Thursday night we hit the drive-in to celebrate my roommate’s birthday, grabbing a double-feature of Pacific Rim and Man of Steel. I’d already seen the latter, but it wasn’t exactly a hardship to watch it a second time. Mostly I was just really, really excited to see Pacific Rim, which I’ve been looking forward to for months.
As you might know, Pacific Rim is that rarest of creatures: a science fiction film not based on any existing source material, written and directed by a person of color and starring several actors of color in its main roles. It looked to be a smart, exciting, kaiju-smashing epic, which was really just an added bonus, because I’d have paid good money just to watch Idris Elba dramatically read a phone book.
Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, it was just as good as I hoped it would be.
Pacific Rim quickly and efficiently gives us the backstory: a few years in the future, an interdimensional rift deep beneath the Pacific starts spitting out giant alien monsters called kaiju. No one knows why they came, but it soon becomes clear that they’re not going away. The human race bands together to invent the jaeger, a giant team-piloted robot capable of defeating the kaiju and protecting humanity. In one jaeger battle with a kaiju off Alaska, pilot Raleigh Becket loses his brother while brain-deep in the psychic link required to pilot the robots, and, traumatized, decides to quit piloting.
Time passes, and humanity loses faith in the jaeger program, putting their hope instead in the idea of a giant wall to keep out the kaiju. The powers that be tell Stacker Pentecost (played by Elba), the dude in charge of the program, that they’ll be shutting down the program in a matter of months. Pentecost has a plan he thinks will stop the kaiju coming through the rift for good, but he is forced to call Becket back in and pair him up with his revenge-hungry protegee Mako Mori to pilot his old jaeger to put the plan into action. The pair-up is rocky at first, because both partners carry baggage from previous kaiju attacks, but eventually they get the hang of working together.
When the jaeger program’s scientists discover the motivation behind the kaijus’ attacks and it becomes clear that they have only one last chance to stop them, the motley crew of jaeger pilots and scientists have to suck up their problems, band together, and close the rift for good, no matter what sacrifices have to be made.
I’ve heard people say that the plot is just giant robots punching giant monsters, but, at the risk of sounding corny, it’s much more nuanced than that. The world-building and conceptual design are spectacular, and character interactions really drive the plot. Each of the characters are clearly three-dimensional people, regardless of whether or not we ever get a peek at their backstories. Particularly look out for feels coming from the direction of Pentecost and Mako.
Even the side characters were all fantastic. Burn Gorman (Owen from Torchwood) played one of the scientists duo, a ridiculously British guy rocking a rad bromance with the other scientist, a total kaiju otaku. Ron Perlman played Hannibal Chau, an eccentric, gaudily-dressed black market kaiju parts trader. The Russian jaeger team was totally kickass. It’s also notable that this is a sci-fi action movie with a truly international cast, and a band of heroes that surmounts borders, with representatives from all over the world. As much as I love me my Independence Day-esque jingoistic American fervor in small doses, it’s a very nice change of pace to see that a global threat was being dealt with by people around the globe.
Furthermore, I don’t really have any complaints from a feminist perspective either. Although the main character was Becket, a white guy, Mako got pretty equal billing with him, and Pentecost was a standout supporting character. Mako’s character was also great, because her relationships with the men around her are familial and platonic—she’s never a love interest, and she’s never sexualized for the camera or by the other characters. There are not that many other women among the jaeger corps, but the Russian pilot is also obviously a kicker of ass and a taker of names, which is cool to see.
My only major complaint, really, is that jaeger battles fought at night in dark seas with lots of splashing water sometimes made it difficult to tell what was going on. However, I will grant that I saw it at the drive in, where it might have been a little brighter than your typical movie theater. (We were also parked off to the side.)
Anyway, the moral of this review is this: please go throw all your money at Pacific Rim. It’s a wonderful film with great acting, writing, and characters, and it deserves to have that reflected in its box office returns. Remember, if we don’t support the media that actually delivers the sorts of messages we want to see, we’ll be stuck in a hell of sequels and board game-to-movie adaptations filled with scantily-clad Connect Four pieces until we die. Between you and me? I’d rather be eaten by a kaiju.