When it comes to fighting giant monsters, no one does it as well as the Japanese. That still holds true after Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s tribute to giant-robot anime, though it was a worthwhile attempt.
Pacific Rim is Gundam Wing, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Panic and, of course, Godzilla — for which the Kaiju get their name — all rolled into one, borrowing heavily from the various mecha and monster-mashing anime that have come out of Japan over the years.
If the first three titles mean nothing to you that is for the best, or you’ll spend half the film comparing Pacific Rim to its predecessors. And the film just doesn’t stand up to Japanese anime that came before it.
The film is set in the near future while human civilization is besieged by giant creatures called Kaiju — Japanese word for “strange beasts” — which emerge from the Pacific Ocean, from a portal between dimensions located deep beneath the sea. To combat them, humanity pools its resources to build giant machines called Jaegers capable of battling the Kaiju, which are driven by two pilots whose minds are connected.
The movie’s characters — a soldier who has a hard time following orders, a young woman overcoming a tragic past, two brilliant but quirky scientists working in different fields, an eccentric gangster — all derive from Japanese anime stereotypes and few of them are worth caring about.
The characters spend more time fighting Kaiju and each other than talking, which manages to disguise the B-movie plot and often atrocious dialogue.
However, who goes to see a monster-mashing movie for the story? The massive action sequences more than make up for the poor storytelling. The scale of the fighting and the frequently cool action sequences will make your inner eight-year-old squeal in delight.
The battles are immense. Rather than ignoring the limitations of weight, the Jaegers and the Kaiju fight with a slow intensity, revealing just how heavy they are — unlike previous monster-mashing films where everything moves like a costumed actor fighting above a miniature replica city.
The fighting is a combination of grappling and heavy punches, with the typical handful of tricks an audience would expect from giant robots like saws and chest-mounted missile batteries. However what could have gone over the top never feels overdone. Del Toro limits each Jaeger to two or three different attacks, avoiding the anime trope of characters always having one more trick up their sleeve. Once you accept that giant robots exist, it isn’t hard to believe how they fight.
At times the sheer amount of water glittering on screen among the bright lights of the Jaegers and the Hong Kong cityscape and the vast quantities of blue monster gore and debris flying about obscure the action, but it isn’t difficult knowing what’s going on on screen.
Pacific Rim promised massive machine on monster fighting and delivered on that promise. And it’s fun as hell to watch.