Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
“Pacific Rim” is director Guillermo del Toro’s take on the Japanese genre of Kaiju and mecha films, with he says a dash of inspiration from Francisco de Goya’s painting “The Colossus.”
“Kaiju” means “strange creature” in Japanese and is used to describe big monsters who destroy Tokyo regular as clockwork. The original kaiju is of course, Godzilla.
“Mecha” describes a gigantic humanoid armored fighting vehicle. Not exactly a robot, it’s controlled by human pilots in the head. Mechas came into Western entertainment media via the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
“The Colossus,” (“El Coloso”) also known as “El gigante” (“The Giant”), “El pánico” (“The Panic”) and “La tormenta” (“The Storm”) portrays a giant striding through a landscape with terrified people and animals fleeing in all directions.
So out of a combination of trashy Japanese pop culture and inspiration from a painter called “the soul of Spain” you get…?
Something not as terrible as it sounds actually.
Del Toro is known for fantasy and horror films. As a film maker he leads kind of a double life. His English-language films are often adapted from comic books, such as “Blade II” and “Hellboy.” His Spanish films “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” are critically acclaimed works about life in Spain under the dictatorship of Franco.
But del Toro sees them as part of the same movie, the one movie a director makes all his life.
“Hellboy is as personal to me as Pan’s Labyrinth,” del Toro told Twitch Film, the website devoted to independent and cult films, in January, 2013.
“Pacific Rim” is set in the near future after Earth is invaded by monsters who come through a dimensional rift in the ocean floor and rise up from the sea to attack coastal cities.
The kaiju can be killed by lots of tanks and planes but with great losses. So the nations of the Earth unite to form the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, and build giant mechas called “jaegers,” German for “hunter.”
Jaegers are controlled by two pilots whose nervous systems are linked in something called the “drift,” which meshes their minds and memories.
Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is a beached jaeger pilot, traumatized by the death of his brother and co-pilot while linked in the drift.
Becket is brought back into service by his old commander Stacker Pentecost (Idries Elba) because the short-sighted powers that be are winding down the jaeger program in favor of big coastal walls.
But nerd scientist Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) has used drift technology to link with kaiju brains and discovered their plans for Earth. Plans which don’t include us. The remaining jaegers have to push back before the Earth becomes the kaiju buffet table.
Of course, Becket needs a new partner and it so happens Pentecost has a lovely adopted daughter he rescued from the ruins of Tokyo, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who has performed way off the charts in jaeger simulators and is itching for revenge.
Mori obviously wants to team with Becket, but pairing pilots in the drift is psychologically exacting, and they’re both damaged people.
What follows is a courtship that starts with a match fought with quarterstaffs, after which Raleigh will have no other for a partner. Pentecost says no way.
What follows is cliche. They try it as a team, blow it and are taken offline. Then circumstances make it necessary for Pentecost to put them back into action. You’ve seen this a bunch of times before.
But Del Toro puts an interesting spin on it. It’s a love story with a difference.
Jaeger pilots are all tightly knit teams. There’s an Australian father-and-son pair, a Russian couple, and a set of Chinese triplets. Becket and Mori have to open up to each other on the fly and forge a relationship closer than has ever been possible before drift technology.
Del Toro shows close intimacy developing between the couple by skillful indirection, culminating in a brief forehead touch at the end – which conveys more raw emotion than a porno.
There are some interesting supporting characters with their own story arcs, such as a black market dealer in kaiju parts Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman).
Unfortunately there’s not a lot of time amid all the action to develop what could have been some interesting character development.
There was evidently a lot taken out of the final cut to make the movie manageably long.
But word is that co-writer Travis Beacham and Del Toro are writing a sequel so maybe we’ll be seeing more of the characters.