In a summer when all the major blockbusters either fully disappointed or could only be enjoyed with reservations and equivocations, Pacific Rim arrived in the nick of time to save the day. Much like its high-powered heroes, it is a well-oiled, high-tech machine designed to pummel the bloated monsters that would otherwise be its competitors for champion of the season. There are several men of steel in this movie, and, crazily enough, some of those iron men aren't even white, and hell, a couple of them are even women.
Guillermo del Toro, director of such disparate modern effects classics as Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, turns his visionary gaze towards Japanese anime and monster movies to make the ultimate fanboy mash-up. Pacific Rim is essentially Mobile Suit Gundam versus all of Godzilla's Monster Island. Or to put it in layman's terms, soldiers in massive robot suits fighting huge scary monsters.
The movie is set in 2020, nearly a decade after the first kaiju (alien monster) appeared and destroyed San Francisco. (No, it's not punishment for their sins and the beast wasn't named "Pat Robertson," but you're funny.) As more kaiju rose from the depths of the ocean, the world banded together to find a way to stop the onslaught. The answer they came up with was gigantic body armor that would have the size and firepower to take on the other-dimensional attackers. The sheer mega tonnage of each suit, code-named Jaegers, required two pilots to operate. (No, they aren't called "Jaegermeisters." That's not as funny. Everyone has made that joke.) The pilots work in tandem, using a psychic link to operate as one mind. Every country gets its own Jaeger. One threat, one world--everyone is represented. (United Colors of Evangelion! No? Really? Anyone?)
That's the basic premise of Pacific Rim. And may the cinema bless Guillermo del Toro and writer Travis Beacham for shoving all of that info in the first five minutes. Finally, someone else who has seen The Incredibles and realized we don't need the origin story! Rather, we are dropped in to the ragged tail end of the war against the kaiju. Man's resources are nearly exhausted, and the alien assault is only escalating. A bold and daring plan is needed to, as the trailers so consistently declare, cancel the apocalypse.
And what more do you need to know, really? What more do you really want getting between you and big robots beating the bright blue blood out of even bigger monsters? The rest is just superfluous detail (and nothing you haven't seen in any James Cameron movie with a rag-tag team of idealists and degenerates, be it Aliens or The Abyss or Avatar). You have the stoic leader who keeps everyone together even when the odds aren't in humanity's favor, you have not just a hero but also a heroine with a haunted past, and there is also a cocky hot shot who needs to learn some humility. This is the stuff action movies are made of! Hell, there's even some comic relief from two egghead scientists with conflicting theories about where this crisis will eventually lead. (Charlie Day steals the movie with his wildcard performance, just as he did in Monsters University, making him the Supporting King of 2013.)
Those factors comprise the human element that give Pacific Rim purpose, and which, at times, is also guaranteed to make the toughest among us all misty eyed, no matter how schmaltzy the emoting may be. (Daddy issues? Dead brothers? This really is just like anime!) Of course, the concerns of the flesh are secondary to the digital effects and explosions and what not. Which there are plenty of in Pacific Rim. del Toro and company are deep in the uncanny valley here. Pacific Rim may well be the uncanny Marianas Trench. The production team has created an impressive and wholly immersive future world where mech and monster alike mingle amongst mankind with nary a seam showing. The design is so good, in fact, Pacific Rim is one of the few films I would recommend seeing in 3D. It joins Avatar and Hugo as the rare fiction film shown in 3D that takes full advantage of the tool. That it does so without resorting to darkness, frenetic editing, or any of the other failings that make the majority of 3D films muddy and unwatchable just goes to show how pointless the up-conversion of most movies shot in two dimensions really is.
So, yeah. Pacific Rim. Get in line early, and get in line often. Summer is here at last. They're trucking in extra loads of popcorn. The world's going to need it!
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.