Godzilla-inspired beasts emerge from the depths of the ocean and combat with man-made and man-operated titanium titans, providing the sort of zip-whiz-fantastic sensory overload that comes with seeing robots battle aliens. But giant robots and the destruction of whole cities are not particularly new line-items on a summer blockbuster checklist. How, if at all, does Pacific Rim differentiate itself from its contemporaries?
For one, the refreshing tonal pitch that director Guillermo Del Toro adopts is unlike anything else in the marketplace. Akin to Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, the two share a palpable subversive quality that serve as a counterprogramming to the hyper-masculine displays of theatrics often seen in contemporary blockbusters. An example of two foreign directors taking large-scale action productions with an outsider’s perspective, the two films have a connective human tissue sewn across their lavish designs. And in the case of Pacific Rim, this humanistic quality rears its head even through its awe-inspiring battles. The similarities end there between the two though, with Pacific Rim stripping away cynicism in favor of an awe-shucks, pick yourself up-by your bootstraps approach. Featuring an opening sequence that details that global response to the first attack by the alien kaiju, del Toro operates under the sensibility that when facing catastrophe, the world does unite.
Achieving a sense of unity ends up being Pacific Rim’s central thematic concern. With each individual jaeger robot requiring two (and up to three) individuals to operate effectively, only those capable of syncing their emotions and honing their skill survive combat. Unlike so many contemporary blockbusters, such as World War Z and Man of Steel, that hold such a toxic view on the nature of working with others, Pacific Rim clearly establishes the need to work as part of a larger whole. Even characters with personal ambitions end up needing the aid of others to see their vision through. It’s the greatest treatment of the construction of Pacific Rim itself; it’s a work of a cohesive unit of artists. Guillermo Navarro, a del Toro regular, lenses the film impeccably, providing a feast of visual delight. From neon-lighted city sequences to scenes capturing the depth of the ocean floor, the film is nothing if not gorgeous. Crisply edited and pulsating with the right kind of manic energy from actors like Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, and Idris Elba, Pacific Rim is head and robotic shoulders above the rest of 2013’s summer blockbusters thus far. One can argue at how clumsy the film may feel (the dialogue sticks out as a sore thumb amid the wondrous visual design), but Pacific Rim achieves something that few other films can: a true sense of spectacle.