Congratulations on the Best Director Golden Globe win by Guillermo Del Toro, one of the most creative and fascinating filmmakers working today. Also, with the imminent release of the Pacific Rim sequel I wanted to go back and re-watch the best damn Kaiju Film EVER MADE, Pacific Rim. I think you’ll want to join me on this journey.
Pacific Rim (2013)
I’m a huge fan of Kaiju films, otherwise known as Giant Rubber Monster Movies, although nowadays the monsters are CGI animations, not dudes in rubber suits. Now, as a fan of these films I have to say the vast majority of them are pretty rough to watch. The model sets are usually fake-looking, they’re never scary, and the parts of the movies between the monster attacks are usually terribly written and dull. Let’s just say Kaiju films are heavily represented on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s hard to make an earnest movie about giant lizards stomping on cities, but there’s a fascination there that keeps filmmakers trying to make them.
Well, Del Toro changed all that. The anticipation of the monster and the onset of the destruction is usually a good chunk of a Kaiju movie’s running time, and usually you have to stifle a yawn until the monster shows up for the first time. Even the new, super-expensive Godzilla movie plays coy with the monster for what seems like an eternity. Come on guys, he looks like Godzilla, just show the damn lizard. But in Pacific Rim, Del Toro gets down to business: a several hundred foot tall shark-looking beastie destroys the Golden Gate Bridge and most of San Francisco before the credits roll.
Then cut to a Jaeger, or giant ass-kicking robot, fighting another Kaiju, and you think we’ll set up our heroes, and how awesome they are. But Del Toro throws us another curveball and our hero, played efficiently by Charlie Hunnam, gets punked and (spoiler alert for the first five minutes of the movie) his brother bites the big one. Or rather, he gets bitten by a big, scary sea creature. So now ten minutes in and we’re in a world of high stakes, with doubt and concern for the success of the survivors on this planet.
The rest of the story is about how the Kaijus are over-running the world and humanity is nearly helpless to stop it. Nearly helpless… Del Toro creates a great sense of imminent apocalyptic doom. It’s a bleak movie without being oppressive, and he celebrates a world where all of our problems can be solved by learning to work together, and punching stuff with giant steel fists.
It’s really impressive how efficient Del Toro is with plotting. The story moves quickly from one set-piece to the next. The Kaiju attacks are surprising and brutal, and the human drama is kept interesting by great character actors like Ron Perlman, Clifton Collins Jr., and Idris Elba. They quickly and professionally establish strong presences in the movie and do a lot of heavy plot lifting without much screen time.
The comedy relief is pretty funny and I enjoy how Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, the first female Jaeger pilot, fall into chaste friendship based on mutual respect, rather than a forced and uncomfortable love story. Del Toro saved his love plot for The Shape of Water and its absence let’s Pacific Rim keep chugging along.
My favorite joke comes early on when the ominous news reports talk of the government’s plan to build a giant Anti-Kaiju wall, and you think this will be a big plot deal. Nope, the very next second a crab-looking Kaiju crashes through it like it’s tissue paper. Stupid wall…
The other critical aspects of Kaiju films that Del Toro hits out of the park are the monster and robot designs. The robots are stylized, thoughtfully designed, and never become overwhelming in the action scenes, unlike a very popular but completely terrible series of movies about transmorphing bots. Del Toro shoots the actions sequences so we always keep a sense of scale and a sense of danger. The Kaiju are also impressive, slimy and glowing and each modeled after some variety of sea monster or beast. Each one has some surprising feature that we’re never warned about, but seem completely plausible based on what kind of creature they’re inspired by. It still gives you chills to hear the thunderous footfalls and see glass-shattering monster tackles, especially on the big screen with rumbling bass. But even on the small screen, the movie is visually impressive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I showed Pacific Rim to my 8 year old son, and he thought it was awesome, of course. This movie was designed to blow the minds of 8 year olds, but the giant kid inside me still loved the movie and during this re-watch, the lack of slow set-up and ominous foreshadowing really works to the film’s advantage. We still get the required helicopter shot of a giant monster footprint, but it’s part of a bigger series of shots, not a scene to itself. Del Toro knows we’ve seen that scene dozens of times. Sometimes you really just need to get to the monster-punching.
I highly recommend Pacific Rim. It’s the perfect antidote to all of the crummy, badly made monster movies I’ve watched lately. Without Del Toro involved, I don’t have high hopes for Pacific Rim Uprising coming soon to a theater near you, but I will certainly check it out just in case it’s half as good as this movie.