The Most Colossal Movie of the Year

REVIEWING Pacific Rim is an interesting exercise in aesthetics.  The film is not at all sophisticated; it does not feature a marvellous script, overflowing with bountiful poetry.  The acting is not particularly wonderful, and the narrative, though compelling, is hardly the work of a master.

And yet, I would be willing to declare that Pacific Rim is the most significant film to be released this year. It will not trounce the box office, and it certainly won’t be the film that people hold in esteem for the coming year’s Oscars.  It will, however, be the film that remains a cult classic – it will, in fact, be the film this year that leaves the deepest impression on the history of film.

A relatively straightforward sci-fi premise underlies it all.  In the Pacific Rim universe, the world is under siege by a race of monsters, known as the “Kaiju”.  To combat this colossal threat, the human race constructs a series of giant robots, the Jaegers, which are piloted by pairs of human beings.  The Jaegers fight the monsters, and the battles are big and spectacular.  Some other character-driven stuff happens underneath all of this as well.

For an apparently momentous film, this might all feel rather simple.  The simplicity, however, is the point: Pacific Rim does not bother with any pretence or complexity, and instead unleashes upon its audience two hours of pure, robot battling action.  Unlike with Transformers, there are no annoying teenagers played by Shia Labouf adding “comedy” to the film.  There is no gratuitous sex appeal.  There isn’t even an awkwardly-enforced Hollywood romance (something that I was particularly thankful of towards the end of the film).  There is just extravagant, literally awesome giant robot combat, a visual spectacle that matches up to every fanboy’s dreams.

Well, maybe not.  It would be slightly reductive to say that the film only features robot action.  As already mentioned, there is a human dimension to Pacific Rim as well: Charlie Hunnam plays Raleigh, a washed up ex-Jaeger pilot who finds himself, against all expectations, embarking upon one, final, giant robot mission.  Complementing him is Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, an aspiring woman pilot wishing to join Charlie for the sake of revenge (against the Kaiju, who killed her family).  Neither character is quite Prince Hamlet, but it is nevertheless refreshing that Kikuchi’s character in particular) are compelling and believable, complex enough to intrigue us and make us care about them.  Rounding out the human side of the film up are a number of other, supporting Jaeger pilots, the pilots’ commanding officer, and a pair of scientists.  The cast is colourful and quirky; again, it lacks complexity, but it is more than sufficient to sustain the intermissions between action sequences.

Speaking of intermission though, that’s the thing again.  The core of the film is always the action, the spectacle of Jaeger against Kaiju, human-in-robot against monster.  Like any artistically significant work, Pacific Rim knows exactly what it is doing, and doesn’t stray away from its singular purpose of unveiling a stage of theatrical battles, full of drama and passion and gusto.  That is why the film succeeds.

It also succeeds because the battles themselves are incredible.  The film’s first action sequence begins in a dark ocean, where the audience sees a monster threatening a miniscule human boat, ready to do all sorts of awful things to the powerless human sailors.  And then crash – along comes the Jaeger, rescuing the boat, before beating the monster away again and again with tremendous blows of the fist.  The camera, the lighting, the sound, the CGI – all of it combines to immerse the audience in a thrilling battle between good and evil, between the human and the inhuman.  It is literally epic – in proportion, and in the intensity of feeling that it inspires in the audience.

Pacific Rim will last the ages because it attempts one thing and attempts it well.  For a generation of mecha Anime fans, brought up on Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion, this film succeeds far beyond the league of Bayformers in presenting brilliant, powerful mecha action.  But for the human race at large, what this film does is more than cancel the apocalypse of terrible, overly-saturated and mismanaged sci-fi in the industry: what it does is mark a singular moment, where humanity’s spirit is raised to a new, transcendental plane of sensual and aesthetic apotheosis.  We grow witness to giants, and for the duration of the film, become giants ourselves in our wonder.