Something that has been in shockingly short supply at the multiplex of late is some old fashioned blockbuster fun. Even films that I've enjoyed, like Man of Steel, have had an unrelenting grimness permeating into their very core. Pacific Rim is a rocket-powered punch to this new norm's gut by not just being expertly crafted, but also overflowing with a childish abandon I didn't know I'd been missing in my movie-going life.
Guillermo del Toro's sure-handed direction anchors down the deceivingly simple premise of a world where giant monsters (called Kaiju) threaten all of humanity, forcing the nations of Earth to band together and create giant robots (called Jaegers) in order to combat this otherworldly menace. While there's more to the story than just that, del Toro understands that that's why you came to see the movie, and he delivers on that promise a hundred fold. The action in this movie is nothing short of landmark. Unlike Michael Bay's Transformers films, the fight scenes are painstakingly choreographed to ensure you know exactly what's going on. The film never falls victim to the ever popular "chaos cinema" school of editing. No shaky cams or jumbled edits here. Everything is presented clearly, giving the entire experience a feeling of being completely planned out.
And that's the biggest trophy Pacific Rim has on its shelf: every aspect of the movie is ripe with conscious forethought. Nothing feels extraneous or underdeveloped. Although the major character arcs seem two-dimensional and stereotypical, they are keenly aware of this and make sure to hit all the right beats, so even if they aren't original (and they aren't), they still come off as wholly satisfying. And while the characters as written aren't anything extraordinary, the actors portraying them bring more than enough soul along with them. Charlie Hunnam is brimming with leading man charisma, selling the tortured ace pilot schtick perfectly. Rinko Kikuchi is a delight, able to shift between reserved shyness and badassery in the matter of a scene. Idris Elba deserves special mention as the head military figure, barking orders and giving inspiring speeches just when everyone needs them. His character actually has the most depth, and the conclusion of his arc is immensely gratifying. You also have Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Ron Perlman providing their own unique bits of comic relief, but instead of just being there for laughs, the script makes sure that their characters are just as integral to the plot as the Jaeger pilots themselves. And all across the board, everyone is giving their all, never stopping to wink into the camera or phone it in. The sincerity on display only enhances the overall enjoyment of the picture.
That sincerity is present not only in the acting, but in the creation of the film's world as well. Everything is treated with weight and meaning, especially the monstrous Kaiju. The designs of the monsters are all unique, but keep with a running visual theme that ties all the creatures together. Each Kaiju has a surprise up its sleeve, which keeps the uncertainty of the battles at a constant high.
There's also this endearing sense of hope that the film exudes. The idea that all of the world's nations are able to put aside every single one of their differences in order to stop an all-powerful adversary is unexpectedly profound. The movie doesn't resort to some shoehorned love plot or a bunch of militaristic chest beating to drive this hopefulness home. It does that by having all of humanity work together so that they can use giant robots to punch giant monsters in their stupid faces. That's. Beautiful.
But, out of all the praise I've laid on Pacific Rim, nothing can compete with the purely juvenile joy of seeing Godzilla, Power Rangers, Mobile Suit Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion and an almost endless plethora of other "giant" influences get thrown into a blender, meshed together and splashed all over my face. The unabashed love of the genre(s) Pacific Rim is culling from oozes out of every frame. Del Toro works his own personal quirks in as well (you will see objects floating in jars of liquid and Lovecraftian beings), but it all coalesces together into an experience that feels brand new yet wonderfully familiar.
Pacific Rim is what would happen if Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich had a baby, but through a freak genetic accident (or alien intervention), that baby actually ended up being smart, handsome, well-spoken and fun to be around, instead of the misshapen explosion abortion it should have been. Even though Pacific Rim's story might be old hat, it wears that hat proudly and ends up making it look damn good. This is what a summer at the movies should be. When I walked out of the theater, a young boy made his dad wait for him while he crouched down on the steps leading to the parking lot, "powered up" (his words) and launched upwards like a Jaeger. I'll never forget that moment. As long as movies like Pacific Rim and the kids who love it exist, I can feel a little more hopeful about the future. A robots vs. monsters movie did that. Sometimes, life is pretty damn awesome.