Pacific Rim – the dream of the 80’s is alive in theatres now!
There’s a certain group in our culture who grew up through the 70’s and 80’s and had an understanding of the beauty present in giant mechas and robots. It sounds weird, but it’s true. How else can you explain the nostalgia for Transformers that has repeatedly managed to revive the franchise? Even knowing that the main purpose of the series is to sell toys, we knew that there was more there. Fans of Transformers have yet to see a big screen payoff (although the 80’s film has its moments), but IDW’s comics are an unexpected treasure. Godzilla fans get something great every now and then, although it seems Toho is hanging its hat for a while. (The upcoming American film is concerning but promising.) What we haven’t really gotten is the clash that our toys used to have. Anime only sates the appetite so much before the fans say, “I want to see real people in mecha punching monsters dead!” Yeah, our over excitement taxes our grammar a bit…
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim does more than satisfy our taste for giant destruction. It whets our appetite and makes us long for so much more. And it’s not because the movie is missing anything. It’s that the movie does so much and makes us believe that maybe we might someday get to see more like it.
I’m not going to lie to you. This is not a perfect film by any means. The acting is hammy and the plot treads through a few too many tropes. One could say that much of it was intentional, since that’s what the target audience is used to seeing. One could say it doesn’t matter because the film functions as a time machine that took so many of us back to our youths. As I sat in the theatre, the chair beneath me started growing larger and I worried that I might be caught for sneaking into the film without adult supervision. At the same time, I was so giddy.
The younger me was ecstatic from the opening battle onward. The fight between the first kaiju (literally “strange creature” but often used for giant robots) and Gypsy Danger was appropriately easy but resulted in tragedy so that the hero of the story, Raleigh Becket, could have reason to walk away from his calling. This was the first check mark on the list of tropes necessary for such a film. This established the hero as someone who is extremely capable, as he took down the kaiju by himself despite the mecha’s normally requiring two pilots lest someone get overloaded and die, but also as someone who has his own demons to overcome.
Fast forward to years later, after the kaiju invasion has become more difficult to handle, and the hero needs to be called back to action. We get an understanding of his commanding officer, Stacker Pentecost, who has a difficult back story of his own. See, he used to be a pilot himself, but now he has health problems. I put down a check mark for “noble sacrifice” because it was telegraphed so early on. And that’s only a spoiler if you can’t read films.
We also get to meet the heroine of the tale, Mako Mori – yet another person whose history is dark. Yet another person who needs to slay her internal demons before she can fight the kaiju. Of course she is told that she cannot be the new co-pilot for Gypsy Danger. As I mentioned before, the mecha need two pilots to control them. This is due to their being partially controlled by the pilots’ minds. Controlling such a large body is fairly taxing, so separating the control into the two hemispheres and two sides of the body decrease the mental load. For this to function successfully, the pilots have to be in tune with one another. Most of the pairings in the film consist of family members – brothers, a father and son pair and even a married couple.
There’s one scene in the film where Raleigh is pitted individually against a number of guys who are trying out to be copilot, but none stack. Eventually Mako is allowed to spar with him, and they start matching each other move for move. At that point, this child me sitting in the big theatre, something clicked. My eyes teared up as I realized that this was similar to the pilot synchronization that Shinji and Asuka needed in episode 9 of Evangelion! Everything I love was being represented.
I could let my younger self continue, but one can predict where the story would go and had to go. With beautifully detailed visuals, wonderful sound design and a clearly enthusiastic cast, it simply did not matter. I am truly convinced that this film is capable of transporting us back into the dreams of monsters and heroism that we used to have. The film had me grinning from ear to ear.
But not everyone used to have these dreams. The box office shows that people are much more interested in either watching dulled character who was delightful for having been edgy and interesting the first time we met him (Despicable Me 2) or a retread of lowest common denominator comedy (Grown Ups 2). As of this posting, the worldwide gross for the film was approximately half of the film’s overall cost of $190 million, but the domestic gross was only over $37 million. This doesn’t necessarily bode well for future films featuring giant mechas and robots, but time will tell. Until then, I guess I will be championing another failing property.
Go out and see Pacific Rim! Keep the spirit of your childhood alive!