Pacific Rim: Everything You Always Wanted In a Giant Robot Movie

Growing up a fan of giant monsters and giant robots, I was excited when Guillermo Del Toro announced he was working on a mecha vs kaiju film. Del Toro is a fanboy at heart so I trusted he would take the source material and put his spin on it. His handling of Hellboy really spoke to the comics, and Pan’s Labyrinth is one fairy tale I sometimes want to forget existed. So where does that leave Pacific Rim?

While the premise does not sound promising, Del Toro overcomes this challenge with style. Despite his style, his substance is good but not great. I can’t fault the actors for this. They were playing the archetypes written for them. The archetypes themselves were top of the genre in that regards. Eye candy Idris Elba acted the shit out of Stacker Pentecost. (The names in this movie sometimes feel like they were playing dictionary roulette. You know open a page, point a finger and that’s the name?) Charlie Day did what he does best in providing comic relief. Both his interactions with Burn Gorman (Owen from Torchwood) and the immortal Ron Perlman played to good comic relief. He also humanized the world of Pacific Rim. The other Charlie (Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy) played Raleigh to the best of his abilities; aka like Jax.

Plot-wise, Pacific Rim is better than a Michael Bay movie because at least the plot had substance and no racist robots. I read a good review of it describing it as a modern day fairy tale, where instead of “America fuck yeah,” our heroes are a diverse group from many nations uniting over a common enemy. I am not surprised, given that most of the cast was not American nor was the movie set predominantly in the United States. Del Toro writes for a global audience. The pacing of the movie was spot on and it never felt like it was two and a half hours.

It helped that the special effects were amazing. Del Toro said he modeled the jaegers and the kaiju after what rubber-suited men would have worn in the old Toho films. The jaegers were beautiful. I would buy probably three of them in miniatures if they were for sale.

As a fan of this genre, I really appreciated the care that Del Toro put into building an amazing film. His references to films within the genre and to sci-fi as a whole were well appreciated. I caught at least three references to Independence Day, which made me laugh, although I do not know if they were intentional. I do know the Star Wars reference at the beginning of the film was definitely intentional. Much like Cabin in the Woods was a love letter to horror, Pacific Rim plays a similar role with kaiju films. I was kind of expecting a surprise cameo by one of the more famous kaiju but I also think that would have distracted from an original property. It’s not too often that we get original blockbusters that aren’t built on an existing property, and for that I am grateful. I hope this rekindles a lot of people’s love for these films and maybe we get some more original mecha or kaiju films. I am kind of excited for the new Godzilla film because it can’t be any worse than the American one from the mid ’90s.

Where the film fails is with female characters. Rinko Kikicuchi’s protrayal of Mako is full of heart and awesomeness, but she is given very little to work with for most of the film. While she gets a lot of screen time, I feel that she is treated like an unequal, bothersome child at first. I would say that by the end, the character has found her place amongst equals, and that does help redeem the film a bit. I am also sad because it seems to me that only two female characters get more than one scene and Mako is the only one who anyone remembers. I hope with a rewatch I pick up that Mako is a better character than I remember.

I guess my issue is that any time a male writes a female protagonist, I immediately compare them to how Joss Whedon writes women. Its a tough level to be on. I have named this the Buffy test. Much like the Bechdel test, it is a good gauge of how feminist and empowering a movie can be. I would say at first glance the movie barely fails the Buffy test. I would say if Leslie Knope watched it she would give it a B minus. So I guess on a scale of Leslie Knopes this is two and a half Knopes out of four.

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Alyson

Queer Pop Culture Junkie in the Northwest. Addicted to Coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantasy Sports, The Mountain Goats, and Tottenham Hotspur.

14 thoughts on “Pacific Rim: Everything You Always Wanted In a Giant Robot Movie”

  1. For me- the two best things about this movie were:

    a.) I think this is one of the best representations of how huge robots would function- how it took a while for them to maneuver because of their size (yay gravity!), how much pure energy they would take, the digital vs. nuclear power, how they need two pilots to function, how the kaiju at times had the advantage because of their more fluid movement due to being organic instead of technological, etc. etc.

    b.) It didn’t end with a kiss. It could be considered either romance beginnings or platonic, depending on how you look at it, but there was some friendship there to begin with. It wasn’t a rushed, few-day or instantaneous romance that you get in most action movies.

    There was a lot of problematic stuff for sure. I wish there were more female characters, hands down. But overall I enjoyed it.

  2. holy explosion of comments.
    i have never seen neon genesis evangelion..cuz i don’t watch anime…cue being hit by everyone.
    but yeah it is definitely an interesting fun movie that has its problems.

    also idris elba is still hot

    1. Evangelion is good, but I would recommend the comics over the series, if only because the plot is easier to follow in the comics. Still in the comics you miss out on some premium creepy fight motions (The Evangelions are living creatures so occasionally the pilots loose control and shit gets creepy).

  3. Actually most of the references I was picking up were from Neon Genesis Evangelion to which it bears no small amount of similarity. Although unlike Evangelion, Pacific Rim did not promise giant robots fighting monsters and deliver soul searching allegory. But then Evangelion had cooler moster and robot designs, so you win some and you loose some. Still the weird fist pump motion as they synch and the yellow fluid in their helmets seemed to be clear head nods to Eva.

    Although there is a tiny little part of me that hopes that the shape of Gypsy Danger’s eye-screen was a send up to Gurren Lagann. Because of reasons.

    1. Thank you! I mentioned to one friend that it was like Neon Genesis Evangelion without the mommy issues and got a blank stare.

      I really liked the movie – problematic female character (no s on that one!) and all. At least she wasn’t a love interest which seemed slightly baby-step-ish…? But then Asian actors rarely get to play the love interest anyways so maybe it’s not so progressive as all that…? So maybe it’s worse? ugh. I can’t even.

      1. I dunno. I liked the relationship shown and it felt like it was in romance beginnings, without going into 90 minute love story land. Like, here are two people who are attracted to each other, but no real romance yet, because, hello, end of the world.

        1. Yeah I definitely enjoyed the platonic relationship while watching the movie and I was pretty damned relieved there was no shoe-horned love interest. I think it’s probably the gender and pop culture class I’m taking right now leaking into my brain. Just had to read an article for class on how Lucy Liu doesn’t get roles in rom-coms so that was probably percolating in the back-brain.

  4. I enjoyed the movie for what it was and it was fun! I went for Idris Elba and stayed for the robots vs monsters smack down (my knowledge of the genre is woefully lacking). I do wholeheartedly agree with the state of the female characters in the movie (though it’s no fault of the actresses)

  5. It was a good movie, but gets an F on any Buffy/Bechdel/etc. test. In the movie, there are TWO (and a half) women who have any dialog. TWO. I count the ‘news anchors in the background on a TV people are supposedly watching’ type voiceovers and the ‘warning AI’ (who was the voice of GLaDOS) as a half. That leaves TWO women with screen time and a line. One has about 3 lines and that’s it. The only woman with any significant screen time is the ‘best’ person for the job but isn’t allowed to do a job because a guy wants to ‘protect’ her because he sees her as a child. She’s blamed and punished for something one of the guy characters does. She’s ‘too emotional’ and dismissed at every turn. So while it’s a fun movie, the sexist underpinnings are impossible to dispute. There’s no excuse as to why any of the scientists, pilots, etc. couldn’t have been women – it was just laziness.

  6. I have a question based entirely off of everything I’ve read about this, since I haven’t seen it (yet).

    I’ve read that Rinko Kikuchi’s character plays the underdog rookie archetype. Is it possible that the character isn’t underwritten or underdeveloped as a female character, but as a part of that archetype? Usually I really like the way Guillermo Del Toro writes or handles fairly complex women (even if his casts are very male-heavy). Just wanted to know to know your thoughts on placing women (particularly women of color, who are almost never in this role) in these traditionally male archetypes.

    1. Bit of both I think. She is babied by most of the other characters and at first that is clearly part of her role as the rookie. But at the film’s climax she get a bit sidelined to give the male lead more heroic things to do, and that was irritating. She gets one good badass moment, but she is thoroughly side kicked to Hunnam’s character.

      1. Thanks for following up! I am still amped to see it. Also, it seems Rinko Kikuchi has a tendency to get cast in these kind of amazing but also problematic roles in Hollywood (see also her entirely silent role in Babel and almost silent in The Brothers Bloom). She does great in both, but it does speak to a certain representation of women of color, particularly Asian women in film.

  7. It may be shallow but I reeeeaaaally want to see this because of Charlie Hunnam. The fact that there are two Sons of Anarchy actors in it is even better. If they would have thrown in Ryan Hurst, I would’ve gone to a midnight premiere.

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