Helicopter news footage records the discovery of a colossal reptilian footprint on a beach. A grotesque corpse covers the deck of an aircraft carrier. A giant creature destroys the Golden Gate Bridge. Pacific Rim wastes no time establishing the massive scale of the kaiju threat.
To combat that threat, our hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) explains that, “To fight monsters, we created monsters.” He’s referring to the Jaegers, the wrasslin’ robots humanity builds to punch, body slam and double axe handle the kaiju back to their home dimension.
If this sounds like a big, silly action movie, that’s because it is, unabashedly. Pacific Rim revels in its bigness and silliness. Everything you see is in the service of just one thing: having giant monsters throw down with giant robots on as big a movie screen as possible, as often as possible. There is an innocent joy at work here - you can practically see director Guillermo del Toro above it all, pitting the behemoths against each other like a child with his toys.
The problem with big, silly action movies is that audiences seem to dismiss them as being without merit, or being solely for the fanboys. Thus far, Pacific Rim’s box office performance seems to confirm this. Sometimes fun can be an end in itself - no one complains about the lack of character development in a roller coaster. And yet, jaded by decades of artless Michael Bay explosions and Roland Emmerich pap, theatergoers inexplicably opted for an Adam Sandler movie. They are missing something beautiful.
Even though it featured in trailers, it struck me early on that Becket’s line about creating monsters rang false. The Jaegers may be as big as the kaiju, but they’re nowhere near as threatening. Becket is more accurate, and gets right to the soul of the movie, a few minutes later, as his Jaeger is dispatched to the coast of Alaska in the midst of a raging storm. When a hurricane rolled in, he explains, mankind had to just get out of the way. Now, thanks to the Jaegers, we could fight it.
Storms, like sunsets and waterfalls, have a kind of endless beauty. No matter how often you see them, they maintain the capacity to quicken the pulse, to inspire awe. Roiling clouds, crashes of thunder, blinding jags of lightning, the tattoo of pounding rain, the howl of wind: these things are entirely removed from our control - and threatening - yet their violent splendor fascinates us. Countless stories draw their inspiration from tempests and gales.
In Pacific Rim, the seas swell, dark and terrifying. Rain soaks every surface. But it is the clash of bot and beast that brings the blood and thunder. Through the turmoil, through his over-sized toys, through the spray and splash, Del Toro channels the magnificence of the storm itself. The movie is the storm and the audience can only hunker down and hope for the best.
If that’s not awesome in the purest sense of the word, I don’t know what is.