Pacific Rim (2013) is a summer blockbuster written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. It takes place in the 2020s where giant alien monsters — called Kaijus, traveling to Earth from an inter-dimensional portal in a fissure on the Earth’s ocean floor — attack and demolish cities all along the Pacific Ocean. To counter this threat, human civilization has joined forces to create Jaegers — enormous robots that are piloted by two people whose minds are connected as one. The film follows the story of disgraced and retired pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). The film boasts a great cast, including Idris Elba, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day, and Ron Perlman.
At first glance, the film is a glorified Godvilla v. The Power Rangers, but the film surprisingly becomes so much more. From the very beginning, the idea of the Kaiju monsters is never farfetched; their introduction attacking several cities — particularly those that are hardly ever featured in big destructive blockbusters, including Manilla and Sydney — is simply sobering and believable. Even when the narrator describes the aliens crossing a portal into Earth’s ocean floor shockingly doesn’t introduce any doubt into the story. The rest of the introduction seems purely exposition, including the first scene with Raleigh and his brother, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff). They’re described as brothers so in sync that they are perfectly compatible as pilots — a phenomenon called being “drift compatible”. That’s why it is so shocking when their mission goes so horribly wrong and Yancy is killed by a Kaiju. From that moment on, you’re hooked. You didn’t even realize how connected you were with the characters until one of them is killed off so soon. It’s in this moment when you realize there’s something more to this summer blockbuster.
Pacific Rim has some heart to balance out the action. Raleigh is traumatized by the death of his brother, even years afterwards, but he steps up to the call of duty. Seemingly timid Mako struggles behind decorum to assume her place as a pilot. There’s a mysterious connection between Mako and cold Stacker Pentecost (Elba) that fleshes out into an incredibly tender and heartfelt bond. The perfect yet unconventional relationship between Raleigh and Mako burgeons into an earnest partnership. All of these character dynamics create a foundation that keeps the audience invested; they make the film way more than just another action movie. Day’s and Gorman’s performances as scientists along with Perlman’s performance as an underground mogul create a levity to counterbalance the film’s heavy mood.
Mako’s childhood flashback is the gem of the film. Her younger self (played by Mana Ashida) is running through the devastated streets of her hometown, completely alone. Her parents and family have been killed, and she confronts the horrible monster that has destroyed her life. In a sea of gray ruins, her blue clothes pop out — a poignant spectacle making homage to Schindler’s List‘s girl in the red coat. Ashida gives an incredible performance, exhibiting such terror in her screams and tears. This scene is the star of the film, both visually and structurally, as it fleshes out both Mako’s and Pentecosts’ characters. This scene, while captivating and intense, creates a sort of calm within surrounding scenes of Jaegar-on-Kairu action. This scene is an introspective jewel that most summer blockbusters abandon for more exciting yet banal action scenes.
Del Toro set out to create the Kaijus and Jaegers as a new genre for the younger generation. While he avoided any direct references to previous monster works, he dedicated the film to Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young) and Ishirō Honda (Godzilla). It’s obvious that a film like this has roots in monster works of the past, and his dedication to them is respectful. This film is visually stunning and quite affecting. This isn’t the typical summer blockbuster, and, frankly, more summer blockbusters should follow del Toro’s lead.