It is 2010, Guillermo del Toro hears about a project called Pacific Rim and a little over a year later was signed on to direct it. Before hearing about what Pacific Rim was, I was stoked; after hearing it was “giant mechs fight–…” I WAS SOLD!
Del Toro is one of my favorite directors of the last decade, and as an obsessed Japanese anime and culture fan, hearing him devote his love and attention to the project about giant mechs fighting to save the planet made me so happy. Fast forward to summer 2013 with Pacific Rim in theaters and for anyone who grew up watching Toonami, anime, Power Rangers, etc., it’s a must-see film of the summer. For others, it’ll be a fun summer movie that will likely fall short for obvious but disappointing reasons.
This is not Transformers, at least not Michael Bay’s Transformers. This is del Toro pouring his heart, soul, and love into a project and subject matter he cares about. I won’t say Bay didn’t or doesn’t care about the Transformers name but, seeing what he’s done with that franchise, it’s not hard to imagine where his mind was: ($$$). Pacific Rim is about chaos, redemption, overcoming loss, and trust. These four ideas are more than prominent in nearly everything nowadays, so it’s a pretty clichéd film in that light. But where Pacific Rim excels is taking the tropes and clichés and embracing them on a level that, while you may roll your eyes, you’ll be smiling and cheering the entire time.
This is a live-action Evangelion, G Gundam, Big O; whatever anime you want to see live-action, this is it. Well, at least the closest you’ll get for now. Again, it’s by no means a perfect film. The acting falls flat 70% of the time, the characters a predictable, one-dimensional, and laughable to the point of disinterest. But the focus is on the overarching battle of the Jaegers and the Kaiju. The cast plays second fiddle to the CG robos rocket-punching baddies…then getting their rocket arms eaten and demolished. It’s dreary and borderline End of Evangelion levels of tragedy for a majority of the film. Humans are on the brink of extinction and a nuclear strike is their last hope. (There’s so much irony there for so many reasons; please don’t ask me to elaborate).
I had only seen the initial teaser and first trailer for Pacific Rim, so upon its release, I had no clues or expectations to the final product. Going in blind isn’t recommended for everyone, at least not those unaware of the jumping off point or origin of the basic idea, trust me. For my personal experience I went with two others – my friend and his girlfriend – and the experience spectrum were rather different. Whereas I’m the most experienced, my friend was about the median, with a slight edge towards my side, and his girlfriend was on the farthest end.
She was completely new to the general idea of what Pacific Rim was approaching, despite seeing and enjoying the Transformers films. So we had to ready her just a bit before the opening credits. This is important for some: watch, read, and learn as much about Kaiju films, mecha series, and the genre, otherwise your experience will be severely hindered. You’ll no doubt still enjoy it on a level as a popcorn flick, but the real fun is seeing the subtle homages and not-so-subtle references to valued properties. You’ll be tracing every scene, every cel, and every bit to say “Hey, was that a reference to [insert property here]?”
This is a movie for fans, by fans. Unfortunately, like other movies in the same vein, it’s going to be a bit of a disaster in theaters. Already I’m seeing news that Grown Ups 2, the sequel to the “SNL Reunion” flick, is doing miles better, and it’s a bummer. But at the same time, it’s to be expected; this movie is for us, not them, not the audience that watches Big Bang Theory; this is for the audience that watches late night kaiju movies of old. Godzilla fans, Power Ranger aficionados, and Toonami faithful see this film!
Don’t get me wrong, Pacific Rim is immediately more accessible than, say… 2011′s Scott Pilgrim, but we (nerds/anime fans) will appreciate it on a much larger scale. If you wish to take your uninitiated friends to join you, prepare them. Prepare them for the squeal of joy, laughter, and utter enjoyment pouring from your body as you watch a mech lift a kaiju in battle and blast it with plasma cannons. Let them feel the same embrace as an eerily similar NERV center is replicated onscreen. They will enjoy the action, but they won’t get it on the same level you might.
Perhaps, though, it could encourage them to check more into anime and kaiju movies. It may push them to look into other mediums and genres they’re not used to. Pacific Rim has that ability, and if used properly, can help others discover a forgotten genre and something new. This is a movie that can build bridges, now let’s just hope the uninformed cross the bridge into a new world!