Let me be clear: I was born to love this movie. I grew up watching Voltron, Power Rangers and other sentai shows, and kaiju movies. I was a giant Gundam weenie for years and years. (Evangelion not so much, but that’s a rant for a different time.) This movie was designed to hit every single nerd squee button I possess all at once and turn me into a shrieking explosion of popcorn and glitter. It’s GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING KAIJU HOW COOL IS THAT.
However, had it only been giant robots fighting monsters, I would have left the theater happy, but not been thrown into paroxysms of pure glee like I am now. Obviously, I’m capable of disliking movies that involve giant robots. I hated Transformers 2 and 3, after all.
But this movie was fun. And it was good. I’d even go so far as to call it groundbreaking, and let me explain why.
But there will be SPOILERS. [okay, I’m trying to use the “more” tag but I don’t know if it’s working, apologies if not.]
Pretty much everyone I’ve seen that’s been speaking positively about Pacific Rim has said that it’s awesome and fun, but not groundbreaking. So I’d better explain myself. The entire reason I use that word is because of Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. (And yes, all of the characters in Pacific Rim have amazing that-could-totally-be-from-an-anime names, the best of which is of course Stacker Pentecost.) At first blush, Mako seems like a very stereotypical demure Japanese woman character, but Kikuchi quickly shows us the utter steel underneath her, the competitive edge and depths of resolve. The only thing that holds her back at all in the movie is the love of her adoptive father figure, Stacker–that’s what almost scuttles her chance to be a Jaeger pilot. Not self-doubt, but an inability to stand up to someone to whom she owes that much. Anyone who thinks she was one note was clearly not paying attention.
She’s a main character in her own right, not just the sidekick to the American guy, Raleigh. The most poignant and extended flashback in the entire movie belongs to Mako Mori, and it’s heartbreaking and terrifying and Mana Ashida (who plays young Mako) was just amazing. She is both fragile and competent, and her journey takes her from being driven by revenge to resolution.
But that’s not why I used the g-word. Why?
There is no romance plot.
Del Toro himself said this, and having watch the movie, I believe him. I’ve seen a lot of people claiming that there is some kind of weak love story between Raleigh and Mako. They’re wrong. And I think the reason for that confusion is because it is so goddamn impossible to find an action movie where the woman isn’t present to be the male lead’s love interest. There is chemistry, there are long looks, and at the end there is hand-holding–which ends in a hug, not a kiss. It’s not a romance. It shouldn’t be read as one. Rather, the point is made over and over again that when the Jaeger pilots drift, they are entirely in each other’s minds. They know everything about the other person. Because of their drift compatibility, Mako and Raleigh are closer than friends, lovers, or any other possible relationship. They know each other in the most intimate way possible. And ultimately, because Raleigh has no one in the world, and Mako has lost the only family she had left (Stacker), they have become everything to each other.
So yeah, I’d say they love each other. But such a thing as deep, platonic love is possible, and del Toro put it in his movie.
That’s why I’m calling it groundbreaking. There was a woman, a female character who was both strong and human, and she was not there just to fuck the hero.
Hell, if you want romance out of Pacific Rim, just look at the two comedy relief geeky scientists. There’s already got to be fanfic about them.
There is a lot of other damn fine stuff in this movie, and it’s all to the credit of the actors. Idris Elba makes Stacker Pentecost not just a badass control freak, but a father who deeply loves his adopted daughter and will do anything for her. (When Stacker tells Mako effectively that he is so glad he was able to watch her grow up, I just about started to cry.) Robert Kazinsky as Chuck Hansen managed to be the biggest shit on the planet and still made me care about him by basically punching me in the heart when he said goodbye to his father. Max Martini as Herc Hansen just helped him break my heart.
And the apocalypse is not averted by a lone hero with a gun. It’s averted by a team. There is much made in this movie about team work, about how the pilots must work together (Stacker and Raleigh have both managed to pilot solo before, by the way, but that assuredly is not what saves the day) to fight. I loved that; it’s another unusual thing to see in movies like this. There wasn’t a hero and a sidekick, it was two heroes as a team.
There could have been more plot. There could have been more character development. But the actors took what they were given and ran with it, and they made it good. I can’t wait to see what extras we might get on the DVDs.
And yes, of course, the fighting scenes were amazing. The setting was brilliant and technicolor and with that lovely twist of weirdness that just screams del Toro at the top of its lungs.
The other thing I really liked about the movie is that it shows the problem as being a global one. Sure, there are plenty of other movies that center a global threat, but it always ends up being about how America (or even a single American badass guy) saves the day. Most of the movie takes place in a technicolor, future Hong Kong. Stacker Pentecost, the head of the Jaeger program, is definitely not American. And while the Jaeger that ends the conflict is piloted by Raleigh (an American) his partner is a Japanese woman. I just wish we’d seen more of the other two Jaeger crews, the three brothers from China and the pair from Russia. I was sad we got to know them just long enough to see them get eaten by kaiju.
One last note: Pacific Rim is not about 9/11, as most post 9/11 disaster/action movies are accused of being. If it’s trying to be an allegory for anything, my best guess would be global climate change. But sometimes a giant robot is just a giant robot. (And often I wonder if 9/11 is really on every director’s mind, or if every critic is just looking for it whenever they can find.)
Oh yeah AND THERE WAS A FUCKING SWORD BUTTON THIS MOVIE HAS EVERYTHING GO SEE IT NOW.