It was 1977. I was just a kid, and my old man took me to the movies for a little father-son time. I don’t remember the theater – I was less than ten years old – but I remember that we saw Star Wars. I remember the magic, the feeling of wonder, the sense that I was experiencing something grand and amazing and unforgettable. It was one of the defining moments of my childhood, and it was spectacular.
Jump up 22 years. It’s 1999. I’m a grown man now, and I’m walking out of The Matrix. I’m blown away. I cannot believe what an amazing thing I’ve just witnessed. It’s breathtaking, when you sit through something so profoundly amazing that you know you just witnessed cinematic history. It’s like finding a whole new world, and looking through a window to watch it unfold. Not to overuse my hyperboles, but it’s magic.
One more time travel, this time to this morning. I am leaving the theater, having just sat through a 9 AM show of Pacific Rim, and I’m almost giddy. I can remember two times in my life that I watched a movie this amazing, and I just described them. Don’t get me wrong – there are other amazing movie moments in my life, like Raiders and Fight Club and Pulp Fiction – but those take place in the real world, or one similar enough to my own that I haven’t actually left the planet. Avatar was bad-ass, and Aliens was incredible, but to match the sheer epic feel of the fantastic, I have to go back to Star Wars or The Matrix. Those are the only two other times I can remember a movie that transported me like Pacific Rim.
You know the plot. Giant monsters pop out of the ocean, Godzilla-style, and we fight them with giant robots. It’s what happens if someone makes the movie version of Monsterpocalypse. Buildings are demolished. Streets are cratered. Monsters are punched. The story is secondary, because you’re going to the movies to see kaiju fight mechs. Anything after that is gravy.
And if the gravy wasn’t there, Pacific Rim would have been a fun movie for a weekend morning. It would have just been an exciting, big-budget extravaganza that you would rent when it came out on DVD. It would have been that first Transformers movie, where people were all excited because the jet turned into a robot and punched the other jet and turned back into a jet again. It would have been a Micheal Bay send-up.
But Guillermo Del Toro is not Micheal Bay. Del Toro is a genius filmmaker, and I’ve seen enough of his movies to know that I trust him to impress me. He’s a Neil-Gaiman-level creative genius, so when he tackles Mothra versus Battletech, it’s going to be more than just an animated slugfest.
With Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro proves that he’s got the chops to handle a multi-million-dollar budget. The reason you thought you were going to see Pacific Rim – the knock-down, drag-out, super-sized rumbles – are freaking amazing. Giant robots fighting giant monsters could have felt like two enormous MMA fighters duking it out in a Lego town, but the movie does an incredible job of showing us the massive scale of these combatants. Whether it’s a falling body demolishing a sporting arena or just a piece of debris that gets lodged between two skyscrapers above a street littered with ruined cars, everything feels huge. The movie, the action, the warriors – huge.
It’s not just the effects, either. The fights are thrillingly choreographed, and the action scenes tell stories. It’s not just a boxing match sponsored by ILM. It’s smart moves and tactical blunders, feats of incredible inner strength and failures of the human spirit. The fights are amazing, but they’re not just about the fighting. The brawls in Pacific Rim have a point.
And Del Toro takes this a step further. He takes a movie about robots and monsters and makes it all about the people. He shows us noble sacrifice and painful tragedy, love and hate and inspiration and bravery. It’s funny sometimes and sad sometimes, exciting and exhilarating, pensive and provocative. There’s genuine character growth and the writing shows incredible restraint, for being the big-budget version of Godzilla VS Mecha-Godzilla.
I have two complaints, and they are minor. One, there’s a part where the robot is in some deep crap, and the one guy goes, ‘I think we’re screwed,’ and the other pilot says, ‘no, we can use this other weapon we have.’ And it’s a very cool weapon that actually does an amazing job of kicking ass, and I’m wondering why you wouldn’t lead with that. The conversation was like this:
Pilot 1: “We are screwed. We are out of weapons.”
Pilot 2: “Wait, can we use this exceptionally impressive thing that we could have been using this whole time?”
Pilot 1: “Hmm. Well, I suppose it’s worth a try.”
In order to explain my second complaint, I’ll use an exercise. Right now, from your desk at work or your laptop in the living room or wherever, hum a few bars of Star Wars. Or Batman, either the Micheal Keaton one or the cartoon from the 90s. Or Magnificent Seven. You can do that, right? Because those were amazing pieces of music that brought the films to life. What would Star Wars have been with some generic, crappy soundtrack? Would Indy be as heroic without his trademarked theme? You get excited when you hear that music, because it’s stirring and powerful and you associate it with something fantastic.
Know what you get with Pacific Rim? You get a God-awful rap song about robots and monsters. I wish I was making this up. The only saving grace is that while this horrible, horrible song is bad enough to make you wish you had inserted ear-plugs before it began, it is also only played once, during the credits at the end of the film. The rest of the music in this movie is 100% forgettable. And that is a damned, dirty shame, because Pacific Rim is so freaking epic that it deserved some John Williams. I want to hear a friend whistle three bars of the theme of Pacific Rim and jump out of my chair and go, ‘Dude! That movie was AWESOME!’
Because seriously, Pacific Rim is awesome. I can’t emphasize that enough. I wanted to step out of theater, go up to the ticket window, and buy a ticket to the next show so I could watch it again. It was amazing. It was immense and thrilling, personal and compelling. I was watching Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, Neo and Trinity, only this time their names were Mako and Raleigh. It was a watermark moment in cinema.
I hope there’s a sequel.