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Review: “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo Del Toro’s Love Letter to Genre Cinema

The short review: In a marketplace filled with somber sequels, run of the mill reboots and asinine ensemble comedies, Pacific Rim is a breath of fresh air, creating a sense of high adventure and even higher octane action even when characterization falls flat, thanks to Guillermo Del Toro’s studied direction and the visual wizardry of ILM.

The long review: Worrying about tracking forecasts is like worrying about your fantasy football team or being the winner on Whose Line Is It Anyway? – it’s all made up and the points don’t matter. What does matter, however, is quality content, and once again Guillermo Del Toro lives up to his reputation as one of the most prolific, earnest, and impassioned directors of our generation. By all outward appearances, Pacific Rim is another $200 million summer blockbuster in an already crowded marketplace, but what sets it apart are what it represents: 1) Del Toro’s longstanding love of Japanese kaiju cinema and mecha-laden anime; 2) a brand new IP – a story that we haven’t seen before – which is a rarity in the modern marketplace; and 3) a chance for audiences to put their money where their mouths are – if you are tired of seeing the same glossy, prepackaged garbage with a different coat of paint year in and year out, then seeing Pacific Rim should be a priority for you.

Now, let’s talk about the film itself. It’s perhaps the closest experience I’ve had to seeing a live-action anime that actually works, something that is by all accounts a difficult feat, if misadventures like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Dragonball Evolution are any indication. At times, the dialogue is awfully cheesy, leaving me to wonder if it wouldn’t be better if the audio was slightly out of sync, like watching a bad dub. What makes Pacific Rim succeed where others have failed though is the painstaking attention to detail, which gives the film a sense of weight to match its mammoth scope. These are not the lithe, weightless mechs of Michael Bay’s Transformers films; rather, they are gigantic, lumbering steel behemoths. Giving something rendered entirely in CGI a sense of palpable mass is a feat unto itself, which is to Del Toro and ILM’s credit.


Del Toro’s labor of love is a devotion to pursuing the impossible, which is something to which many audiences have become jaded. He has always managed to wring outsize amounts of cinematic magic and imagination from his works even when operating on restrictively small budgets and timeframes. Pacific Rim gives him his biggest canvas yet on which to paint his uniquely insane vision and push the action sequences to the nth degree. Steel clashes against chitinous plates while rain beats down on Jaegers and Kaijus doing battle knee-deep in the ocean. Corrosive acid eats through metal and massive armored fists fracture monstrous skulls in the middle of skyscraper-lined city streets. The action is over-the-top in the best way possible, making the most of its astronomical budget, and there are moments that will have you pumping your fist triumphantly in the air.

At its heart, Pacific Rim is a story of how mankind reacts in the face of a global threat that takes them from the top of the food chain and unceremoniously knocks them to the bottom. There is symbolism behind the giant mechs, referred to as Jaegers, a German word for “hunter.” We may not get to see his version of At The Mountains of Madness, but Del Toro gets his Lovecraft fix through the obsessively detailed creature design of the Kaijus, which mange to exude a shared biology and enough diversity as to keep one guessing at the same time. These are not sleek, streamlined beasts; they are craggy, lumpy, pudgy horrors that pour out of a scar on the ocean’s floor, emerging from the briny deep to threaten our way of life. They are the unknown, the seemingly insurmountable odds that we fear most: the idea that there’s something out there which we are helpless to fight against.


(SPOILER AHEAD) The charismatic, eternally affable Charlie Hunnam serves as both our ostensible protagonist, Raleigh Becket (an upgrade in believability from his original name, Raleigh Antrobus, which sounds like a North Carolinian transit authority), and a representation of how humanity feels: once a hotshot Jaeger pilot, he has been down on his luck, destitute and disheartened after a massive battle left his Jaeger, Gipsy Danger, all but destroyed and claimed his brother Yancy’s life. The rub lies in how the mechs are operated, a process called the Drift, through which the two pilots create a neural bridge where they share each other’s thoughts, memories and feelings.

The Drift is essential to Pacific Rim‘s story because it neatly explains why you can’t just throw any two people into the mountainous mechs. Raleigh and Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) are such exemplary Jaeger pilots because they share an unbreakable bond, which is consequently why Yancy’s death is so traumatic. They are intimately connected and hence, when Yancy dies while Raleigh is still connected, Raleigh feels his pain, fear, shock — all of it. It takes every last ounce of his strength to make pilot his Jaeger solo to the snow-covered shoreline, a feat so impossible that only one other pilot in history has done it. Washed out and washed up, Raleigh fills his days working dangerous, menial jobs on the Wall, a mammoth construction project designed to keep the Jaegers out and humanity in, caged like animals.


Other Jaeger teams include the Chinese triplets of Crimson Dynamo, the Rocky-villains-in-waiting of Cherno Alpha and the Top Gun-like Australian father-son duo of Herc and Chuck Hansen. When Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the grim military man in charge of the anti-Kaiju defense program behind the Jaegers, comes to Becket to bring him back into the fold, it isn’t because he’s in a fit mental state for combat; rather, the situation is so dire and no one displays the kind of affinity that Becket did. No one, that is, except for Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s Japanese female protege and his ward whom he rescued from a particularly brutal Kaiju attack in her youth. They prove an unlikely pairing to pilot a mech and thankfully the romance isn’t forced – it remains a subtext at most. Moreover, their partnership is one born of circumstance and a shared inability to quit when the going gets tough. Like it or not, they were made for each other, much like Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Shinji and Asuka… which brings me to my next point.

To those decrying Pacific Rim as an Evangelion rip-off, please hold your breath, count to ten, pass out, and wake up ideally with some fresh perspective. The film is clearly influenced by the seminal anime series, right down to the concept of the Drift, the process through which the two pilots neurally sync up, tapping into each other’s memories to operate in perfect synchronicity. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Pacific Rim is clearly flattering Neon Genesis Evangelion in this regard. Is it a rip-off, though? No – that point of view assumes the lowest common denominator. Rather, it draws inspiration from the show and other pop cultural elements from Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham’s youths. Like the headline says, this film is a love letter to pop culture, a pastiche of their favorite bits and pieces of genre cinema and TV from last fifty some-odd years, from Toho films to Voltron.


Despite Del Toro and Beacham’s best efforts to show the humanity behind the monster vs. mecha action, this proves to be the film’s weakest link. Hunnam, who I enjoy so much as Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy, is often one-note, pausing only to alternately smirk and snarl. Elba’s steely gaze serves him well, cutting through much of the bullshit and giving him a sense of gravitas. It helps that his baritone seems to smooth over any misgivings one might have over what he actually just said (I’m sorry, but “Today we are canceling the apocalypse” isn’t as cool as they thought it sounded). Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau, a black market Kaiju parts dealer, and Charlie Day‘s Newton Geiszler, a nerdy Kaiju biologist with pretensions of hipsterdom, shine in their supporting roles, providing equal parts comic relief and exposition to keep the plot rolling along. The rest is a mixed bag of action movie tropes – both successful and unsuccessful – that don’t equal the sum total of what happens when they step inside the Jaegers.

Where Pacific Rim succeeds isn’t so much in the story, which has some spots of laughably bad dialogue that are often carried on the stars’ charisma alone. Rather, it is triumphant in its tone. The majority of the summer’s blockbusters – Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel – temper their fun with long spells of sad-sackery, traumatized heroes and a general sense of pervasive dourness that can leave a bad taste in viewers’ mouths. Although Pacific Rim is dealing with an apocalyptic all-or-nothing scenario, the sense of fun, action and, most importantly, adventure carry it above its peers – at least tonally speaking. It’s quite refreshing to see a big budget film this season that laughs in the face of danger, running headlong towards it, rather than wallow in it, feeling bad for itself before treating us to 45 minutes of uninterrupted disaster porn.

In case I haven’t been clear, I genuinely enjoyed Pacific Rim and even when I didn’t exactly dig what was happening on-screen, I respected the hell out of them for swinging for the fences. This is an all-or-nothing gamble on Del Toro and Beacham, who have taken an unproven genre piece with massive potential fanboy (and fangirl) appeal and bet $180-200 million on it. For my money, it was worth the risk, and if this is what Del Toro can do with a sometimes lackluster script, it fills me with boundless excitement to see what he could do with a better writer (Justice League Dark, anyone?). Pacific Rim is not carried just by its stars’ rippling abs or its dazzling visual effects; rather, it is elevated by the passion behind it, something which is sorely missing from the multiplex these days and ultimately makes a ticket to Pacific Rim money well spent.

What did you think of Pacific Rim? Let us know in the comments below! Then, be sure to check out my behind-the-scenes interviews with the film’s cast, exclusively on the Nerdist Channel!


(Note: Legendary Pictures, co-producer of Pacific Rim, owns Nerdist Industries, which remains editorially independent)

Images: Legendary Pictures

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  1. Cassie says:

    I loved every minute of this movie. Please watch Guillermo Del Toro’s interview on The Nerdist. It really helped me to appreciate how much work went into making this movie. I love mecha and up until this point, I have been disappointed with Hollywood movies that have anything to do with the genre.

  2. Forrest says:

    @Andrew If you were watching the beginning of the film they killed the first Kaiju with conventional weaponry but it took out several large cities in the process. The idea with creating a like sized opponent was to “hold the line” since they originated in the middle of the ocean.

  3. Nick says:

    I went to watch it the other day in an IMAX theatre…and it was awesome! But until now I had no idea that it was an anime based thing although it would make sense now why Gypsy Danger pulled out that sword instead of using a massive gun.The only thing that was a bit annoying were the Aussie accents (I’m an aussie) I mean come on it’s not that hard to get our accent right. But other than that the movie was amazing. The fight scenes were great. It was hard not to go through the whole movie with a crazy grin on your face.

  4. Winger says:

    I saw this last weekend with my son, and was blown away!! It’s anime and comics come to life! The imagry is just stunning.. I grew up with reruns of the old japanese Godzilla and mecha-godzilla, ultra man, etc, and then got into anime later, especially Ghost in the shell, which I still feel is a stunning portrayal of what the future is going to look like. Wish I was younger and could make it there!!
    Pacific Rim is just fun. The monsters where pretty terrifying on a really large screen, and I really felt great satisfaction when the Jaegers crunched a good smack down on their heads!
    Don’t take it so serious, just have fun, and enjoy. What a blast.
    I really hope it does well enough to encourage others of this type.
    Del Toro is outstanding in this genre! It was fun to see ‘red’ in the movie. Ron Perlman is a great actor. look up his movies, he’s always fun to watch.

    I agree with the writer above, I wish he would do Ghost in the Shell, a very exciting and frightening view of the future…

    Anyway, in my opinion, this was just too much fun, kept me on the edge of my seat, and I may even shell out a few more duckets and see the Imax version. What great fun!!

  5. Andrew says:

    I should add that, like probably most people going to see this movie, I had no idea that this was based off of anime. I didn’t understand why you needed a manned mech with this crazy “neural bridge” thing but now at least I know it’s source material. But I still think they did a poor job explaining things (why not use conventional weapons, what their new alternative plan to the jaegers is being the biggest).

  6. Kevin Polley says:

    I thought that there was not enough of a connection between Raleigh and Mako shown and that it was even less than the subtext mentioned in the above review. I wasn’t looking for a romance story, forced or otherwise, but they could’ve explored a little more on the emotional and mental bond required for the neural bridge between the pilots. Otherwise, I enjoyed the film immensely.

  7. Chentzilla says:

    >Anyone who doesn’t like it or think it is bored is either grew up watching care bear, Hannah Montana, the little pony or powerpuff girls.

    Spot the odd one out.

  8. Ivan says:

    Anyone who doesn’t like it or think it is bored is either grew up watching care bear, Hannah Montana, the little pony or powerpuff girls.

    You can’t expect more from a giant robot VS monster movie. Pacific rim has fulfill my childhood dream by making Anime into a real Hollywood-level movie. All the fight scenes, rocket punch and all the weapons are very fun to watch and very excited.

    To make this robot film so successful, the director must have love in robots as well. Too much credit to the director and its artist design team.

  9. Gary says:

    I saw it last night and it was a fantastically fun movie. It’s truly an homage to childhood TV shows. It was by far my favorite movie in a long time.

    The Gypsy Danger theme music is pretty iconic. I found myself getting excited whenever it started playing. It meant that some Kaiju ass was going to get kicked.

    It reminds me a little bit of Robot Jox. I would definitely watch it again and am looking forward to buying the Blu-Ray.

  10. Roy says:

    I was very satisfied with Pacific Rim, It was definitely worth watching at the XD theater, I wish i saw it at the IMAX theatre. I can only hope it reaches great success this weekend. I know everyone is a critic these days but geez people lighten up on the critiques!

  11. Xeroz says:

    ‘not entirely positive’
    What I meant was, like in Evangelion, they wouldn’t risk using ‘that’ kind of symbolism because it might set off a ‘very outspoken’ part of America.

  12. Xeroz says:

    If it would have had half the ‘symbolism’ (like Eva did) in the story, every right-wing conservative group out there would have been attacking it. Plus, I doubt the ‘studio execs’ would have allowed that to make it past the planning stages. Hollywood gets pretty picky when it comes to allowing almost anything ‘not entirely positive’ into movies. Safe to say they’ll probably never produce a fully acurate Evangelion live-action movie in the US.
    And, while on that subject. That sorry excuse for a Dragonball movie was doomed from the moment they decided to ‘start from scratch’ with a completely different (almost unrecognizable) story.

    Anyway, back to PacRim…
    I really do hope in it’s success, it’ll open up people’s eyes to anime. They’re NOT cartoons. They’re plots/story/characters/character development/etc. far outdo even our best attempts at ‘seeming’ to tell a story using animation to an audience that’s older than 12. I’ll bet there are a lot of adults who couldn’t fully appreciate the complexities that are routine in a lot of anime. But, there is an audience out there for it. Even in the US. Just not big enough for most of Hollywood to care.
    Personally, I’d love to see something like a live-action “Full Metal Panic!, Big O, or especially Ghost In The Shell”. I just can’t see anyone in Hollywood saying they’d have the guts to do it ‘right’.
    Who wouldn’t love to see a live-action Tachikoma… (As long as they keep the voice-actor in the Dubbed series as their voices!)

    In closing, yes I agree that there is little doubt this movie is paying an homage to Kaiju and Anime alike. It’s just sad that the rest of America doesn’t realize that as well. There’s a whole world of entertainment out there. If you want to see ‘what/where’ Mr. Del Toro got a lot of the ‘ideas & inspiration’ for this film from, please by all means check out a good anime or kaiju movie. They’re not all ‘just cartoons’.
    I’d like to hope, if given the chance, Mr. Del Toro would encourage ppl to do the same. After seeing his movie of course!

  13. Aj says:

    Anyone who claims Pacific Rim is an Evangelion rip-off is a brain atrophied weaboo who probably didn’t watch more than 2 episodes (Pacific Rim pays homage to Eva & many other anime, but it sure as hell isn’t laden with judeo/christian symbolism & doesn’t take a huge 90 degree turn two thirds in, to suddenly be all about Freudian psychoanalysis)

    Besides the somewhat wince-inducing accents (ACTUAL Australians can’t have been THAT hard to find?) this is probably the most thoroughly entertaining movie i’ve seen all year. A truly global story, where it isn’t just ‘Murica saving the world, it’s EVERYONE saving the world.

  14. Dave says:

    Major spoiler about Yancy in this review, please reconsider or at least flag it. The movie was brilliant.

  15. Andrew says:

    Any comment from the non-Andrew demographic?

  16. Andrew says:

    Agreed,,, a huge ripoff, and horribly full of cliche. It was predictable, and the fight scenes were mostly gray blob fighting blue and red blob with a lot of rubble around…

  17. Andrew says:

    Star Trek Into Darkness is a confused mess of a movie. It’s essentially a long string of action sequences wrapped around an empty, fractured shell of a plot. If Pacific Rim is at least cohesive, which I suspect it is, it will be better than that movie.

  18. Andrew says:

    IMO, this was one of the most cliche action movies I’ve seen in quite some time. The audience was literally laughing at how standard predictable it was. I thought it was a huge disappointment. The plot made no sense and the fighting, in 3D at least, had the same problem as Transformers 2 as to how confusing it was to keep track of what was happening. How anybody can say this was better in any way to Star Trek is beyond me.

  19. Andrew says:

    Best live-action anime: The Matrix. Which also happens to be a perfect action movie.