All of del Toro’s movies have his signature all over them very loudly, usually including a few trademark pieces: tunnels and/or caves, creepy weird things in jars, and an autopsy/examination of some creature or thing on a table. Some of his earlier movies like Chronos, Mimic and Devil’s Backbone are more horror aligned. His more recent movies like the Hellboy series and Pan’s Labyrinth are more fantasy with elements of horror. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most beautiful, terrifying, elegant, creepy, lovely fantasy fairy tales ever put to film. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen.
Del Toro is a fan first, and growing up – he had a major love for the early Japanese Kaiju films. Not sure you know what a Kaiju is? Of course you do, you’ve heard of Godzilla, right? Kaiju literally means “strange creature”, but has been adapted to mean any of the giant monsters that populated these movies. Starting with Godzilla in 1954, then growing to include many other large monstrous beasts: Mothra, Gamera, and Rodan just to name a few.
These Kaiju movies were very popular and made their way through all different levels of pop culture. In fact, if you were like me, and watched Mighty Morphing Power Rangers back when they were still Mighty Morphing, anytime Rita used something and turned it into a monster, then used her magic wand to make it grow – those were essentially Kaiju, or at the very least, Kaiju-inspired.
Guillermo del Toro loved these movies and wanted to find a way to modernize them (please disregard the Emmerich Godzilla remake with Matthew Broderick - no one counts that). When he first announced plans to make Pacific Rim – a movie in which we create giant robots to fight giant Kaiju, the fanboy nation rejoiced. Who else could make such a masterpiece?
Sometime in the near future, a rift opens in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean between our world and ‘their’ world. They start coming through. The first Kaiju makes landfall in SanFransico, and the shots of that first attack are amazing. We defeat it, but only after several days of attacks with jets and tanks. The creatures keep coming through, one after another, attacking various cities that ring the Pacific Ocean. We decide to build better weapons, and the Jaeger program is born (Jaeger is German for ‘hunter’). We soon realize that the neural connection required to control the Jaeger is too much for a single pilot, so we use teams of two who are neutrally connected to each other, and to the robot. Because of this, pilot teams need to be able to ‘drift’ well together. So it’s usually sibling teams, or other family units. The Jaegers are very successful, and we start to get cocky about how easily we are beating some of these Kaiju.
Raleigh and his brother Yancey are a great Jaeger team piloting “Gipsy Danger” working the Alaskan coast when they make a misstep against a kaiju, and Yancey gets killed, while still attached to Riley. Not sure he can get over the feeling of losing his brother while still connected; Raleigh quits the Jaeger program, and starts working on the ‘wall’, our new defense plan (because that will work, right?). The kaiju start adapting to our robots, and they start winning. Marshal Pentecost has just been informed by the powers that be that they are shutting down the Jaeger program. It’s too expensive, we’re losing too many Jaegers, and we can’t build them fast enough and staff them well enough to keep the war going. Pentecost decides on a final gambit of dropping a nuclear bomb down the rift that the Kaiju are coming through, shutting it and keeping them out of our realm forever. But to do that, he needs all the pilots he can find, so he re-recruits Riley, and sets up trials to find the most compatible co-pilot for him. It ends up being the general’s adopted daughter, Mako. With the plan in place, and new scientific evidence from Kaiju biologist Newton and Kaiju mathematician Gottlieb; Pentecost prepares to launch the final assault to cancel the apocalypse.
In terms of story, really Pacific Rim is nothing you haven’t seen before – but you’re not here for the story, you’re here to see giant robots fight giant monsters. It’s fun, well done, and the story is good.
The cast is also pretty great:
- Charlie Hunnam is best known from Sons of Anarchy, and does his best to continue his American accent in this movie. I found that to be an odd choice, since there is so much focus on the globalization of this movie (everyone is represented), why not let him use his own Northern England accent? In any case, I found Hunnam to be very flat, and not that great in this movie. I can’t tell if that’s what he was asked to give, or if that was his choice, but I found him boring and one-note. This is made more obvious, because everyone else in the movie is really good.
- Rinko Kukuchi is Mako, and this is one of her first American movies. She is very good, conveying Mako’s confidence that she can pilot a Jaeger conflicting with her desire to honor and respect the wishes of Marshall Pentecost. She has incredible non-verbal acting and her eyes and face convey her emotions.
- The beautiful Idris Elba plays Pentecost, and does a fantastic job. He is the heart of this movie; the focal point around which everything else moves. He is very still, very focused, and knows exactly what he must do, and what he must inspire others to do to win this war. The ‘surprise’ of him being Mako’s adopted father is transparent, and the ‘surprise’ ending of him having to climb into a Jaeger to help save the day is transparent, but none of that matters, because his performance is magnetic.
- Clifton Collins Jr. plays Tendo Choi – who I would explain as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the Jaegers on the ground, running controls from the control room. He’s a bit chameleonic and blends into every role he gets. Because of that, he’s one of those guys who is in everything, but you never know his name. It’s Clifton Collins Jr. – see if you remember it the next time you see him (you probably won’t).
- Burn Gorman, who I will always think of as Owen from Torchwood, plays Gottlieb. His character in this is almost the exact opposite of his character on Torchwood. He is the one who determines how often the Kaiju are coming through, and uses that information to determine when we can expect a ‘double event’ – two Kaiju coming through at the same time. His scenes with Charlie Day are fantastic and entertaining.
- Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky play Herc and Chuck Hansen. They are the father –son duo that is the number 1 Jaeger team when Riley has to come back into the squad. This provides the obligatory tension between Riley and Chuck as they mouth off about who is the better pilot.
- Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the brilliant Horrible Bosses plays Newton – the scientist who has been studying Kaiju brain remains (autopsy/examination sequence) in an attempt to figure out what they want and why they are attacking in the hopes of learning how to stop them. Day is fantastic and plays loose and fast with the dialogue. Other actors in the movie deliver it as written, which is fine – however, Day is a comedic actor with the ability to raise the level of the dialogue he’s given and find jokes and entertainment in the performance and delivery, rather than just in the script.
- Ron Perlman plays Hannibal Chau – and his explanation of that name is one of the best lines in the movie. He’s absolutely wonderful in this as he is in every Guillermo del Toro movie he’s in. The part was written for him and allows him to chew up every single bit of scenery near him as the resident black market Kaiju parts dealer. The scenes he has with Day are the best parts of the movie: quick, spirited, fun and really entertaining. Not to mention those shoes (stay through the credits).
One of my favorite things about del Toro movies is the amount of practical effects. He strives to make everything as real as possible, only using CGI when necessary. The ‘market scene’ in Hellboy 2 is the perfect example of this. Everything is a practical effect. That being said, when he said giant monsters vs. giant robots, I wondered how that would fit with his practical sensibilities. He hired ILM, and it looks amazing. The CGI are stunning, and all the fight sequences are great – however, way too many of them take place at night and in the rain. There are a few scenes that show battles that happen during the day – and I love those so much more.
You can actually see the Kaiju as it interacts with the Jaeger, fully lit – in bright light. The fight sequences that take place at night, I kept feeling like I was missing something. I did love the scene when Riley gets back to the base after his 5 year absence, and we do get the slow introduction to each of the remaining Jaegers. It allows you to see them, and get a really good look at them. I would have loved a corresponding sequence with the Kaiju. They are nicknaming each of the Kaiju as they come through, but we never get a sequence where we really get to look at them. Del Toro specifically created each of them so that they had enough of a humanoid shape that they could have been a guy-in-a-suit like back in the 50s and 60s. Because so many of the fights are at night, you don’t really get a good look at the kaiju. Thank goodness for additional images on the internet.
I do love the scenes where things are really there. And true to del Toro’s nature, there are many scenes where people are interacting with practical effects. The scenes in Hannibal Chau’s hideout were my favorites, based just on the set itself.
All in all, this movie is what summer movies are supposed to be. It’s a little bit Independence Day and a little bit StarShip Troopers. It’s big, it’s over-the-top, it’s crazy, and it’s fun. Go see it – as big as you can – and in 3D. Marvel at the spectacle and get the biggest popcorn they have available.
9 out of 10. Lost the point for Hunnam’s performance and too many fight scenes at night. Gained points for every scene with Day and Perlman, and especially any scenes with the two of them together. Gained points for clearly evacuating the cities when danger is near – saving the civilian population – take note Man of Steel. Gained points for the kaiju – but I did want a closer look at them. Gained points for Idris’s ID4 speech. You had seen it in almost every commercial, but it still gave me chills when he delivered it! Gained points for the one Kaiju going right through the wall – prompting the response, “Why are we even building this thing?”
Bonus Video 1: I felt like it was more like Starship Troopers…
Bonus Video 2: … But my friend says more like Independence Day:
Bonus Video 3: …and of course, there are the comparisons to Cloverfield:
Bonus Video 4: Mimic – really fun little Del Toro horror piece with Mira Sorvino and Charles S. Dutton.
Bonus Video 5: Cast Interviews…