If giant monsters ever really came up out of the ocean and started destroying cities, I doubt that we would fight them by building giant robots that had people in their heads controlling them. We’d probably develop more powerful missiles made of materials capable of piercing the monsters’ armored skin. But where would be the fun in that?
One of the most interesting challenges in making Pacific Rim, I imagine, is making this outlandish concept seem plausible. The images of giant robots and monsters started in Japanese pop culture and permeated the world zeitgeist. If you are a baby boomer, as a youth, you spent many hours in front of the TV watching those old Toho films like Godzilla, Gojira, Rhodan and others. If you grew up in a later era, you watched anime. And somehow, in those formats, it doesn’t matter that the whole concept is a little silly.
Guillermo Del Toro wanted to put them into a melodrama with real characters, great special effects and as much verisimilitude as he could muster. Now that’s a tall order. When Del Toro’s Kaiju emerge from the sea, eager to obliterate some infrastructure, humanity’s best hope are the Jaegers. These are giant robots, controlled by a pilot and a co-pilot located in the head of the craft. They must join their minds together in what is called a “drift.” So these people wind up getting very close. Many of them in fact are related.
When Raleigh Beckett, played by Charlie Hunnam, loses his brother/partner in a battle with a nasty Kaiju, he loses his nerve and quits the program. Shortly after that, the governments of the world cut the funding for the Jaeger program, putting their faith in giant sea walls. The head of the program, Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba, has been keeping it going for five years and he finally has a plan to defeat the Kaiju by closing the inter-dimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean that they use to come into our world. But he needs Raleigh to help implement it.
There really isn’t much to say about the acting. It’s pretty standard melodramatic stuff. Everyone is competent and no one really stands out except maybe Charlie Day and Burn Gorman who play feuding scientists and provide comic relief.
The effects are spectacular, of course, and the 3D is used expertly to give a sense of how huge these robots are. Unlike in the Transformer movies you can actually follow what’s happening during the fights. Plus the designers have really created a lived in look. The robots are beaten up and dented; the clothes are lovingly distressed and everybody has scars.
But the best thing about the movie is that Del Toro really gives you an idea of how dangerous a pursuit fighting these monsters is. These are not invulnerable robots, and they become obsolete fast as the Kaiju evolve and start sending more than one through at a time. The people fighting them pay a price and it shows.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t enough characterization to make you care all that much. Del Toro is too busy throwing set pieces on the screen to have many dramatic scenes where people reveal themselves. So when Raleigh goes on that final mission, your interest is more in seeing how they’re going to top the special effects used earlier in the film than in seeing if the main character survives.
I had high hopes for this one.