If God’s id played “Toy Story,” this film would be the result. The trailer’s warning to “Go big or go extinct” isn’t just a line; Guillermo del Toro’s world of machines versus monsters is one where size definitely matters. Don’t let it worry you, though–geeks, gamers, bikers, scientists, scholars, and artists–“Pacific Rim” is a smart, engaging film that has a bit of something for everyone.
The film opens with a planet at war: enormous, violent creatures called Kaijus have emerged from a trench deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, which is a portal between two dimensions, theirs and ours. To fight the Kaijus, the world’s combined powers created the Jaeger Program (Jaeger from the German word for “hunter”) which involves two operators stationed inside enormous, metal machines, bound together neurally as their movements are programmed into and executed by the robot. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is one such operator, having entered the program on the heels of his older brother’s celebrated success, but things change after his brother is killed in action and the Jaeger Program is shut down in favor of other defensive measures. As the Kaijus keep emerging at a faster and faster rate, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), a former Jaeger pilot himself, must secretly re-recruit Becket for a new mission which targets the portal itself, but not without a host of new risks. But can the hulking metal warriors and the technology that controls them really save the world? What happens when the lights go out?
On the most basic level, “Pacific Rim” is successful because it entertains–it’s been a while since anything this large hit the screens. The Kaijus (a disturbing mix of dinosaurs and overgrown orcs) and the Jaegers at battle, whether it’s waist-high in the Pacific or over the stomping grounds of coastal cities, are impressive each time; the sheer spectacle is like nothing we’ve seen before. Yet the story doesn’t drown in special effects excess, we care about Raleigh Becket just as we fear for his new copilot, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi); the emotional component to the story holds its own with the hugeness of the action.
Clever homages to several other media events abound throughout the picture (probably each filmgoer will come up with an entirely unique list, the references are that broad) but none better than the nods to “Sons of Anarchy,” Hunnam’s hit show created by Kurt Sutter on FX. Becket’s sneer and swagger are all Hunnam’s character, Jax Teller, and Ron Perlman’s cameo as Hannibal Chau is pure golden, but SOA fans will most likely grimace together in anxiety when they hear Raleigh’s brother assure him, “I got this,” (knowing full well what’s bound to happen after such a statement). A robotic voice reminiscent of GLaDOS in the hit game “Portal” announces each Jaeger sequence while references to the second World War, Godzilla, and even Polanski’s “Chinatown” emerge in the narrative. This is not simply an entertaining film with killer effects and a high IQ but one that knows its predecessors and honors them skillfully.
It’s what little blockbusters dream of becoming when they grow up.