Kaiju Tuesday - Pacific Rim
Kaiju films for decades were often regarded as a lower or lesser form of cinematic entertainment. Bad dubbing, subpar special effects, hokey acting, and most were never released in the U.S. theatrically. But back in the day there was a magical place called the video rental store, and they had an amazing selection of all types of movies for everyone to enjoy. You begged your parents to drive you to Easy Video, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, or whatever store of your choice, and hoped to God that the clerk didn’t tell your mom that the VHS copy of Dead Alive was rated R for excessive blood and gore. It was legitimately hard to be a film buff at that time.
Where video rental shops really shined was when you would find a movie and decide whether it was worth your time watching it or not just by looking at the front cover. This is where I discovered Kaiju films. They had the most amazing box art of all time, usually showcasing the monster in all his or her glory, accompanied by a tagline describing its awesomeness. But one thing I always noticed was that these movies were always readily available whenever I wanted, no one took them out to rent. For years, I thought I was the only one who was into these movies, thankfully I was wrong.
With the exceptional rise of the internet, the knowledge of these films became much more mainstream. One man who happens to be a big fan of these movies also happens to be a seriously talented director, his name is Guillermo del Toro. He has often expressed how he loves giant monster films, anime, and other forms of Japanese entertainment. His film Pacific Rim is a giant-sized love letter to the Kaiju film genre, before it became mainstream.
When the movie was released it did well and some people liked it, but it wasn’t the big summer film everyone was talking about. That bothered me to a certain degree, because I think Pacific Rim was a stroke of genius that no one noticed. The way the movie is paced, acted, shot, and overall execution feels distinctly like Kaiju movie. All the clichés are present, cheesy overlong exposition, science technobabble, weird eccentric characters, hokey acting, and cities getting destroyed in the process of the big monster clashes. But these clichés are shown out of love for them, not by poking fun.
The movie is about an Interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that giant monsters called Kaijus emerge from. Mankind defends themselves with giant robots called Jaegers piloted by two fighters who are compatible to work with each other. This is when the movie gets awesome, the scenes where Jaegers fight Kaijus look and feel big and fantastic in size and scope.
Where the movie was the most criticized was the two scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. At the time critics and audiences were pretty unanimous on how negative they felt about these characters, but I think they missed the point. If you’re a longtime fan of Kaiju films like myself, you probably picked up on how these two were supposed to be a nod to how eccentric and off beat the scientists were represented in older kaiju movies. They clearly weren’t written that way to be annoying on purpose. If you don’t believe me, watch a handful of giant monster films from the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and tell me they don’t seem somewhat familiar.
The two main leads are likeable, play by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi. We also are graced by Idris Elba and Ron Perlman in this film, and they all give good performances. The scenes where the characters interact with each other is cheesy in all the right ways. While some are definitely more fleshed out than others (some not at all), we do want to see them succeed in their Jaegers. While the movie has plenty of CGI and uses it pretty well, much of the cockpit scenes are practical. The actors are dealing with the environment around them makes the film feel much more organic especially with all the computer effects thrown in.
Overall Pacific Rim, while not flawless, is a criminally underrated movie that is a clearly made for the Kaiju fan at heart. It has giant sized action, funny lines, weird but likeable characters, amazing sets, and Ron Perlman. If you’re looking for a modern day big budget film with giant robots and monsters look no further, it is definitely better than most people give it credit for.