Due to the subject matter of the movie they’re about to review, Max Robinson and Mike Pfeiffer thought it would be appropriate to tag-team it like the Jaeger pilots of Pacific Rim. Some spoilers ahead.
Mike: Initiating “neural handshake”…
Max: Activating official Sharkatraz Jaeger WHISKEY DUMPLING:
Max: uh R-Rodeo.
Mike: We’ve fucked this up in record time, yeah. This went south faster than a Pfeiffer Family Solstice party.
Max: *Wipes special psychic child nosebleed blood from horrible face* Well, anyway:
PACIFIC RIM is unlike anything you’ve ever seen at the movies before. And beyond the incredible visuals, it’s a movie with a surprising amount of heft, depth and heart.
Mike: Basically Blockbuster summer movies can be labors of love, too and Guillermo Del Toro’s distinctive style and hands-on approach to filmmaking leave their imprint across Pacific Rim and elevate it to be more than the sum of its parts.
Max: So, wow, this movie is HUGE. Just unbelievably gigantic. Overwhelming.
Mike: I don’t know if movies are actually trending back up towards showing large-scale city destruction after abandoning it for about a decade for obvious reasons, but I think this is the only movie I’ve seen that takes the time to address the worldwide effects of even one city being destroyed in a sci-fi event- And then extrapolates that out into an incredibly layered world with a sense of urgency and desperation that colors even the moments of triumph. When you watch the Jaegers (giant robots) fight the Kaiju (extradimensional Godzillas) at first the action seems like it’s going in slow motion, but the careful shots always keep objects of regular size and speed in-frame so that you begin to understand that these things are moving VERY fast, they are just absolutely GIGANTIC. As compared to the Transformers school of pornographic giant robot fighting. The result is a staggering impression of scale that many large-scale disaster movies (ironically) lack as they use destruction of recognizable structures as wallpaper.
Max: One of the things that the movie does to make this work is the camera keeping the camera moving. It never sits in a fixed position for very long. It doesn’t jump around, certainly, but you get an amazing sense of scale just from the way it shifts from looking directly over a monster’s shoulder to, say, a little girl looking up at street level then back to these things whaling on each other. There’s a sequence where a Jaeger fist goes through a building in a slow-motion and just lightly taps a desk. While, yeah, that’s a good gag, it’s also a really ingenious way to demonstrate how goddamn huge these things are.
Mike: One thing that stood out to me was how Jam-Packed every shot was. Del Toro’s emotional investment in this story and in the world he’s created mean that every shot is crammed with information. This ends up being something of a double-edged sword, as occasionally there’s almost too much visual noise and things get a little hairy. I think this extreme level of mise-en-scene comes from the animé and manga traditions that inspire and inform Pacific Rim’s style. There’s a certain loving and obsessive attention to detail in illustrations of objects that the author finds important. Here I’m specifically thinking of Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats, where the level of detail with which he reproduces cars and guns makes them characters in their own right and infects the reader with his enthusiasm.
Max: Absolutely. By having the human pilots mentally linked to the machines they’re piloting, the effect is that the Jaegers move the way human beings would at that size. There’s this amazing little moment where Crimson Typhoon gets knocked on its ass and it does this little prizefighter headshake as it recovers. Even beyond the fight sequences – little things like the slightly exaggerated body language Idris Elba’s gruff robot sempai Stacker Pentecost uses in a given scene. It nails the anime feel without going to Frank Miller’s The Spirit levels of excess.
Mike: There’s just so much visual character development that a lot of people wouldn’t bother with. Charlie Day’s kaiju scientist Newt has this rockabilly style that’s a weird risk to take (I can hear a studio exec saying “Why doesn’t he have a labcoat? Audiences will get confused!”) but the disparity in styles make the science scenes between him and his introverted counterpart, Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, crackle that much more.
Max: Oh and I just want to throw out there that a reason, a big reason, that these fight sequences work so well is that Del Toro (and scriptwriter Travis Beachem) establish that these are straight up fights to the death and the good guys frequently lose. Not to lean on Transformers comparisons too much but it’s a far cry from Optimus Prime executing Megatron and Robo-Spock on their knees with a plasma shotgun or whatever. When Jaegers win a fight in this movie it’s by the skin of their teeth.
Mike: The moment I saw a kaiju pancreas preserved in a glowing jar in the background, I knew it was a Del Toro. Almost all of Del Toro’s films share themes that are large but expressed on a small scale due to budgetary necessity, but Pacific Rim is just so huge that he gets to explore them in new ways. I was immensely satisfied to see that he didn’t give up any of his trademark bits of wonder.
Max: Anyone who says this movie doesn’t feel like a Del Toro movie is crazy because a gooey baby monster tearing itself out of a lifeless Kaiju corpse and then strangling on its own umbilical cord is the most Guillermo Del Toro “Thing” I Can Think Of.
Mike: My personal favorite Del Toroism is probably the “Secret World under our own” aspect that shows up in EVERY movie that he has written or directed. The fairy world of Pan’s Labyrinth, the sewers and catacombs of Mimic, the well under the orphanage in The Devil’s Backbone. Here it’s an actual dimension under our own that tears its way up to spew out titanic atrocities, so there’s less room for whimsy than we usually find, but the director’s fascination with the motivations of creatures best left unseen is the driving force for the terror and wonder of the Kaiju.
Max: The other big trademark that’s on display here is Del Toro’s “broken children”. Jaeger pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)’s backstory/motivation revolves around the trauma she suffered as a little girl amidst the total destruction of Tokyo and the payoff of her subsequent quest for R-E-V-E-N-G-E evokes Ripley’s triumph over her nightmares in Aliens.
Mike: If there is a main theme to this movie though it is overwhelmingly about the power of duos. It’s expressed most literally by the way that the Jaegers require two pilots in a brain-sharing link called a “Drift,” but the fortunes of every character rise and fall on individuals’ ability to place trust in another person and give up feelings of pride or fear.
Max: The end result of this is that Pacific Rim pulls off some really incredible character dynamics! Mako and Raleigh are a standard “naturally gifted rookie/washed out vet” combo but the movie avoids having them at a each other’s throats. Instead, their success as a team only comes once they’re able to put personal neuroses aside and prop each other up (Raleigh talks her through a particularly inspired shared flashback sequence, Mako uses ingenuity to finally destroy the first monster they face together). This ability to trust in someone else is even shown through non-combatants like the comic relief Kaiju scientists Newt (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). They bicker like children throughout most of the film, it’s when Gottlieb finally allows himself to trust Newt’s radical approach to a problem that they’re both able to stop the Jaegers from walking into a trap.
Mike: The penalties of being a “Free Radical” don’t go unaddressed, either. Ron Perlman’s kitschy Hannibal Chau character has minions but no equals, no business partner to help him resell all the kaiju body parts that he and his cronies collect from the massive corpses. And when he is beaten, it’s a direct product of his selfish hubris. Stacker Pentacost is forced to reconsider his stance that he is and will always be “The Last Man Standing” and finally returns to piloting a Jaeger, he sacrifices his authority and places trust in another person to ultimately find victory. It’s a really humanist idea and I like it a lot.
Max: I think it’s a really inspired concept for this kind of movie. Consider what happens when characters reject or lose this “other”. When Raleigh’s brother/co-pilot Yancy is killed during a Kaiju attack, he’s left a shell of a man who hides from the world. When Chau kicks Newt out into a public shelter to die during a siege on Hong Kong, it’s Chau who actually ends up worse for it. The only time this is sidestepped in the film is when certain duo-halves like Pentecost willingly make conscientious sacrifices for the benefit of their other half.
Mike: If you want to see something the like of which you’ll never see again (A movie with a heart the same size as its explosions) then get a ticket to go see Pacific Rim. Definitely see it with a buddy so you guys can cheer and high five; strangers hate being forced into high fives. This movie has conviction and a humanist heart that dodges jingoism and cheap pathos thanks to an auteur at the helm and a crackerjack cast.
Max: Pacific Rim is a movie about robots beating monsters in the face with boats that realizes that, unless you care about these characters and their world, that means nothing. Best movie of the summer and one that I expect will be on our minds for a long, long time to come. The end.
Mike: That said, I think there’s a little song from 1988 that can sum up what makes Pacific Rim so great.