Sometimes I'm reminded of the Saturday afternoon matinees I would go see with my Dad when I was a kid. Most of them consisted of science fiction movies, which is one of the major things we bonded over. Every once in a while now I'll see a movie and think “This is a movie I wish I could have seen with my Dad.” Not only to recreate that experience of a childhood memory,but because when you see a movie you love with someone that you're close with, it almost increases your appreciation of the film. Even if it's a movie you don't particularly like, it becomes about the experience of witnessing it together. I know for a fact I wouldn't love RoboCop, Terminator, Star Wars, or Predator as much as I do if it weren't for seeing them with my Dad. Pacific Rim is the best example of a “Dad movie” that I've seen in some time, and that's not a diss, it's a major compliment.
In his first directing gig since 2008's Hellboy II, Guillermo del Toro has crafted what is an almost perfect summer movie experience. Along with co-writer Travis Beacham, Del Toro has created one of the most interesting and unique worlds that I've seen in a film in years. Set in a distant future where giant monsters are an almost every day problem, Del Toro has taken the ideas of kaiju movies from the '50s and '60s and modernized them like no other filmmaker has done. How would the world react to this problem? Pacific Rim chooses not to go for a “real world approach,” which is par for the course in modern films, but instead embraces the fiction and creates the most satisfying sci-fi film of the year.
The world building of Pacific Rim is handled with near perfect precision, showing the circumstances of why we need giant robots, called Jaegers, and how these things operate. Though viewers get to see a substantial amount of information throughout the film, at the end it feels like we've only been allowed a brief peek into the world that Del Toro and Beacham have created. There are so many avenues to explore and elaborate on, but unlike some films, Pacific Rim knows exactly what story it is trying to tell and doesn't waste time with pointless scequences.
Each summer sees its film slate getting bigger and trying to top what was done before it. More things need to blow up, entire cities needed to be toppled, or the planet has to blow up. Pacific Rim likely has the biggest scope of any of these films because it is very much a global event. This isn't America or Japan's fight, it's humanity's, and that makes it an even more special film to witness. Its themes of inclusion and teamwork hammer home its overall message, something that so many other special effects-filled films throw by the way side. Even though the movie is entirely global, it never once loses its focus on the story at hand. Given that this is such an elaborate world, it is a real testament to the filmmakers' abilities to make the story feel as personal and intimate as it does.
While the special effects in the film are flawless, it is the characters of Pacific Rim that hook you into the wild roller coaster that it becomes. Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam leads a cast that is one of the most unique and memorable assemblages of characters. Hunnam's “every man” demeanor and character motivations make him instantly likable and easy to root for. Idris Elba also stars in the film as Stacker Pentecost and carries much of the film's dramatic weight as well as some of the best laughs. International star Rinko Kikuchi really surprised me as Mako Mori by delivering a performance that was full of passion and intensity that is not seen nearly enough in female characters in these huge tentpole movies.
What is really remarkable about the cast is that, though it's so huge, you get plenty of time with all the characters and still want more because they're all so lovable. From Charlie Day's “Kaiju Groupie” Dr. Newton, who has some of the best lines in the movies, to Burn Gorman's Gottlieb, whose over-the-top performance might be one of the best in the film, there's someone for every kind of person to latch onto and want more to see more of. But the most memorable of them all, and who could carry his own spin-off movie, is Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau. There was almost a more audible reaction from the audience upon his reveal than some of the Jaeger/Kaiju fights. Perlman's character deals in black market Kaiju organs and is one of the most unique supporting roles in any summer movie.
The thing most people will remember about Pacific Rim however is its special effects, which are awe inspiring. While Del Toro is most well known for relying on practical effects, of which there is a surprising amount, this movie has some of the most impressive CGI that I've ever seen. If you don't at least crack a smile when a Jaeger punches the hell out of a Kaiju's face, then I suspect you might be an alien. Giant Robots and monsters have never looked so good and coupled with Del Toro's impeccable camera work and steady editing, it only makes other giant robot movies look worse in comparison. Beyond the jaw-dropping visuals of the fights. the designs for Pacific Rim's Jaegers and Kaiju are some of the coolest in ages. Seeing these titans duke it out on such a grandiose scale is exactly the movie we all imagined when playing with our toys as kids and to witness it on the big screen is a total dream come true.
Pacific Rim is all that is good and right about summer blockbusters. It has everything. Action, adventure, romance, humor, mesmerizing special effects and one of the most memorable scores this year. It is the definition of an audience experience. In a world full of overly dark movies steeped in the Post-9/11 mentality, it's such a breath of fresh air to experience a movie whose prime motivation is fun and not a reminder of what is on the news. It's not too much to ask that more movies try and be about entertaining their audience instead of depressing us, because Pacific Rim knows how to treat you right. Go see it with your Dad.
Rating: 9.5 / 10