In its 230 minutes of giant robot vs. alien dinosaur carnage Pacific Rim bends and breaks more scientific laws than even someone like myself (who stopped studying it in early high school) could easily count. But it’s still likely to succeed at the box office because it taps into something far more fun and fundamental.
Written and directed by cult action director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II, Hellboy) the Pacific Rim saga begins in the not too distant future when a trans-dimensional gateway opens at the bottom of that most peaceful of oceans. Immense alien creatures nicknamed Kaiju (after their Japanese film counterparts) begin to emerge at an alarming rate and increasing in size. Their devastation of international cities does what all the efforts of the United Nations could not, uniting humanity against a common foe. The result is the Jaegar Program, the construction of gigantic robots to meet the gigantic threat. These building-size battle-bots are piloted by a pair of operators who are compatible enough to inhabit each other’s brains through a software connection known as the ‘neural handshake’. But the Jaegars and the pilots who operate them are running out even as the Kaiju threat is on the rise. Will a solo burnt-out pilot be able to find a like-minded partner in time to carry out the craziest plan of all?? Well, if not, someone’s going to want their money back…
Yes, throughout Pacific Rim you are going to have to almost constantly remind yourself that this is super-charged, titanium-armoured, high-explosive … bubblegum for the mind. There are pilots who can be surprised about their own machine’s weapons, battle tactics that would make a drill sergeant cry and massive creatures that have no earthly business flapping around our atmosphere. And let’s not forget the cardboard racial stereotypes that verge on national insults – watch out for the outback Aussie Jaeger pilots! But even as you wince and smirk, you watch and watch. What is it that makes this hideously expensive, two-dimensional story so engaging?
Firstly, the format is familiar because it works. Pacific Rim borrows its monsters from Godzilla and countless Japanese creature features, its robot warriors from Evangelion and its plot from Independence Day. But at its core this is a basic ‘quest film’ where humanity is searching for its salvation and the hero is fighting to regain his significance. Just like Luke Skywalker finding he’s not just a farm boy after all, Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket discovers that he doesn’t have to settle for welding steel. He is more than just a casualty waiting to be tallied; he is fired up to become a hero – and human technology will make the difference:
“There are things you can’t fight – acts of God. You see a hurricane; you get out of the way. But when you’re in a Jaeger you can finally fight the hurricane.”
Raleigh’s commander, Marshall Pentecost is also responsible for bestowing similar flickers of fire on the heads of his gallant human crew who gather to hear him on the eve of the ‘final assault’:
“Today we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves but in each other. Today we will face the monsters! Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse!!”
The tone might sound messianic but this is nothing like the inspiration Jesus’ disciples received at the original Pentecost. The missing factor in this call to redeem the world is the God who makes it possible. No, this drama has more in common with that other Biblical event, the Tower of Babel. Can’t you imagine the leader of that building project climbing to the top of the nearest block of stone making a similar impassioned plea?
“Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly … Let’s build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens! So that we may make a name for ourselves!!”
Of course they’re my exclamation marks but the sentiment is accurate. If humanity is going to be saved, then it’s we who will do the saving. Greatness is something that comes to those who take it. Now, there’s nothing wrong with inspirational stories that encourage us to reach for significance, even those in the form of larger-than-life comic books like Pacific Rim. But it does matter very much where we try and get that significance from. We have been offered a place of greatness, but it’s not our strength that will win it. In this fantasy humanity takes control of its destiny and proves its greatness. But it is, after all, a fantasy. Remember how well that philosophy worked in the real world at the Tower of Babel.
Distributor: Warner Bros
Release Date: July 11