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.