Giant robots versus giant monsters. Done awesomely.
I could pretty much end my review there, as it says all the important things right up front. But that would be probably overly short, and maybe just copy-and-pasting "GIANT ROBOTS versus GIANT MONSTERS" would get a little boring. Oh, and technically the title of this post should be "Going to be On My Shelves", I suppose, because I haven't got it yet.
When I saw the trailers for Pacific Rim, I knew I'd be going to see it. But I still braced myself for disappointment; I'm no stranger to discovering that the trailers lied, or at least took the best possible pieces of the movie and presented them in a very misleading way (the 1998 Godzilla as a prime example).
I was, to say the least, not disappointed.
Pacific Rim didn't have to do anything particularly special to make it watchable except to deliver its premise: Giant Robots versus Giant Monsters. But the producers evidently wanted to go beyond merely "watchable" and go for "awesome", and so they did do more – much more – than deliver Giant Robots versus Giant Monsters.
Part of delivering the awesome means you have to do something that surprises me. Now, with the basic premise revealed, you can't surprise me with that. So what can you do? Well, you can play on my expectations of the genre. Knowing that the trailers showed battles in generally real-world locations, I assumed that it would be a fairly typical monster movie – lead-in with a few mysterious events, build them up, monster eventually appears, countermeasures are attempted, eventually they build their giant robot battlesuits and monster ass is then kicked.
Instead, Pacific Rim disposes of the preliminaries in the first few minutes, showing us the emergence of the kaiju (literally "strange creature", but commonly used in modern parlance to mean Giant Monster), their resistance to conventional weapons, and the emergence of the Jaegers ("Hunters", the Giant Robot Battlesuits) to combat them, along with one of the key "cool details" of the operation of said suits – that they took two carefully synchronized people to operate properly.
Right there the movie had my attention. This wasn't a story of a monster or three appearing and being beaten; this was a story of a world at war on a scale undreamed of. And Pacific Rim continued to deliver. It introduced us to our hero, kills off his brother, and uses him to also show us just how badly the world is hurting, by putting him to work on a wall that is meant to keep the kaiju out – a wall which turns out to be inadequate, because the kaiju aren't entirely dumb animals, but apparently a progressive assault of some sort. The kaiju who show up early on are much smaller and weaker; the later ones become bigger and bigger and more deadly.
As it went on, Pacific Rim continued to use the basic tropes of its origin… but also to deftly modify or turn them around when useful. I particularly appreciated them minimizing the interpersonal conflict between the obvious "pair" in the plot, and in general between most people. These were a much more professional set of people than in many similar movies (though still obviously mavericks). In the end, the movie offered a picture-perfect dramatic climax and delivered it exactly as one might hope it would.
Pacific Rim also offers some hope that, just maybe, the new Godzilla film (also from Legendary Pictures) may not suck. Legendary has at least shown that it understands the spectacle of kaiju films very, very well.
In some ways, Pacific Rim is a live action version of one of the most famous anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, except for the fact that Pacific Rim doesn't suck, while Evangelion is quite possibly the most overhyped and annoying disappointment in anime history. It is also a more realistic "take" on some of the combat team tokusatsu films and series, with their giant mechanized warriors fighting alien monster threats; while still inherently ridiculous, the jaeger battlesuits and kaiju monsters of Pacific Rim are both treated more seriously, and given far more budget, than any of their inspriations. This makes a huge difference.
In addition, Pacific Rim pays attention to its secondary characters, something crucial in making the audience watch the film more than once. The support characters all have something important to contribute, and often do things that you expect… and then have different results. The strange technology (especially the "Drift" that allows two people to control a Jaeger) is not kept in isolation; implications of the technology are not ignored but are, instead, both considered and used effectively during the movie.
Were there any flaws in Pacific Rim? Probably. I've only been able to see it once so far, and I recall a couple of points where I was wondering about something. I suspect I'll find a few fumbles here and there upon rewatching. But even so, this is a marvelous film, one of a very few to attempt to take such an apparently ludicrous subject and treat it seriously enough that it becomes a serious film and not merely a parody.
And besides, it has GIANT ROBOTS fighting GIANT MONSTERS!
You should go see it, if you haven't yet. It's beautifully produced, the special effects are fantastic, Ramin Djawadi's soundtrack kicks ass, and did I mention that there's GIANT ROBOTS fighting GIANT MONSTERS?