Watching Guillermo del Toro talk about films is a treat. Having seen him in various interviews, del Toro converses about film with a child’s glee; always overcome with excitement by the possibilities of filmmaking. One of my favorite videos of del Toro revolves around his invitation into the Criterion offices. While there, the Criterion folks grant del Toro selective power over their extensive library. Upon entering a small closet that houses their collection, del Toro’s eyes light up. As his eyes ferociously scan over Criterion’s collection, you can see him rediscovering his love for film with each vaunted title his hands touch. Undeniably, the unbridled enthusiasm del Toro possesses for filmmaking worms its way into his latest effort Pacific Rim, a destructive monster film that embodies the zaniness of yesteryear’s Godzilla adventures. Featuring hideously detailed monsters battling massive man operated robots, Pacific Rim aims to quench our thirst for spectacle, and delivers in a wholly satisfactory way without taking itself too seriously. This notion is quickly established within the film’s opening minutes, where exposition is quickly brushed aside as if it was a vegetable on a young child’s dinner plate. In mere minutes, Del Toro introduces us to Kaijus, gigantic alien life forms emanating from a crack in the Pacific Ocean. Clearly, a Kaiju’s’ lone hobby is harassing Earth and its inhabitants.
Bonding over shared destruction, the world’s leaders create beasts of their own called Jaegers. Comprised of ghastly metal, and operated by two pilots who share a mental bond through “drifting”, a technique that forges memories between two people, Jaegers are the world’s last line of defense against Kaijus. Years after Kaijus whittle Earth down to rust and bone, a final attack by the intergalactic terrorists is on the verge of happening. Anticipating a death-blow is Marshal Pentecost (Idris Elba), the operator of a dying Jaeger program. Feeling frisky and insubordinate, Pentecost formulates one last plan to protect Earth from its invaders. The crux of his plan hinges on the recruitment of former Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), an unpredictable, sullen man riddled with baggage. Becket’s inevitable co-pilot is Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a rookie who, much like Becket, has a grim past that fuels her desire for Kaiju extinction. Together they fight Kaijus in Hong Kong, while the neurotic Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) hypothesize ways to end the Kaijus’ existence. Once we’ve established our characters and the world at large, del Toro unleashes a bevy of throttling action sequences.
Where directors like Michael Bay struggle to direct action with clarity, del Toro, even in battle stages drenched in rain and darkness, delivers crystal clear rhythmic punches and bombastic destruction. Meticulously etched into every battle sequences is del Toro’s knack for detail, both in the creation of his monsters and the world they’re set to destroy. Each Kaiju leaps off the screen with their own distinct personality and marking, fully demonstrating del Toro’s boundless imagination. Even more impressive is the sandbox del Toro immerses us in, especially his version of a Hong Kong that uses Kaiju bones as a form of architecture. Much like his previous films, most notably Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro’s world swallows us whole. There is one sequence in particular that’s absolutely staggering in its execution. The scene finds us running side by side with a young Mako Mori, as she frantically tries to outrun a hell-bent Kaiju in a deserted Japanese city. It’s a breathless moment that leaves us both frightened and enchanted by its existence. Honestly, del Toro crafts a world so vivid and brimming with life, we wish we could live there; if only it wasn’t so damn dark and decimated by monsters. Giving the monster ridden world levity is a subtle romance brewing between Becket and Mori. Even though Hunnam makes for a lackluster lead, del Toro’s emotional grace and Kikuchi’s seismic performance provide the budding romance with authenticity and warmth. I also personally appreciated how understated it ends up being.
Giving the film its goofy zeal is the presence of Charlie Day, whose shrill voice and caffeinated personality delivers a handful of laughs to counteract the film’s action oriented approach. Even more to the point, it’s absolutely enjoyable to watch Day play off del Toro regular Ron Perlman, whose character runs a black market for Kaiju organs. For as fun as Pacific Rim is, it has a handful of fallacies that keep it from being perfect. One of the bigger complaints I could levy against the film is its inordinate amount of cheese, which del Toro sidesteps as much as he can, but there’s a great deal left for us to devour. And the dialog, when it’s not cheesy, often has the vibe of a terribly written monologue. Mind you, these disappointing elements are often found in B grade monster films, the like of which Pacific Rim pays homage to, but they’re not delivered with a wink any more than they’re delivered with earnest conviction. With that being said, I’m cutting Pacific Rim a great deal of slack. What it lacks in depth, coherency and character, it makes up for with spectacular special effects, a richly drawn world, and a level of enthusiasm rarely found in summer blockbusters. For me, Pacific Rim is the perfect summer blockbuster, as it delivers two hours of unparalleled joy and passion from one of film’s most imaginative directors.