“Pacific Rim”: A loving tribute to anime

Pacific rim

Pacific Rim is the best blockbuster movie released so far in 2013. If you want to know whether or not it’s worth seeing, the answer is a resounding yes.

Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro’s love song to mecha anime and kaiju film. Everything about it, including the characters, set pieces, giant robots, and monsters will stir up nostalgia within anyone who’s been a fan of Evangelion, Power Rangers, or classic films like King Kong or Godzilla.

There’s the protagonist who’s a good guy by all accounts. There’s the general who has a rough exterior but a heart of gold. The shy love interest who is submissive to authority until she finally finds her voice and kicks all kinds of ass. Oh, and the asshole rival to the protagonist who completely redeems himself with an act of self-sacrifice.

The fact that the main cast fits so well into these archetypes has been polarizing among critics. Among all of the reviews that I’ve read, it’s the one thing that’s been consistently called out as a flaw in the film. Here’s Twitch’s Greg Christie:

And then the film starts introducing all of the other supporting characters, each one an iconic archetype, although stereotype might be more fitting.

[…]

There’s no room or time for the characters to breath. Everyone is practically introduced in a way where they might as well turn to the camera and say, “Hi, I’m the bossy but cute Asian love interest for the white man.”  “Hi, I might seem like a hard ass military black dude, but there’s more to me than just that.” “Hey there guys, we’re the comic relief for tonight.” “Ah, ya know I’m the prick you’re going to hate but I’m totally going to redeem myself with a huge sacrifice later.” ” Yo, I’m Ron Perlman, I don’t have to be anything else cause I’m mother fucking Ron Perlman and that’s enough.”

For most other films, I would agree with Christie’s take. In fact, that’s been one of the biggest problems I’ve had with the Star Trek reboots: the characters were simply hollow clichés based on the characters from the original series. But with Pacific Rim, I found myself feeling the same was as Scott Weinberg did in his review:

The Pacific Rim heroes are as deep as they’d be in issue #1 of a new comic book, and frankly it’s a little refreshing to have some basic heroes after dealing with so many emotional superheroes with daddy issues.

None of the characters in Pacific Rim are going through a Man of Steel-style identity crisis. Even though one of the characters does in fact have “daddy issues,” the conflicting universal themes that the film is working with – wanting what’s best for your child and wanting to take your own path in life – are reliable anime tropes that add a necessary emotional center to what could have easily been a shallow Transformers knock-off.

The cast does a fine job working with what they’ve been given. Charlie Day stands out as a character that’s basically the result of his character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia being Doc Brown’s apprentice instead of Marty McFly.

Del Toro doesn’t disappoint with the action. Like 2008’s underrated Speed Racer, the visuals are heavily influenced by anime’s style, though (as Christie notes) Guillermo also brings in his signature color palette. The fights between the robots (or “Jaegers”) and the monsters (“kaiju”) are visceral, with each hit given just enough screen time to let you soak it in – unlike Transformers, you won’t get dizzy or have trouble keeping track of who’s doing what in a fight. The result is a visual feast that you can’t take your eyes off of. 

The film even surprised me with some of the summer blockbuster clichés that it avoided. For instance, the potential for romance between the protagonist and his love interest is set up rather early in the first act, but the film makes no attempt to overtly sexualize her and when the day is saved there’s no “now kiss” moment. Seriously, Man of Steel, hundreds of thousands of people just died. Not the time.