I was never the biggest fan in the world of Toho’s “Godzilla” series and their ilk. There’s lots to like in certain elements of the movies, particularly the first, black-and-white “Godzilla” film, which was a nightmarish funhouse mirror reflection of the atomic bombing of Japan that closed World War II.
Most of the later “Godzilla” movies, including those that introduced Gamera and Ghidora and Mothra and a variety of kaiju – Japanese for strange creatures – had some cool miniatures and pleasantly amusing “man in suit” special effects and they are watchable for their silliness. But terrifying? Awe-inspiring? No.
I think what was missing was the human element. Not just the scientists and military men on the ground, watching giant-sized mayhem unfold and trying to come up with a solution.
What was missing, it turns out, was “Top Gun.”
Director Guillermo Del Toro recognized not only the need to give the kaiju worthy human enemies but also the idea of introducing the soap opera-ish lives and traumatic pasts of the pilots of the fighter jets – here Jaegers, building-sized robots that battle the kaiju.
As everybody knows by now, “Pacific Rim” is the story of mankind’s response to a plague of kaiju – giant, destructive monsters, some with brute strength, some with acid spray, some with fiery breath – who arise from the sea through a rift in the bottom of the ocean and attack the mainland. San Francisco is the first to be hit, but eventually almost every city along the Pacific Rim finds itself fighting off monsters.
The nations of the world create the giant Jaegers, which are driven by two pilots, joined at the brain and working in tandem, to right the kaiju.
Del Toro makes this a fairly rich world, with war efforts like the Jaeger program as well as a wall-building effort that is doomed to failure. He also gives us the men and women who occupy this world.
“Pacific Rim” gives us some “Top Gun”-level conflict among the pilots and some personal stakes, including Raleigh’s (Charlie Hunnam) efforts to get back into the game after his brother’s death by kaiju years before, and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who wants to be a Jaeger jockey to get revenge.
Charlie Day and Ron Perlman have a ball as a Jaeger program scientist and kaiju black market mobster, respectively, and Idris Elba is mesmerizing as the leader of the effort.
“Pacific Rim,” with its giant monster and robots, is like every little geek sci-fi fan’s dream come true on the big screen. It’s a good summertime movie that goes down easier than “Man of Steel.”
Some stray observations:
Pretty sure I heard a snatch of Godzilla cry from one of those kaiju.
I was startled to see that the SyFy channel cheapie “Sharknado” beat “Pacific Rim” to the punch on its “cut yourself out from the inside” joke. It might have even outdone it.
I’m guessing special effects limitations meant that so many battle scenes had to be in rain-swept darkness. I enjoyed the clarity we got in the few daytime scenes.