I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro for approximately 10-12 years. I’ve loved his horror/fantasy films (The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth) and his big budget blockbusters (Blade II, the Hellboy films). I love his writing and his directing. I’m just a huge fan of everything he brings to the table each time because it’s always different. When I first learned of Pacific Rim and what it was about I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. The details were vague and seemingly simplistic: Giant robots fighting giant sea monsters. Ok, sounds fun, but it was a little bit out of del Toro’s wheelhouse. I wasn’t worried that he couldn’t pull it off, but it just seemed too simple an idea for him to tackle. Especially when he’s had so many great and adventurous ideas on the table over the last ten years. The more that was released for the film the more excited I got for it and knew that if any director could make a great movie from such a “silly” concept it was him.
Well, I can say without any hesitation what-so-ever that Guillermo del Toro has done it again and remains to be one of my all time favorite film makers. Pacific Rim is easily in my top 3 favorite films of the year and did not disappoint me in any way, like many of this year’s films have.
The overall plot is pretty basic: giant alien monsters (Kaiju – Japanese for “strange giant beasts”) from another dimension invade Earth through a portal (nicknamed “The Breach”) in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Over the years we’ve been attacked by them at random times and early on we created giant robots, called Jaegers (German for hunter) to fight back and they’ve been very effective over fifteen years of fighting. Don’t worry there is quite a bit more to the movie than just that. Some of my friends were afraid the trailers gave away too much of the plot, but don’t worry, plenty was kept under wraps.
While this is an excellent movie, it makes no apologies for being a robot vs alien movie, and that’s one of the things that makes this so film so great. It’s a completely unabashed love letter to the Mecha genre, Japanese anime, giant monster movies and really all science fiction, all rolled into one giant fun-as-hell movie. Many people will see extreme similarities to what’s come before, especially things like the Godzilla films or the mecha anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and that’s OK, because none of it feels like it’s taking from just one genre or title. It’s a fantastic homage to it all and it does it’s job perfectly. I think it brought out the 7 year old in everyone in the theater last night.
The cast is an excellent blend of actors/actresses from all walks of cinema. Led by Charlie Hunnam as hero Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket, everyone brings something fresh to what really are stereotypical sci-fi characters (again, no apologies were made). Idris Elba does a great job leading the pack as Marshall Stacker Pentecost and newcomer to mainstream American flicks, Rinko Kikuchi is just an outstanding addition as the mysterious, hardened, lethal yet sensitive Mako Mori. Charlie Day and del Toro favorite, Ron Perlman round out the cast as some of film’s comedic relief and are great in their roles.
I loved the Kaiju and Jaeger designs, everything felt familiar without looking like something you’d seen a thousand times. Also, neither were made with motion capture because del Toro never wanted the monsters or the robots to ever move like anything human. They had to be alien and robotic through and through, so all were completely done with CGI. The score by Ramin Djawadi was nothing short of perfect for this movie. Huge, booming orchestrations that worked so well to evoke excitement, scares or dramatic tones.
To add to how great Pacific Rim is, all I can say is that this is one absolutely beautiful film. Guillermo del Toro teams up with long time collaborator, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and once again presents something wonderful. From the way it’s shot to the lighting, the sets and the digital environments (and the blending of the two), this movie was just gorgeous to look at. It had a so much of the del Toro look and blended it perfectly with all the different styles the film paid homage to. One of my favorite settings from the entire film was the Hong Kong of 2025. It was gorgeous and I felt like I had stepped into some amazing mash-up of Blade Runner, Akira and Cowboy Bebop. The colors and lighting along with the use of actual sets and CGI was perfect. One of my favorite scenes was a flashback to when Mako is a child during a Kaiju attack on Japan. It looked like someone had taken an animated Japanese film and had somehow pulled it into the real world, if that makes any sense. It was beautiful, heart-breaking and terrifying all at once. Perfectly executed film making.
While I’m on the subject of terrifying, this film did something that no other giant monster movie has done for me: it made these monsters scary. It’s hard to look back at the old Godzilla films, or really any classic giant monster movie and be scared. You can enjoy them immensely, as I do, but they’re not scary and you’re barely thinking about the destruction made or the lives it’s taking. Here it’s all in your face, the destruction, the death, even some of these enormous creatures get right into your personal space. And it’s all presented in a sort of scary and sad way. You see people’s lives ruined and taken and it feels real. In a film like this, a subject that could have been “Michael Bay-ed,” it makes me happy to no end that it was brought to life by Guillermo & Co. They do something here, that they’ve so many times in the past: They’ve made a horror/sci-fi/fantasy flick with heart. I could go on all day about how great this movie was, but then I’d get into spoiler territory so I’ll just stop here.
Pacific Rim blends it’s homages, originality, action, scares, drama and humor into a perfect summer blockbuster. If you have had any doubts as to the quality of this movie, stop. If you have ever loved science fiction, robots, comic books, monster movies or you just like having fun, you need to do yourself a favor and see Pacific Rim.