It might help viewers to know in advance that “kaiju” means “strange beast” in Japanese, and that “jaeger” means “hunter” in German. But Guillermo del Toro’s big, loud, exciting “Pacific Rim” works just as well for anyone walking in having never heard of those words.
The huge Kaijus that rise from the ocean’s depths here are of the Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidra variety. They’re fierce and destructive, and in the film’s first few minutes, one of them arrives from another universe, makes it through an underwater breach, and wreaks havoc. But it’s immediately met and matched by an equally huge man-made Jaeger, a “brutal war machine” of a robot that’s piloted by two mind-melded humans within it. There’s whamming and bamming, all rock ’em, sock ’em-style, accompanied by a soundtrack as loud as the visuals are immense.
It’s lots of fun to watch but, on the serious side, the human race is in danger of extinction. The monsters aren’t just mindless behemoths who knock down buildings and stomp on people. Turns out that they have a plan.
We join the story seven years after the Kaiju Wars have begun, and things are going badly for us.
They certainly go wrong for the Jaeger team of brothers Raleigh and Yancy Becket (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff). They were put together as copilots in one of these robots because, as has been proven among Jaeger designers, “the deeper the bond, the better you fight.”
Five years later, Jaeger teams around the world are losing the battle, and government officials are dropping the Jaeger program in favor of building coastal walls to keep the sea monsters out. Fat chance!
Though the film’s mayhem meter almost always points to “high,” and there’s very little downtime, del Toro and his co-screenwriter Travis Beacham manage to work in plenty of personal stories. Our hero, Raleigh Becket, has to do something about his penchant for taking too many risks. Two scientist partners, one a math-nerd square (Burn Gorman), one an excitable Kaiju expert (Charlie Day), try to calculate and save the future of mankind. A military leader (Idris Elba) goes rogue but is keen on keeping order among those who remain loyal to him. A young woman who dreams of being a Jaeger pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) must overcome emotional scars then face the slightly clichéd challenge of being a small woman in a big man’s game.
Some of the film’s dark comic relief comes courtesy of del Toro regular – Hellboy, himself – Ron Perlman, who plays an amoral, knife-wielding, 24-carat-gold-shoe-wearing black market profiteer.
The physical scale of the film is amazing, whether it’s dealing with the busyness of streets filled with people fleeing from the monsters (yes, del Toro is a big Japanese monster movie fan) or just seeing these gigantic monsters and robots right next to people and buildings or, in one case, nonchalantly carrying an oil tanker.
It all builds to an air of finality. The surviving few Jaegers (most have been destroyed) must go up against the ever-attacking Kaijus, and there are now even bigger, meaner ones coming through. Better yet, the sea-bottom breach must be destroyed.
The machine versus monsters battles get more spectacular, and there’s even a pretty nifty human fistfight. Things become a little numbing, but it’s absolutely the movie every 8-year-old boy (there are a lot of us out here, no matter what our age) has been wanting to see, and definitely the film Guillermo del Toro has long wanted to make.