intense and often unconstructive rivalry with the Super Nerd. Oh, and the Cocky Antagonistic Pilot Who Ultimately Respects The Hero In The End? He dies!

4.) It pulls an Independence Day in the best way.

Pacific Rim has a lot in common with 1996’s Independence Day but perhaps the strongest similarity is how both movies solve their alien problem. In order to close the rift between worlds, a jaeger has to go down to the rift at the bottom of the ocean, hide inside of a kaiju carcass, and detonate a nuke inside the passageway between worlds. The rift aliens even look like the ones from Independence Day.

And that’s fine. One of the cooler things about Independence Day was the implication of how the events of that movie would change how the world functions, and it’s the same with Pacific Rim. The brief glimpse we get of the other side of the rift just leaves you wanting more, and the entire movie becomes about closing the rift before the really scary shit can come through. There’s an intelligence behind the kaijus and your mind unspools as you imagine what that intelligence might do next.

Pacific Rim movie review

5.) The fights are so fun you forget how bad everyone seems to be at their jobs.

Seriously, the jaeger and kaiju fights make no sense. The jaegers fight in the ocean a lot, so what are they standing on? Kaijus can be brought down by artillery, so why make huge machines that have to be in close physical proximity to a monster? Why not make a huge machine that can hover just out of range, firing everything? How do the jaegers get to the monsters so quickly? Why would the kaijus be sent on a predictable schedule anyway? Where are all the resources for building and maintaining jaegers and jaegar facilities even coming from? Why aren’t the jaegers totally remote-controlled? How can a jaeger survive a nuclear explosion but not some gnawing from a kaiju jaw?

And so on. If you think about the mechanics of Pacific Rim then it falls apart. But the fights are so fun and quick that you don’t want to question the reality that the movie is presenting. You just want that robot to choke the monster to death with a purloined strip of highway.

That is, in essence, Pacific Rim: an exceptionally loud, kind of dumb action movie that focuses on being really good as an exceptionally loud, kind of dumb action movie. And solely because of that, it stands head and shoulders above the good majority of blockbuster fare this season.


Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com, pretended to be a kaiju at Trader Joe’s, and ended up under a pile of nectarines.

28 comments
Kit Case
1. wiredog
World War Z turned a bright, multifaceted, already-movie-ready novel
Movie-ready? Mini-series, yes, but there's no way you can squeeze that novel into two hours.

Awesome mini-series, actually.
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
There was a movie-ready script in the theme of the novel at one point though. And then they dropped it for Brad Pitt saves the world.
Mani A
3. sn0wcrash
Pacific Rim is so crazily awesome it kills me. Ultimate attacks! Elbow Rockets! For my FAMILY!!!!!!!

I died at that last one...
Andrew Gray
4. madogvelkor
Plus, in true anime fashion the most effective anti-Kaiju weapon is a sword. :)

I also found it interesting that Kaiju and Jaegers are basically the same thing, but done with completely different technology. The Kaiju are basically giant war machines assembled from cloned flesh piloted by artificial cloned brains connected to a species-wide mental network.
RobertX
5. RobertX
Flaws? Certainly. It was GIANT MONSTERS fighting GIANT ROBOTS!!! It was freaking awesome.
Jack Flynn
6. JackofMidworld
madogvelkor - I couldn't help myself - in the theater when she pulled out the sword, I blurted out, "A SWORD? Why the (expletive) didn't they use that FIRST!!!"

I went in with the same expectations - Giant Robot vs Giant Monster, anything else is gravy - and was happily impressed. I'll tell you what, the flashback when Mako was a little girl being chased? That kid was intense! I seriously wanted to jump up and try and save her.

I enjoyed every minute of the movie...even the part where my buddy went on a hysterical "You fail nuclear physics forever" rant that lasted the entire walk to the car.
Chris Lough
7. TorChris
YEAH. Once that sword came out I was all, "USE THAT ALL THE TIME."

Wonderfully enough, the sword is actually a more scientifically effective close range weapon for the jaegers. The kaijus bodies are strong enough to withstand huge pressure differentials, interdimensional travel, and the crippling weight of their own bodies on Earth, which means their biology must be extremely effective at re-distributing force. Punching and blunt trauma is not going to be nearly as productive as slicing them up would be.

Although I have no idea how you'd keep an edge on a building-sized sword! :)
George Jong
8. IndependentGeorge
When I first watched "The Wire", I was blown away, but something felt missing. The only thing that could make it better, I thought, was if Stringer Bell sent his crew to fight sea monsters while piloting humongous Mechas.

I'm so glad I wasn't alone in that.
Kimani Rogers
9. KiManiak
I enjoyed this movie. A lot. So much, that I barely question the whole "robots survive a nuclear explosion but can be gnawed on" issue, just like the "kaiju survives a nuclear explosion at ground zero, but then is killed by a blast from the jaeger's chest-nuclear-reactor-ray."

Other things I chose not to question:
-A Kaiju that size can fly? And the wings and (one would assume, fragile) wing-bones didn't experience any damage from the intense fighting and grappling?

-A Kaiju that size can fly and carry a (one would assume) rather heavy jaeger? And then, could fly into the upper atmosphere (since the jaeger pilots were losing oxygen), where the air shouldn't have been able to sustain wing-proplled flight?

-A jaeger gets carried up into the upper atmosphere and loses oxygen, but can be submerged into a deep trench in the ocean, experience a nuclear blast, have half of its body damaged, and only one pilot loses oxygen slowly this way? And the pressure of the ocean doesn't somehow negatively affect the damaged jaeger?

-The pilots rise from a deep trench in the ocean to the surface rather quickly, and don't experience the bends? Instead they hug each other and happily await the rescue choppers? Shouldn't they be in serious pain, or at least be debilitated?

-And yeah, the FRICKIN SWORD should be OPTION #1[/u][/b] if you're gonna engage in close combat! Which it appears the jaeger pilots choose to do.

But, instead of questioning, I chose to just go with it! And I can say that the movie was fun, and that I liked it!
Brian R
10. Mayhem
I think its a callback to all the classic combiner things like Voltron, where "Form Blazing Sword" is the last thing they ever do .. because it is so damned powerful. I think the only episode where they make it immediately is the last one when they attack the enemy home planet and are all like "why screw around with the little things". And then get tied up by vinelike robots so they can't swing it, because hey, plot.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
It was awesome fun. And, yes, I had the same thought re: sword--A sword? You could have used that anytime and from now on! But, best not to think and just experience the, well, experience.
marian moore
12. mariesdaughter
In this era of drones, why are the Jaeger pilots actually inside their robots? I have admit that I was surprised when the brother was pulled out of the robot during the fight. I though they were in a secure location piloting the robots. (And yes, I know that having them inside increases the dramatic tension. I don't want a writer's reason. I want a logical reason. If remote piloting works for drones, why not for robots?)

This was better than Transformers, but I would take a Superman sequel over a sequel to this one. The characters were far too flat and the only possibility on the monster side is mimic both Ender's Game and Alien and make the monster a mother protecting her children.

Oh--and someone please give Idris Elba a chance at playing Henry V. He has the accent, the voice, and he pulled that traditional troop speech off like a champ.
RobertX
13. Timesink
While I shared the "Sword now? Not when wrasslin' with lizard guy and creaming skyscrapers into powder earlier?" it clearly was a case of Mako sneaking in when no one was looking and installing a multiton kill blade (and operating software) and then being able to show off: "Hey, look what I did!" Like Bruce Wayne installing the auto-pilot software so he could hang out in cafes.
RobertX
14. N. Mamatas
Forget the sword—when they decided to build the giant wall around the major Pacific coastlines, why not use the giant robots to perform the construction!
Alan Brown
15. AlanBrown
Chris,
1) Yes, liked the structure, although setting your tale during the darkest hour for your heroes is not completely original.
2) Yes, I liked the fact that the female character was not just there to be saved or romanced. In fact, I found her quite compelling.
3) Yes, it was nice that the stock characters all had something to add to things, and something about them that ended up not quite predictable.
4) Er, here I am not so much in agreement. It pulls an Independence Day, but in a much too blatant and derivative way. A bit too much similarity for my taste. Homage is one thing, but this felt a bit like copying the final answer off someone else's test paper.
5) "The jaegers fight in the ocean a lot, so what are they standing on?" Seriously, Chris, this deserves mention? Under the ocean, there is the ocean floor, and when you are in channels or harbors leading to coastal cities, that ocean floor is only a few fathoms down. I mean, really, you focus on this when a movie tells you that civilization can't afford more robots, so they decide to cut costs by BUILDING A FRICKKIN' FOUR HUNDRED FOOT WALL AROUND THE ENTIRE PACIFIC OCEAN? And why wall off Sitka, Alaska? I used to live there, and there were only about 15,000 people in the whole town, and to get to the next nearest town, not to mention the nearest city of even modest size, the monster would have to climb many mountains and cross quite a few channels between islands, a much more challenging obstacle than a puny wall. So why not save some serious money, just buy a few folks a ferry ticket, and send them to the Lower 48? And setting aside the economics, I can't even bear to think of the physical laws that were bent, broken or abused. Oh, the humanity...
But, like you, in the end, quibbles aside, I enjoyed it very much, and had a heck of a good time from beginning to end!
Alan Brown
16. AlanBrown
@14, We cross posted, and you had a different take on it, but I am happy to see I am not the only one who questioned that whole wall thing...
RobertX
17. KF
@14: I think by that point, they might be starting to run low on Jaegers, and I get the impression the Jaegers are not cheap. Given that the walls can't be built overnight, even with Jaegers, the Jaegers are probably still busy with their usual duties.

@12: "Oh--and someone please give Idris Elba a chance at playing Henry V. He has the accent, the voice, and he pulled that traditional troop speech off like a champ."

Yes, please.
Fake Name
18. ThePendragon
"Jaegers are not cheap". I always find myself surprised and saddened about this kind of logic in all apocalyptic films. The world is about to end and we have a solution to save ALL OF MANKIND! But it's TOO EXPENSIVE? Really? Wow.
RobertX
19. tigeraid
Just saw it last night. This movie is utterly, utterly ridiculous. And I loved every second of it.

THIS is how you do a big dumb monster movie. No cynisism, no piss-poor attempts at sarcastic humour, no over-thinking the complete absurd, impossible physics.

Basically, the "tone" of the movie let me suspend my disbelief. While I watch something awful like the first few Fast and Furious movies as a car guy, grinding my teeth in anger at the stupidity, Del Toro succeeded in MAKING me think that creating giant robots was exactly what we needed to do to fight a giant alien menace.

I want to go re-watch my old Robotech stuff now.
RobertX
20. tigeraid
Oh and also, hello Michael Bay? This is how you do "giants doing hand-to-hand combat." I saw, I comprehended, and I understood everything that was happening on the screen during each fight scene. Michael Bay is del Toro's bitch.
RobertX
21. epharian
Loved it. Big, dumb, and lots of fun. LOTS OF FUN. Rocket propelled elbow? Seems unlikely. Don't care. It was fun.

Would I watch it again? Yes, and even with *some* of my kids (older ones). Because it was FUN, not meant to be thought provoking or anything else. Ron Perlman's line about his character's name is absurd and hilarious. AND PERFECT.

And his shoes. Oh my. His shoes were epic.
Jennifer Annis
22. austriana
"There is approximately one (1!) woman in the film with a speaking role and in any action movie this usually means she’s there to Get Rescued and fall in love with The Hero and oh my god is that ever boring."

The fact that only one woman has a speaking role is a serious negative for me. Ugh.
RobertX
23. Deimos
I personally don't mind the fact that the sword was used last. Seeing as how the flying kaiju, swatted the boat after taking a hit, the sword might be something of first priority to remove if it was used first. These monsters are smart.
RobertX
24. Aire
No way am I watching WWZ of my own free will. I read the book, and when I saw the preview, got angry fast. Way to Hollywood an awesomely realized zombie apocalypse.
RobertX
25. samalematina
saw the movie a second time and enjoyed it even more. When Mako sliced the kaiju with the sword shouting "for my family'.... got goosebumps. was sooo AMAZING. and some amazing lines throughout the movie too. Mako explaining her relationship with Marshall is out of "respect not obedience" absolutely showing the japanese culture of repect for her mentor/father/commander. 5 stars
RobertX
26. Nick D
The reason they don't use the sword as anything besides a last resort is probably because kaiju blood is extremely toxic (they explain that early in the movie) and hacking a kaiju to bits would likely get it all over the place. Also, a lot of people seem to be wondering why they don't just bomb the kaiju, and the answer seems pretty obvious to me: that would take out most of the city the kaiju is attacking, defeating the point entirely. A few people have mentioned that Mako and Raleigh should have severe decompression sickness at the end of the movie, but the symptoms for that usually take at least an hour to show up, so them not showing signs of it immediately isn't too unrealistic. There are obviously plenty of other logical inconsistencies, but I found the movie so enjoyable that I just didn't care. Science fiction in general is usually pretty unrealistic anyway.
Jack Flynn
27. JackofMidworld
I'll totally cosign the toxic kaiju blood, while berating myself for not noticing that at the time.
RobertX
28. TheLostTroll
Jaeger use nuclear power, and to move all the limbs of the robot required a lot of power. Thus, more power, more money. Maintenance also another thing that require money. The wall actually more cost efficient than the Jaeger.

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