Director Guillermo Del Toro is an expert in the pastoral pastoral, telling fairytales that are set far beyond the reaches of urbanization. Ghosts and mythical beings hold sway over human action. Violence is utilized as a poetic tool. A Del Toro story is one that demands to be remembered and retold. It is interesting then that Del Toro decided to take on the project of Pacific Rim (2013), a movie centered on industry. In the film, an ancient beast called the Kaiju open a portal in the Pacific Rim and stark wreaking havoc on Earth’s coastal cities. The movie follows the character of Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), a Ranger and one of the pilots of Jaegers, the massive robot monstrosities that are the defenders against the Kaiju invasion. The film has its signature Del Toro moments and the fights are sure to satisfy the twelve-year-old boy inside of us. However, it becomes evident that two types of films are being thrown together in one: a standard sci-fi apocalypse film and a fragmented urban fantasy film. The uneven combination creates inconsistencies that weaken the film overall.
The battle between the manmade Jaegers and the otherworldly Kaiju is a fascinating concept in the context of Del Toro’s filmmaking. Instead of using the natural world to keep industrial progress in check, the Kaiju are the villains, the Jaegers being the defenders of modern civilization. In terms of film genre, it is the battle between fantasy, Del Toro’s common ground, and science fiction. Even while engaged in the battle, facets of Del Toro’s storytelling shine through. This is established in the film’s introduction, where a voiceover of Raleigh—voiceovers being part of Del Toro’s directorial style—explains the evolution of the Jaegers: “to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own.” Despite the industrious beginnings, Jaegers are given the same mystical element like the Kaiju. Raleigh also explains the commodification of the Jaegers through enlistment posters, talk shows, and action figures. As a result, the Jaegers become legends, memorialized in commercial jingles than oral tradition. The world that Del Toro creates, with its soft neon colors, provide a nice contrast to the gritty world of the Jaeger industry. What is most compelling are the fights between the Jaeger and the Kaiju. There are enough shattered buildings and demolished streets to quench our thirst for robot violence, but Del Toro makes it clear that it is much more than senseless destruction. The fights become akin to dancing, graceful and beautiful, not truly violent. Having that Del Toro signature imprinted on these fights make them wonderful to watch, enough reason to see the film.
Apart from the fights, however, the film is inconsistent in terms of plot and character development. The film gives us promise of a Del Toro plot and character development, but the movie fails to deliver. Every now and then a character will make a reference to the past, some ambiguous statement that is told quickly before jumping to a different scene. It captures the attention of the audience, but then the statements are left unexplained. The backstories of Raleigh and Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are more or less fleshed out, but the motivations and dynamic of other characters are left unexplained. Same problem goes with the plot. There is a particular bomb that is dropped—pregnant Kaiju—that doesn’t advance the plot. It is mentioned, but then it is quickly ignored. It’s like if Dr. Grant just shrugged when he found out the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were breeding. The acting quality doesn’t help matter much. Charlie Day is fun to watch yelling and getting excited, but that is what It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is for. Without concrete motivations, the audience is just waiting for cool robot fight.
The main issue with the film comes down to Del Toro being out of his element. Up until this point, Del Toro has told stories in the pastoral. Pacific Rim tells the story praising industry and urbanization, something that has not been held high in previous Del Toro films. This battle between the elements creates the inconsistencies of the film. Instead of being a story to remember, it is just another story of—to use the words of Stacker Pentecost—a “canceled apocalypse.”
Go see the movie if you only want to see robots take on giant monsters. If, like me, you are a Del Toro fan, wait for it on HBO. It doesn’t live up to expectations.