Holy giant fighting robots, Batman! Pacific Rim, the mechs vs. monsters adventure from Guillermo del Toro, raked in $38 million over the weekend: a somewhat disappointing haul considering its 72% Rotten Tomatoes score and an unqualified rave from our own Jacob Knight. That’s a shame, because it’s a thoroughly entertaining response to the proliferation of “dark” and “gritty” popcorn flicks, with two-plus hours of exhilarating rock ‘em sock ‘em action, colorful characters, and a refreshingly tidy, functional plot. Pacific Rim gives its audience exactly what it expects, and does it with skill, panache, and a healthy dollop of humor.
Invaders, you know the drill: I’ll use the specifics of the film to raise some topics of discussion, and you chime in with your comments.
Warning: The rest of this post contains spoilers for Pacific Rim
Top Gun 2: Robot Boolagoo
One of the film’s most distinct pleasures is the way it recasts the tropes of ’80s and ’90s blockbusters, particularly the 1986 flyboy fantasy Top Gun. Protagonist Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is talented, cocksure, and traumatized by the death of his wingman. He has to learn to get along with a bunch of elite mecha pilots who aren’t sure what to make of him, including the Iceman-like bully Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky).
The comparisons keep on coming. Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba) echoes the paternal concern of Tom Skeritt’s Mike Metcalf, excited by the abilities of his proteges Becket and rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) while still wary of their recklessness and inexperience. Mori herself is a combination of Tim Robbins’ replacement co-pilot and Kelly McGillis’ combat psychologist – she’s even studied Becket’s tactics and gives him the “you’re too reckless” speech. The similarities are uncanny, but del Toro is shrewd in deploying these references, utilizing them as a solid framework upon which to hang the life-or-death stakes of the Kaiju invasion.
Charlie Day’s War
While operations at the Shatterdome – the home base for the giant Jaeger mechs – have a distinct military flair, Pacific Rim also includes its share of civilian heroes, namely Charlie Day’s Kaiju-obsessed biologist Newton Geiszler. In the classic Hollywood blockbuster style, Geiszler provides a respite from the fighting with his side quest to obtain a Kaiju brain in the hopes of learning more about the monsters’ intentions.
Most importantly, Geiszler’s adventures provide a glimpse of the external world’s reaction to the apocalyptic threat of the Kaiju. For example, some worship the monsters as instruments of punishment by the gods, and others find economic opportunity in carving up the pieces of dead Kaiju for sale on the black market. It’s a humanizing tactic that so many modern blockbusters fail to exploit, one that allows the audience to engage more honestly with the admittedly silly premise. The fact that the subplot features the very funny Day and his equally humorous scene-stealing partners Burn Gorman and Ron Perlman is just icing on the cake.
We Are the World
The movie’s multicultural bent extends from its international teams of Jaeger pilots to the pairing of (Causasian, male) Becket and (Asian, female) Mori – with the latter the adopted daughter of the dark-skinned Pentacost (whose ethnic indeterminacy is indicative of the cast’s collective failure to create consistent accents). The connections forged between these characters demonstrate the film’s themes regarding the oneness of humanity and the struggle to overcome personal differences and achieve a common goal.
It’s also nice to see Hunnam and Kikuchi posited as equals in combat prowess, particularly in a hand-to-hand fight scene that’s all about establishing mutual respect instead of being milked for sexual tension. On the other hand, it’s a questionably platonic relationship, with Mori peeking through her bunk’s peephole to get a glimpse of the shirtless Becket, and a moony Becket telling Mori that he’s “never thought too much about the future until now” right before the final battle – a corny line that Hunnam delivers like it’s preceding a marriage proposal and not a last-ditch mission to save the world. Still, it’s hard to resist del Toro’s optimistic notion that humankind’s embrace of diversity is the key to overcoming its greatest challenges.