Spectacle movies are always made better when they tell a good story. All the special effects battles in the world won’t help if the audience doesn’t care about the conflict. These stories don’t even need to be complex - the most complicated thing The Avengers says with its story is “teamwork is good”, and that movie was phenomenal - they just need to make the audience care about what happens on screen. Fortunately, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim does just that. Though the film creates an amazing world and thrilling action, its story is what makes it work.
In Pacific Rim, the world is besieged by Kaiju, giant monsters that come from an interdimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean. In response, mankind has banded together to create Jaegers, giant robots piloted by two mind-melded pilots. While the Jaegers are initially successful in stopping the Kaiju, the monsters soon become too much for the robots to handle. Now, the last remaining Jaeger teams must band together to launch one final attack on the interdimensional rift itself.
Pacific Rim builds an exciting world around its central concept. This world has had to live with constant monster attacks, and it shows. Buildings are built around Kaiju bones, New religions have turned up claiming the giant beasts as God’s wrath, and black marketers are making profits selling monster organs. There are even Kaiju and Jaeger action figures! Pacific Rim has a fully realized world, one where you could get whole new stories just by standing at an intersection.
And, of course, the monster battles are awesome. Each creature is interestingly designed, with the Kaiju as bigger, uglier versions of real animals while the Jaegers feel like something out of anime like Gundam or Voltron. And when these beings clash, there’s a real sense of weight and force to the battles. Every move feels likes a huge, lumbering effort that really sells the scale of the conflict. It truly feels like you’re watching a battle of titanic proportions, and it’s incredible.
But what makes Pacific Rim work is it’s central narrative. Pacific Rim follows Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a former Jaeger pilot who quit after the death of his co-pilot and brother. When the Jaeger program plans its final assault, Becket must return to his piloting duties and learn to work with his new partner, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). It’s a very simple setup, with Becket and Mori discovering more and more about each other as they prepare for the final fight. And yet, save for a few truncated story beats, it’s executed very well, giving the battles real emotional investment. When Becket and Mori finally fight their first Kaiju together in Hong Kong, it’s satisfying not just because of the action itself, but because of its emotional payoff for these characters.
Pacific Rim is a ton of fun. It’s simple but effective story elevates, what would otherwise be a mere spectacle, into a more poignant and thrilling movie. It may stumble a couple times in its storytelling, but when it works, it evokes an almost childlike sense of wonder and joy. You definitely don’t want to miss this one.