Pacific Rim was this year’s consensus choice for underdog blockbuster success story until finally enough other blockbusters failed and we saw the trailer enough that it just became the choice for regular blockbuster success story. The same way sports analysts will talk about how underrated a player is so much that they actually become overrated, Pacific Rim turned from something that everyone was betting on to be better than it looked into something that everyone was really hoping was going to be as good we were all predicting.
In two specific and important ways, Pacific Rim delivered on everything we convinced ourselves it was supposed to. The first is something that I rarely ever see work and that ruins a lot of sci-fi action movies – backwards world-building. It’s very clear from the trailer that Pacific Rim isn’t supposed to be a Dune-like atmospheric sci-fi. We’re not here to ‘explore the spaces’ of this world. It’s not like Guillermo Del Toro dreamed up this rich, developed alternate future and then, as an afterthought, went “Oh and I guess since there would happen to be both giant robots and giant aliens in this word, they could eventually fight or something.â€ Giant robots fighting giant aliens is the entire point. The world-building is only there as an excuse to shove them into the ring together.
Pacific Rim did a very good job of this. It didn’t get too sciencey or involved and it didn’t putter around for forty minutes trying to make everything seem plausible. It was a very quick and efficient “Guess what, aliens attacked and we built giant robots to beat them up.â€ Movies fail at this all the time. They either can’t admit to themselves that they’re a guilty pleasure and try to really sell you on this world being a legit, “grownupâ€ sci-fi realm or they give you nothing at all and force you to spend the whole movie actively thinking about how this is just a stupid guilty pleasure. Pacific Rim gave me just enough that I didn’t find myself asking pesky questions like “Why did the robots have to look exactly like giant humans?â€ or “Why didn’t we just spend all that time and money on like a super-powerful laser cannon?â€ and no more.
The other, even more important way in which Pacific Rim delivered was that it had giant robots fighting giant aliens. This is something that even more movies fail at. Even Fast 6 – already one of my favorite dumb summer movies of all time – did not have so much as a single robot, although you could make a convincing argument that the entire cast are aliens trying emulate our strange human emotion faces. You see, what having giant robots fighting giant aliens in your movies does is it makes it so that no matter how much you hate everything else that’s going on in that movie you still get to watch giant robots punch giant aliens. Sure, you get bonus points for things like having the robots use cruise ships as clubs or grab fistfuls of freight containers to be used like so many rolls of quarters, but the important thing is that the robots and aliens are there and that they punch each other.
The area Pacific Rim didn’t do so well in was the filler. In a movie like Pacific Rim the filler is, let’s be honest, every single second in which the thing that I just talked about isn’t happening. It’s where you put things like characters and dialogue. These fillers are important because without them you’d either have a twenty minute movie or a two hour movie that’s all robots punching aliens and that cost 5 billion dollars to make. Because robots are so expensive to render through CGI, Guillermo Del Toro used the old Hollywood trick of having some regular, already fully-created humans stand around in a few scenes and pretend to talk to each other using sequences of memorized words. Other options would have been 40 minute intermissions between fight scenes or maybe he could’ve borrowed some old Pixar shorts and sprinkled those in there.
Just like backwards world-building, characters and stuff are all just there so that we don’t feel like such pieces of shit for watching what could easily be confused for a Transformers spin-off. Every character in Pacific Rim that isn’t played by Idris Elba or Charlie Day is a wooden, schlocky mess. The way that those characters and the plot they’re in develop is also pretty boring and dumb. How much that holds the movie back really just depends on how willing you are to put up with it. I personally have never been so tempted to scream “JUST GET IN THE FUCKING ROBOTSâ€ at a movie screen. Oh, I have been tempted before. Just not this bad.
Like most Guillermo Del Toro movies, Pacific Rim manages to fall short of the massive expectations that we as a movie-going public decided to pile onto it. A lot of people are going to tell you that Pacific Rim is AWESOME. I’m not gonna do you like that, though. Prepare to sit ever so anxiously on your hands for like 45 minutes while Charlie Hunnam struts around with his shirt off and/or his hands tucked into his belt, trying to convince you he can really act. But if, like me, you saw the trailer and had to roll your tongue back into your mouth like a cartoon wolf, Pacific Rim will treat you just fine. There’s a lot of bullshit but in the end it totally delivers. If you’re some kind of snob who needs something more than robots punching aliens in your movies, just take your dollars elsewhere. And frankly, I hope a giant robot punches you in your snobby face. – DT