2016 has some terrible writers. No one’s been found in the shower (yet) to reveal this was all a dream. Deaths, nasty politics, economic and social breakdowns; our flames of joy are being extinguished with unsettling regularity. As the clouds grow in number and darkness, we need more matches to ignite something positive. In these times, we cling to our joys. Whether it be time with friends and family, viral Facebook videos involving cats or, most likely for you and I, the movies.
Our Dan’s favourite film is Jurassic Park. Why? Three words. Dinosaur theme park. A cinematic treat, no doubt. So upon its three year anniversary, let me pitch you Pacific Rim’s irresistible hook: giant robots fighting giant monsters. If this doesn’t endear you even just 1%, stop reading. There are no words in my limited arsenal that can counter your doubts and worries. Yet if you’re in the 99%, here’s why Pacific Rim is one of the most beautiful, flawed, awesome, dumb movies of the decade.
Why? Well, cinema can take the form of beautiful sonnets exploring the great beauties and triumphs of life. We live in a world of transcendent and gorgeous movie-making delivering us the likes of Embrace of the Serpent, Boyhood, The Tree of Life, The Master and The Social Network. Yet the world of high art can also be the world of Pacific Rim. A film in which there are simple values, explanations and enjoyment. Pacific Rim is pure escapism. Not just a line for the poster, but a true, honest-to-god blockbuster that transports us mere mortals to a world where giant robots fight giant monsters.
The reason why Michael Bay consistently performs so well in box office figures is that he’s cut from a similar cloth. The world is a horrible place and recently, more than ever, we want to escape from it. 1990s Michael Bay is full of masterful action scenes, good characterisation, and funny dialogue. Though Bay has since lost sight of these vital elements, Guillermo Del Toro has followed in his footsteps, conjuring the same kind of innovation, heart, jaw-dropping action, and wondrous imagery.
Just like Bay, Pacific Rim is easily loathed or loved. It’s not going to be taking a place on the shelf alongside the decade’s high art as mentioned earlier. But approach it with an open mind and you’ll find a bold entry in escapist cinema, boasting qualities so many others lack.
To start, the imagination on show is peerless. The likes of Bay and his many subpar emulators hurl explosions and incoherent movement upon the screen in an attempt to cover the lack of spark in the collective fuse box. In Pacific Rim, the world is a glorious, neon, vibrant place lovingly hand-crafted and created. So when the action does take place in a hurricane of noise and colour, the thrill is real. This isn’t simply a chance to escape from our sad-sack lives. This is a place of optimism and innovation. Pacific Rim is like entering a portal into a better, younger world; the world you thought you’d conquer when you were 12. A world where a 100-foot robot can drag a tanker through the streets, using it as a baseball bat to smash into the face of an ugly ass Kaiju. Hell yeah!
The Kaiju themselves are spectacular and splendid, textured and terrific, electrifying and enormous. They are not simply blockbuster monsters. These are creatures created with care to bedazzle and impress, each with their own set of abilities and features. To match them, the Jaegers are characters without voices. Hulking, varied, personable vessels carrying their pilots into battle. Their destruction brings no joy, yet sadness as we realise there were people within them.
Del Toro’s a dab hand not only at visual delights, but characterisation too. In a $150 million-plus box office blockbuster, they may all be a bit skin-deep, but you can describe and distinguish the key players. Much more than this, in a Hollywood juggernaut, there is a surprising and accurate reflection of the world itself. Idris Elba is black – well spotted – but it matters not as he’s just the kick-ass commanding officer Stacker Pentecost. Rinko Kikuchi (as Mako Mori) is not some sex kitten, she’s an earnest, intelligent soldier (who happens to be Asian) who more than matches the male leads.
In 2011 when the Boston Globe’s Wesley Morris won the Pulitzer Prize for Film Criticism, he made a similar argument about another blockbuster franchise, Fast and Furious, and its surprising relevance and representation of today’s world:
“Go on and laugh your Benetton, Kumbaya, Kashi, quinoa laugh, but it’s true: The most progressive force in Hollywood today is the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies. They’re loud, ludicrous, and visually incoherent. They’re also the last bunch of movies you’d expect to see in the same sentence as ‘incredibly important.’ But they are — if only because they feature race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation. (And this doesn’t even account for the gay tension between the male leads, and the occasional crypto-lesbian make-out.) The fifth instalment, ‘Fast Five,’ comes out Friday, and unlike most movies that feature actors of different races, the mixing is neither superficial nor topical. It has been increasingly thorough as the series goes on—and mostly unacknowledged. That this should seem so strange, so rare, merely underscores how far Hollywood has drifted from the rest of culture.”
Far from matching this quality of writing, we can propose that Pacific Rim shares this magical representative quality. The world is under attack, and in this idealistic realm, the nations come together for a common goal. All elements of race, creed and gender are deemed irrelevant for the obvious fact that they’re about to be destroyed by giant sea monsters. Del Toro celebrates life and its wondrous quirks in Pacific Rim. The male and female leads don’t simply get it on at the end, it’s not America that saves the day, and it’s a global effort to overcome a global problem. He embraces the diversity of our world, refusing to make caricatures of characters, and embracing the actual world rather than what the average traditional Hollywood product wants it to be.
Now, we’re not trying to claim Pacific Rim to be a work of Michelangelo; there’s no grounding there. There are flaws aplenty. It’s extraordinarily idealistic and sometimes too silly to swallow – would the wisest minds of the world really sign off on giant robots as our Plan A? – yet there’s something endlessly charming here. Pacific Rim offers an inclusive, representative, and ridiculously fun slice of escapism that you should just enjoy as it was meant to be taken. Del Toro provided escapism not to a new world, but the world we thought we could have when we were 12. A world which we seem to have forgotten when we got old.