by Angelica Chong (14A01B)
It is easy, after walking out of the theatre, to dismiss Pacific Rim as a ‘dumb fun’ kind of movie, what with the almost ludicrous premise that gigantic humanoid machines are going to save the world by literally punching sea monsters in the face – reminiscent, surely, of the cheesy Godzilla franchise that has been around since 1954. It doesn’t help that as of late, it seems the only movies that are worthy of any critical consideration have to be completely – some argue realistically – grim. In these ‘serious’ movies, everyone is an anti-hero, the whole world is painted in drab shades of grey, and there’s no such thing as a happy ending (if you think about it, some of those movies don’t even end, per se). Anything else that fails to achieve this numbing onslaught of gloom and doom is automatically labelled a feel-good summer blockbuster. (What is implied in this is that it’s also a no-brainer, because what makes you feel good after watching it means it’s too dumb to be critically understood, of course.)
Pacific Rim doesn’t hide any other pretensions of complex metaphor, agonized amoral figures or (cue dramatic, soul-shattering music) THE END OF HUMANITY AS WE KNOW IT. It has a simple plot, understandable characters, and really awesome battle scenes. It also has commendable minority representation, symbolic nuances, and world-building on a large enough scale to tempt me into buying the novelization and the official movie guide book – which is more than I can say for any other film I’ve watched recently.
Of course, there were the usual details that can be nit-picked over, like who in the world decided it would be good idea to create giant robots to battle alien creatures in hand-to-hand combat (versus bombarding them with, I don’t know, bombs and stuff), how the dialogue was hardly Oscar-worthy, and the meatloaf blandness of our ‘leading’ man Raleigh Beckett, who, with his straw hair and square jawline, somehow looks like every other white male in the movie. But beyond that, I found myself enjoying everything else it threw at me.
For one thing, it’s so rare to see an Asian woman kicking ass next to your token all-American hero, and it’s even rarer still that she’s not at all sexualized or diminished because of her gender and race. Mako Mori is explicitly and repeatedly shown to be Raleigh’s equal; her character exists not defined by her relation to him, but independently, with her own fleshed-out backstory. The training scene, where Mako deliberately lets Raleigh take the first point, is one that was really enjoyable – she knows she can beat him, and she’s not afraid to let him know it. To his credit, Raleigh doesn’t try to put the moves on her – he respects her as his co-pilot and gradually, his friend, and at the end of the day, their relationship is one that, thankfully, is not miscoloured by a contrived romance. This emphasis placed on developing Mako as her own person is a refreshing change from the navel-gazing exercise in man-pain that usually plagues all of our media.
The movie had a large ensemble of characters – and simply no time to develop all of them. The Russian and Chinese teams were hardly given any legitimate screen-time, which was a pity, because there were enough hints of realism in their portrayals (body language, outfits) to make them interesting, but I did appreciate the subplot that was Newt and Hermann’s scientific misadventures. For once, the nerdy folk weren’t just played for laughs or used as a convenient deus ex machina; they helped save the world! With illegally harvested alien brains and science!
Speaking of dead monster bits, it’s intriguing, perhaps tangentially, that Pacific Rim begins where most movies of its ilk end – not with the slow collective realization of humanity that Bad Things are coming for them, but seven years into the Kaiju War, where the presence of Kaijus has almost certainly changed the way humanity sees itself and the world. A new black market has sprung up for Kaiju remains, there are newfangled religious movements devoted to them, and there are Kaiju groupies (of which I am unashamedly one). And yet, some things, reliably, never change – despite the fact that Kaijus come from the sea, millions of people still choose to live in coastal cities.
What was key to Pacific Rim, though, was the concept of the Kaiju movie that director Guillermo del Toro had in mind. He wanted to ‘create something new, something madly in love with [the Kaiju genre]; to bring beauty to it, and drama and operatic grandeur.’ Given the sheer magnificence of the battle scenes, with the Kaiju rising from the sea like glowing eldritch monstrosities, and the Jaegers facing them with the city skyline behind them – I’d say he’s succeeded.
Pacific Rim didn’t attempt to impart a deep Moral Message; it didn’t end with our lone hero grimly declaring the end of days or the beginning of a new era over the corpses of his sacrificed comrades; it didn’t take itself too seriously! This is great, because when you have a movie about mechas wielding ships as baseball bats, taking swings and punches at scaly monsters from an alien world through a sea portal, it’s hard not to make it something fun. Del Toro’s movie is a humanist one at heart, without any trite moralizing or nihilistic anarchy that seems to polarize films today. It’s a kids’ movie for grown-ups – the world is literally saved by the teamwork and love of the people in the Shatterdome – but just because it uses themes and ideas that have been familiar to us since childhood, doesn’t mean it’s childish or ‘dumb’ in any way.
Rating: 3.5/5 (Would recommend!)