Pacific Rim (2013)
(Note-some spoilers ahead, but if you’re watching Pacific Rim for the plot, I can save you the trouble and tell you that obviously the humans win in the end- Alok)
The best boxer in the world would probably last 10 seconds as a coherent mass of flesh in the ring with a silverback gorilla. The fastest swimmer in the world would be shredded meat in a race with a shark. And Usain Bolt at his fastest cannot outrun any of the big cats on open ground. As prolific and widespread as we think we are the total weight of ants on the Earth is greater than the total weight of humans on the Earth. Cockroaches will probably outlive whatever calamity befalls our race, from our own hands or through a twist of fate.
At some level, we know how puny and very destructible we are at an individual level. So when 200 foot monsters come roaring out of the deeps to eradicate every last one of us, the fairly neutral observer (if there is one) will most likely put money (if he or she is of the betting type) on the kaiju.
Pacific Rim is at one level purely a 10 year old boy’s fantasy given 150 million dollars to work with and turned into a summer blockbuster. It works because nothing appeals more to the average 10 year old boy than wanton death and destruction, and giant robots. It works because at 10, before we become adults and after we have something resembling a functioning brain, we become very aware of how small, puny and utterly helpless we really are. As adults we forget about it as the cares of the world overtake us or deny it as the imperatives of masculinity require. As infants it doesn’t really register.
So we make up our stories (perhaps the most uniquely human aspect of ourselves) where we are gigantic and all powerful, battling mosters just as gigantic and powerful as we are on equal terms (the pre-teen age is perhaps the last stage of our lives where our fears and terrors are more tangible than intangible). Guillermo Del Toro, bless his soul, has stayed true to his inner 10 year old self, and possibly helped some of us remember or rediscover.
Disaster movies of the scale and size of Pacific Rim perform two functions – classic catharsis where heroes and heroines much like ourselves face numerous challenges imposed upon them by cruel fate or global warming; and giving us the feeling that even in the face of total destruction, we’re not utterly helpless, that we can and sometime do find a way to survive. Whether it’s planting a nuke on an asteroid/comet in space or building giant “arks” in the Himalayas, or as in the case of Pacific Rim, building monstrous, nuclear powered Jaegers with 40 foot flexi-blades operated by mind-melded pilots (still more plausible than the “virus” Jeff Goldblum created in “Independence Day”). These make us believe, as we want to, that we can “cancel the Apocalypse” as Idris Elba’s pre-battle St.-Crispin’s-Day-type speech would have you believe.
In contrast to the superhero genre so pervasive these days, the hopes of humanity in “Pacific Rim” doesn’t rest on the shoulders of one or even a select few gifted individuals. The Jaeger programme involves much research, development and incremental improvement like a real world weapons systems and is not overly dependent on one person’s genius or superhuman ability. Jaegers and theirs pilots to some extent, affirm the other great human trait that is often ignored – the ability to communicate and cooperate.
Pacific Rim also works as a solid science fiction film in the good old fashioned Golden Age science fiction sense. Real science fiction is not just robots, lasers and spaceships but a story where the protagonists attempt to solve a problem applying scientific methods and scientific principles in a given situation. It can be worked into many genres – the adventure story, the detective story, and even, why not, romance. The problem, of how to stop the kaiju attacks, is cracked by scientists working on the problem through the course of movie and the internal physics of the movie seem to make sense and not utterly implausible. The heroes are not infallible super-men or -women but flawed and almost broken individuals doing what they can in difficult times.
Don’t look for much emotional depth though. It is hard to fit in drama in the middle of city smashing destruction on all fronts. And that’s not Del Toro’s intention anyway. Idris Elba is as close as we’ll get to a solid actor who, despite the fact that the script almost practically calls out for it, doesn’t ham and rage but gives the restrained performance of a man with the troubles of the world on his shoulder and much worse. Far more than even Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, the ostensible “leads” Elba is really the central character of the movie, the stable point around which the action and mayhem seems to proceed. The movie really rests on its epic Jaeger-kaiju battles and the few moments of backstory or emotional backdrop feel very much like filler.
A few words about the kaiju. No Ron Perlman is not one of them though is cameo is as delightful and enjoyable as anything Ron Perlman does these days. The kaiju are of course a tribute to Japanese anime but somehow possess a Lovecraftian feeling of being deep and abiding horrors that we cannot as humans, relate to in any human way. Whereas King Kong could appreciate beauty, and Godzilla was a creation of mankind’s, kaiju come out of a deep interdimensional portal with only the object of eradicating humanity as so much vermin to be cleared out of planet Earth. The CGI, I thought, captured that sense of unimaginable strangeness and alienness of the monsters. We cannot see them in any way but monsters.
If you want to give the inner 10 year old a chance to have a day out, Pacific Rim is the movie. In a season of rather dull and predictable summer blockbusters filled with sequels upon sequels or big name duds, Pacific Rim is a welcome change.