Film review – Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim

How much subtext should be expected from a film about giant monsters fighting giant mecha robots? In the case of Pacific Rim, apparently not much as director Guillermo del Toro seems determined to make sure the film does not to come across seriously, which is disappointing considering del Toro’s background making both dark fantasy films with political allegories and creative comic book adaptations. In Pacific Rim there is the general idea that cooperation and tolerance will save humanity, since those are the key attributes required to pilot the giant mecha robots (Jaegers) to fight the giant invading creatures (Kaiju). But otherwise, the focus is on the spectacle of machine doing battle against monster. Unfortunately, that spectacle is distancing and even though it may have been unintentional, there is subtext in Pacific Rim and it is not fun.

The visual design of Pacific Rim is impressive on the surface without being entirely successful in building a world that feels believable. The graceful camera movements as the Jaegers stride majestically through the sea, the silky sheets of water that slide off their surface and the film’s overall saturated colour palette all look great, but never feel anything more than a collection of pixels, albeit a very artful collection of pixels. The design of the Jaegers is inventive and the way they move feels grounded and believable, in a way that was absent from Michael Bay’s Transformers films (2007-2011) where the shape and form of the alien robots never adhered to any tangible logic about how such colossal beings could convincingly function. And yet in Pacific Rim the illusion is continually shattered every time the film cuts back to the human characters, where the jarring contrast between the real and the CGI reminds us that the Jaegers are simply elaborate animations.

The rendering of the Kaiju is even less successful. The neon blue-blooded creatures never truly feel organic and attempting to make them appear so lifelike draws attention to how artificial they are. Before CGI, attempts to convey monstrous or mythical creatures through the use of stop-motion animation or even rubber body suits possessed more power to suspend disbelief by presenting their own abstract ‘realism’ aesthetic rather than trying to mimic photogenic realism. CGI technology is increasingly getting better at replicating the texture and tangibility of old fashioned special effects techniques, such as miniatures and prosthetics, but this is not evident in Pacific Rim.

While traditional animation or pre digital-era special effects may have helped in terms of establishing an emotional connection from the Jaegers and the Kaiju to the audience, the fight scenes are well choreographed. In contrast to the Transformer films with their illusion of excitement generated by the rapid editing and general disorientation of an overly cluttered frame, the action in Pacific Rim does follow an internal logic and is creative. However, similar to Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009), which also featured impressively designed CGI robots, there is still an overall disconnect between the objectively impressive design craftsmanship on screen and genuine emotional resonance. This is in part due to the film’s tentative tonal approach.

Pacific Rim really wants to present itself as a bit of fun and not be taken too seriously. Especially at the start of the film, the cartoonish dialogue and music effectively capture the feel of many of the Japanese mecha anime and monster films it is inspired by. The problem is that it is never confident enough to be completely camp, crazy or satirical, unlike say Godzilla 2000 (Takao Okawara, 1999) and the other films in the Godzilla Millennium era series. Instead, the reactionary airiness and lightness in Pacific Rim leaves the film feeling accidentally B-grade, exposing its routine characters, clunky dialogue and, worst of all, undermining some genuinely sophisticated ideas. The concept of the Jaegers having to be co-piloted by two people who are mentally and psychologically bound together in a symbiotic relationship is wonderful, but the concept becomes a casualty of the film’s overall determination not to give weight to any of its themes.

Most worrying is the film’s illusion of progressive cooperative values, when it is really functioning as a social cohesion conformity narrative. It shares the gentle conservative values (but not the fun) of films like Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) and the original 1960s Star Trek television series. All these texts present an ideal of racial harmony as a result of the human race banding together to stand strong against the rest of the universe. However, in all cases the basic ideology is a simplistic us-and-them dichotomy where external cultures are to be feared and destroyed, in the case of Pacific Rim and Independence Day, or in the case of Star Trek those cultures are there to be assimilated, civilised and tamed.

More significant is the way the different human races and cultures, who supposedly now work together without prejudice, ultimately conform or submit to the dominant American culture. While non-American characters often play important roles in these texts, the rule of law, moral framing, ultimate triumph and political iconography resides with the white and male American hero as other characters lose narrative status over the course of the film or episode. A good example of how this can be done differently is the complex mix of issues, characters and ideologies in the 2000s Battlestar Galactica television series. Pacific Rim unfortunately follows the pattern of systematically marginalising its diverse array of characters, although it deserves some praise for at least containing the diversity in the first place.

What really spoils the fun in Pacific Rim, and makes it hard to respect as a homage to its monster film source material, is the way it treats the Kaiju. An important aspect of the many Godzilla films, not to mention Western monster films such as the variations on King Kong, is there was often a degree of sympathy for the monster, especially when the monster was creating havoc due to being unaware of its actions and placed in a position of being harmful due to human intervention. Recent animated films Frankenweenie (Tim Burton, 2012) and ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, 2012) tapped into the sympathy for the monster dynamic beautifully, reflecting the way classic horror and monster films often asked the audience to momentarily spare a thought for the hated creature before it dies. There’s nothing like that in Pacific Rim.

And it is not as if a monster film has to create empathy for its killer beast. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008) avoided having to do so by giving no narrative information about the creature, as instead it functioned as a terrifying and unknown threat to post 9/11 New York in a similar way that the original Japanese Godzilla films used the monster to embody fears of atomic bombs post World War II. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997) used the technique of heavy satire where the invading Arachnids are viewed through the perspective of the hyperbolic fascist futuristic human society. While the gloats and war cries in Pacific Rim feel obnoxious, in Starship Troopers celebrating the destruction of the enemy and relishing their fear is done in scenes that frame the militaristic bravo as comparable to Nazism.

Pacific Rim goes into considerable detail to explain the origin of the Kaiju as creatures created specifically to wreak havoc on the human race. They are like animals that are cruelly bred to be aggressive – primal, instinctive and sent to do the bidding of their masters. Due to how dangerous such creatures are they do need to be destroyed, but surely with some sympathy rather than macho bravado? In one scene of Pacific Rim the body of a dead Kaiju is shot to pieces and the audience is encouraged to find the moment amusing. In another scene a Kaiju gives birth and its offspring then dies. Again, the moment is supposed to be amusing.

The Kaiju are relentless, destructive and deadly, but Pacific Rim makes a big mistake in giving the audience a reason to feel empathy for them to only then be encouraged to relish in their demise. It is one more factor that makes Pacific Rim such a hollow experience. Far from the creativity shown in del Toro’s previous work, Pacific Rim is a B-grade film that is neither serious enough nor camp enough, and needing less cultural assimilation subtext and more sympathy for the devil.

Thomas Caldwell, 2013
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18 Responses to Film review – Pacific Rim (2013)

  1. Fred says:

    Demonstrating a total lack of understanding about Star Trek, while using it as a reference in his review, does not exactly encourage confidence in the author’s judgement.

  2. I don’t think I have a total lack of understanding about the original Star Trek series, but I have adopted a fairly common critical position on it that you may not agree with. And I’d love to know why if you wish to elaborate.

  3. Caldwell I would like to ask how you see the PPDC as an assimilationist of an American perspective. It’s a generic (or rather platonic) form of Human Military , even using titles such as “Marshall” that dont exist in the US. The fact that there is only one american among the entire group of characters also points me to question your analysis. The American Machine does serve as the prime protagonist role but the major accomplishments of the film were achieved by two Germans, a Black British Man and Australians. (Though I agree the Chinese and Russians needed more screentime)

    As far as “sympathetic Kaiju” that viewpoint is nowhere near universal in the genre (the original Gojira was a rather masochistic morality play on the Faustian aspects of nuclear power, Godzilla is effectively a massive boogeyman that comes to punish us for using “bad” technology instead of a character in his own right) In this setting they are weapons, sympathy for them would be like sympathy for a gun, or a bullet; the fact that the Kaiju and the Jaegers have so many similarities (two brains, to fight monsters we made monsters etc.) should key into the fact that they are little more than organic robots. Newt even points out that they were wrong to think of them as animals of instinct in the film, when they are really mass produced designer weapons (a Blade to burst a wall, an EMP to shut down robots and so on) controlled though an automated hivemind.(The “multishot” scene with Leatherback was of course Raleigh’s catharsis of the death of his brother, just as Mako’s sword finsiher was for the loss of her family)

    Though to not rely o heavily on death of the author I’ll let the director speak for himself.

    GDT: “I have used monsters in a identifiable, sympathetic ways, and the Kaiju are like an earthquake, or a tornado, or a hurricane…a force of nature. They are essentially blind to any moral or ethical circumstances, their path is their path. If there’s a city or a highway, they just move. That is a big difference.”

  4. Hi James

    Thanks and you raise lots of interesting points…

    ***Spoiler warning***

    To elaborate on my take on the film having an assimilationist narrative, it’s not just the Amercian machine being the hero (and I felt the machines where of more narrative importance than the humans) but the overall frontier and us-versus-theme dynamic that I feel is distinctive (but not unique) to western films and American war films. I will concede that the concept of cooperation in piloting the machines strongly conflicts with notions on individual achievement, which is an important characteristic of American cultural assimilation.

    Maybe I should have gone broader and say I was more disappointed that out of such a diverse cast of characters, it was the salt-of-the-earth white Alpha male who rose above the rest in terms of being the human hero and getting the girl, once the other male character whose authority she was symbolically and literally under gets killed off.

    As for my sympathetic monster argument, I do mention that in the early Godzilla films the creature was an embodiment of fears and anxiety around the nuclear age, and as you say comes to punish humanity for its hubris. And as I also said, the creature from Cloverfield is similarly a force of nature.

    However, it is different in Pacific Rim as we do get a backstory to the origins of the creature that I found tragic. Even though del Toro says otherwise, the creatures aren’t just a force of nature but bred (or cloned) to effectively function as attack dogs. They may simply be weapons, but they are still sentient beings who feel pain and can procreate (which is puzzling if they were meant to be cloned). A creature doing damage because it doesn’t know better does have to be stopped, but I felt less glee and just a hint of empathy would have gone a long way.

  5. Do I really need to put my name? says:

    I feel like you’re reading way, way too far into a movie [Then I'll cut you off there as that attitude makes your opinion irrelevant on a film criticism blog - TC]

  6. donut says:

    I agree with the review and find it reassuring that someone else took notice of things like marginalisation of minorities which I found very grating when watching the movie. The lack of sympathy for the Kaiju made me feel quite uneasy, and at times I found myself “rooting for” the monsters rather than the clichéd, 2-dimensional human characters. The fact that the movie featured only one main female character only added insult to injury.

    I’m not sure how the fact that this is a sci-fi movie about robots fighting monsters excuses lazy writing and poor characterisation.

  7. Chris says:

    Actually I have not seen the film, but I can see where you’re right & wrong, and where Torro (or rather the inept writer, which is so typical nowadays i need not comment more on that.) is misguided.

    What you missing is that if Torro says they are just “Kaiju are like an earthquake, or a tornado, or a hurricane…a force of nature. They are essentially blind to any moral or ethical circumstances, their path is their path.” The implication is you essentially have Real Steel robots, where you as the audience, don’t feel for the robots. You do feel for the human characters, and only view the robots with an objective perspective, in seeing if resolution to the question is attainable ie can the underdog win.

    Torro (or again the writer) really does not understand the two films that showed monsters as not sub-human but the fault of humanity, and that’s why we feel for them, good examples would be Them! (1954) and the Godzilla movies. And the similarities they show. Birth.

    A poor example would be Gort, in the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, but it would be what Torro (above) meant.

    But again, the writer, misses the most impactful sentiment out there. In that, if you ever watch a youtube video of lion cubs, they are not inherently savages, even they show no mercy (when eating), as it’s about survival.

    So to show a “monster” giving birth, who’s child then turns instantly into a monster is inherently missing the whole point of birth, at it’s deepest psychological level. As well as clearly being off the mark in terms of ‘the human experience’, which all good films are an example of.

    Shame does not belong completely to Torro, but to the ever present idiot writers, that are how hired with ever increasing frequency. Who know little of nature, the story, the structure, the metaphors, the meanings of life, nature and journeys undertaken. Including the psychological and the physiological implications of such, and how all of that cumulatively equates to the human experience. ie The Audience.

  8. Rubin Safaya says:

    As a critic myself, I do appreciate your thoughts. You took it in a different direction than I did but brought up points that I’ve addressed with other films. Where I would say I disagree is the idea that the film is America-centric. As another commenter pointed out, the achievements of the other pilots are not unmentioned.

    It may seem like these accomplishments are all told through the lens of an American-focused story, except for two important points:

    1. The American Jaeger is piloted ultimately by an Asian woman and a British black man. This was deliberately against the studio’s wishes, as they’d wanted Tom Cruise in a lead role and del Toro would not budge.

    Another point this brings up is that in the post-apocalyptic story, geographical locations have less sociopolitical distinction in the future than they do now, which brings me to my second point:

    2. The entire Jaeger program is moved to Hong Kong, off the coast of which the final battle takes place.

    From the point of view of the story, whatever it is that is America in our real existence no longer exists. And decidedly absent from the film, other than knowing that Gipsy Danger was geographically located in North America,are the jingoisms that plague other “us versus them” films.

    Lastly, one area where the film succeeds is by not treating Mako Mori as a “fighting fuck toy”… She has a degree of self-doubt, and though her abilities are kept in check by a father figure who literally tries to keep her infantilized, she overcomes his objections and never becomes the love interest of the male protagonist… no sex scene, no kiss. There’s just one scene, the brawl with the Australian, in which she stands by as Raleigh “fights for her” but otherwise they handled it better than most films of this genre.

    If the issue is the “us vs. them” plot, then you have to look completely outside a genre that unites people around an organic obstacle to something more intellectual like Contact, but Pacific Rim isn’t even remotely close to attempting to be that kind of film.

    There’s little coincidence, in my mind, that the Jaegers, designed like bombers, given callsigns and body art, the scenes of young Mako in post-apocalyptic Japan (visually recalling Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies), and the unity against a common foe are deliberate references to World War II, in which various nations did unite around a common scourge. I don’t think that you’re arguing that in and of itself that’s not a noble cause, but if we want things to pick apart in this film it’s more logical to go through the lapses of reasoning (two pilots just seems like a plot device, doesn’t it?) rather than why Pacific Rim is less like Contact and more like Rocky IV, except Drago’s and Balboa’s match is suddenly interrupted by Godzilla.


    Correction to my previous comment: Idris Elba pilots a Japanese Jaeger and later the Australian Jaeger.

    And the film doesn’t feel to me to be driven by Raleigh’s personality informing the moral tone so much as Idris Elba as the dominant personality… he’s very hard to ignore, which makes me curious why you found Charlie Hunnam more compelling to focus on?

    Does that possibly say more about me being non-white than it says about what perspective the film is trying to tell the story from?

  9. James says:

    You employ the vocabulary of a post-graduate thesis to expound on a pretty simple idea: us vs. them = cooperation and salvation. You view this as subtext. That this idea is inherently conservative in your estimation seems strange to me. This narrative structure is so archetypal it basically predates the notion, at least our notion, of liberal or conservative. It has been used in stories since there were stories. But nevertheless…

    Maybe you’re right, I haven’t seen the film yet, but in Pacific Rim arent we invaded by the alien/ monsters first? Wasn’t that also the case in ID4? It isn’t as though humanity sought out other worlds and civilizations to subjugate in these stories? Essentially the narrative you describe entails people putting aside the petty differences that keep us apart to rise up in cooperation to defeat our oppressors. So, what’s wrong with that exactly? What is ugly about that?

    I guess you could make a movie about humanity cooperating without the need for interstellar invasion, but… these aren’t that movie. Nor are they trying to be. Are you advocatng that if attacked, by whom or whatever, humanity should immediately capitulate? That we should try to understand the feelings of our oppressors as they annihilate us? Its a strange point of view. Especially in light of what I understand to be Pacific Rim‘s very, very light touch. If you try hard enough you can make something out of anything. Mountains out of molehills, perhaps?

  10. Josh says:

    It seems fairly evident from the above commentary that there is a general lack of understanding of how ideology (to which Caldwell’s review specifically refers) functions. For example, a film, character, setting (time or geopolitical) or theme need not bear a literal resemblance to an American context in order to convey the dominant cultural ideologies of a contemporary American Western perspective.

    For those more literally minded, a few points to consider in relation to race, gender and cultural dominance in the film:

    Pacific Rim follows the traditional hero journey/redemption narrative. Despite the presence of peripheral characters the central figure in this regard is unmistakably the white male protagonist.

    The ‘other’ characters, who are all racially, culturally or ethnically marked are either killed off, and/or pushed to the narrative’s periphery in order to facilitate the white character’s heroic journey, or pacified by ultimately adopting a role of submissive love object* (once the hero has ‘saved’ her in the climactic battle).

    *Rubin may have left before the end of film if he is unable to recall the concluding kiss in which the hero claims his ‘prize’. Or the scene in which Raleigh undresses while Mako watches with an evident degree of sexual interest/awe that pre-empts her transition to a passive romantic role.

    While it may be tenuous to draw distinctions between the comparative ideological positions of the US and the UK (as some of the above commenters suggest by pointing to the presence of Elba’s British leadership), it’s worth recalling that in the only explicitly political scene in the film his character is directly commanded by the US President via a bank of wall screens while the other world leaders (like the ‘othered’ characters) are forced to take a back seat.

    As Caldwell has demonstrated, this is a text ripe for ideological analyses. We could also look to the parallels between the film’s tech v nature binary, the concealed ‘underground’ existence of the beasts, the desecration of the Kaiju corpse, and those contemporary conflicts/incidents in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the dehumanisation of those combatants or the fact that the Kaiju/Jaeger (Japanese/German) names offer a curious point of reference to WWII that might warrant further interrogation.

    Each of those critical/analytical approaches would require a degree of understanding and contemplation beyond the surface of things as they appear in the film. In the interests of film criticism it may be productive to keep that in mind.

  11. To Chris and Caldwell

    I see where you are coming from, but an aspect of this film I find quiet refreshing and original is that it is inherently humanocentric.

    Science Fiction had a bit of a turn of the last century into a pessimistic, disturbingly masochistic trend in which science technology and human achievement were all shown to be wrong. See Avatar as a prime example of this in modern times, or again the original Godzilla.

    The creators of this film chose to go in a deliberate opposite direction, taking on the eastern tradition in which science is not a curse or man “playing god” but instead a tool for human achievement.

    Misanthropic aspects of sci fi that portray man as evil and brutish and technology as an abominable curse on man, are to me, as a man of science, personally distasteful. Mankind has achieved amazing wonders with our technologies and to see our fiction become a perverse act of masochistic self-lashing at the very aspects of ourselves that let us prosper really disturbs me.

    The so-called “Sympathetic Monster “is one of the defining aspects of this.
    In traditional mythemes, Monsters were forces of pure annihilation and death, the Chaoskampf as a trope seen in the Hebrew Leviathan, the Norse World Serpent, and the Sumerian tales of the Dragons being the exemplar of this view. Here we had the hero figure slaying this monster, beast or demon in the name of humanity and the populace. Pacific Rim is a return to this more humanocentric view, as opposed to the contemporary anti-human bias in science fiction that often warps this view into the monsters being sent upon us as some kind of naturally occurring version of divine punishment.

    “Man went too far, Gaia’s Vengeance,” all sickening clichés that seek to assuage the twisted morals of a populace that owes its very existence to the human mind they decry. Godzilla (1954) created an elder dragon that would punish humans for daring to use nuclear power (and I’m sure the political undertones of Nuclear Technology being what ended Japan’s Empire were far from coincidental). Even the Oxygen Destroyer, the tool of their salvation, is destroyed, and its creator must kill himself to restore the honor he lost by daring to create it. I refer to the satire of this viewpoint as seen in this comic:

    Godzilla or the Bug Monsters of Them! Weren’t meant to be sympathized with, but to be seen as a hysterical fear mongering reaction to then new aspects of nuclear energy. They were man made monsters that carried the core message of “Stop!” when it came to human progress, an Icarusian wave of paranoia for a new age; a non-theistic tower of babel.
    Science Fiction’s ironic loathing of science is a huge disrespect to the works of those such as HG Wells and Asimov, whose works show Science as a pathway of innovation, ingenuity, creativity and salvation.
    Seeing film after film of pessimistic humankind brought low by our sapience, the very thing that defines our species is one of the most unnerving trends I have seen in Modern Science Fiction.

    Thus when I see Pacific Rim use machines as agents of heroic action (and even better avoiding the kneejerk and dreadfully trite and banal anti-nuclear morals that FLOODED science fiction for the past few decades) I welcome the breath of fresh air, instead of, like some others, wishing to go back to an age when Humanity spits on itself for achieving. Pacific Rim’s desire to not “humanize” the Kaiju is a deliberate choice, as not only seen in Del Toro’s comments but Raleigh’s speech at the beginning “Fighting the Hurricane.” The war against the Kaiju isn’t here as a reconfirmation of western biases, but instead a proud declaration against the grim n gritty depressive fictions that would have humanity been beaten down and dragged out like some kind of species wide passion play.

    Thus, Pacific Rim doesn’t merely plays off its ancestor Godzilla but moves past it by ascending its myopic misanthropic aspects to instead become and overall love letter to humanism. Note how these machines are powered by the Drift; we are literally channeling our human spirit through machines to protect or race. The Pan-National aspects here are thus meant to reinforce he idea of the species as a whole being something to be cherished and held dear; not a stain or blight on the Earth.

    Pacific Rim is a stunning rejection of the demonization of Humanity and anti-humanism in science fiction, and to wish to return to an era of fiction full of technophobic paranoia were humans are bad little boys who deserve our spankings is degenerate, and overall, I would argue, disturbing.

    You also shouldn’t critic films you haven’t seen Chris.

  12. Hi James

    I agree with you that science needs to be portrayed with integrity and respect – especially in an era where science is being undermined by political debate – and that more often than not science is ridiculed in popular culture. Hollywood is full of the stereotype of the crazy and dispassionate scientist whose endeavours threaten the human race. It is a stereotype used to discredited intellectualism and expertise (what some people call elitism) in favour of far more simplistic and ideologically motivated courses of action. This is something I wrote about here.

    But I don’t think this is what you are talking about. You talking about science as a tool to conquer the natural environment regardless of the consequences. I don’t find anything humanistic about this. And I don’t think this is a celebration of human achievement when one group of humans benefits at the expense of another group.

    One example you critique is Avatar where on the one side you have a group of researchers who have developed a technique to better communicate with and understand an indigenous population. On the other side, you have a militarist private company who wants to plunder the natural environment regardless of the destruction it will cause, and in the end regardless of the fact that by doing so they commit an act of genocide. That’s not anti-science. It’s not even anti-progress. It’s anti-exploitation, anti-falling in a progress trap and anti-genocide.

    Most alarming is your description of the original Godzilla films as ‘hysterical fear mongering reaction to then new aspects of nuclear energy’. The original Godzilla film was made less than a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These films were not anti-technology, they were anti-nuclear weaponry with a very good reason.

    As for Pacific Rim I liked the way it portrayed the research of the scientist characters as having a direct and positive influence on the outcome of the narrative, but I disliked that they were portrayed as cartoonish comic relief.

    So, I think it comes down to ideology and you favour the ideology of this film for the same reasons that I do not. And I think your interpretation of scientific advance and humanism is very different to mine.

  13. Chris says:

    James Hayes-Barber I’m afraid you don’t get what I’m saying, i not criticizing the film, as I said I have not seen it.

    But when one knows how the structure works, and how the mythology plays, one does not need to. One can glean enough from others comments, and of course reading the script. That’s a testament to how well I know the underlying metaphors that have been used, what they mean, how they work as far back from the days of Ancient Greece. (in fact I would argue even further back than that.)

    The reality, is if you don’t understand these, there will always, be something missing from the film. OR rather not missing, but elements that does not make it last beyond one showing, which the audience will only be drawn to because of the spectacle.

    A good example of that would be the use of water in The Matrix. Without it, it would have not had the metaphorical and psychological impact it did. And how even though people didn’t like 2 & 3, they still managed to bring in vast numbers.

    So hear of birth, and read the writers not understand exactly (yes. again I read the script) what that means, at multiple levels, is completely a missed opportunity, but also shows a level of naivety and inexperience on their part.

    Which was clearly show to me when I looked to see what else the writer had done. Nothing. Color me surprised.

    But honestly what difference does all this make?

    Very little, Hollywood got a writer cheap, the kid’s will love it irrespective – it’s Giant Killer Robots. It’ll make it’s money back. It’s just a Chinese take-out, 1/2 hour later your hungry, a day/week later and you wont remember it.

    What’s lost, is Torro’s ability, unlike Lucas’s to really create a world, a universe that extends much more beyond one film and is a lot more satisfying than just eye candy. Which seems to be the order (and dare I say it, people frustrations with re-makes, cgi-fest’s that offer nothing over the original) of the day.

    Well said Thomas:
    “I don’t think this is a celebration of human achievement when one group of humans benefits at the expense of another group.” (extremely well said) – I’d add to it, that in fact the above is an anti-heroic statement. The definition of Hero is – to protect and serve, all of humanity, the role inherently of a hero is one of self sacrifice.

    Godzilla
    “These films were not anti-technology, they were anti-nuclear weaponry with a very good reason.” (well said). Further we do get to sympathize with Godzilla when it gives “birth”, as we see it’s just trying to protect it’s young. The film with Rodan, and again in the 1998 remake of Godzilla.

    Them!
    Is not anti-technology, it’s about “We don’t understand what the consequences of what we’ve created”. Relating to Oppenheimer’s understanding “after” he realized the power of the weapons… “I have become the destroyer of worlds”. Emphasized and stated in the last lines of the script … “What about all the other nuclear tests that have been done? [sic] Since the first test, what impact will they cumulatively have?

    The Day the Earth Stood Still
    There is still an huge irony in that film that the police have ultimate power, and GORT will act on what HE perceives as aggression, irrespective of humanity’s wishes, which is more like Torro’s statement of Hurricanes etc. That juxtaposition I thought was singularly better explained in The Forbin Project, or at least the motivation behind it, which was effectively copied and used in I, Robot.

  14. A small but potentially important correction. The film does not end with a kiss but a chaste hug. This was a deliberate decision by the film maker: link

  15. Dod says:

    Thank you for your review, especially for your bit about how the Kaiju are treated. And to juxtapose it with Starship Troopers. I had the same exact response, and its refreshing to see someone else saying it. I’m supposed to celebrate whilst these macho shitheads brutalize a creature that they have been informed is basically enslaved by another race? I went in knowing that del Toro said it was an homage to the monster movies he loved growing up. Where’s the empathy for the monsters that I saw in all of those? Where is at least a modicum of understanding or interest in who they are? I was definitely rooting for them to kill the humans by the end of the film.

  16. metaphizzle says:

    Regarding the issue of empathy for the kaiju, one can analyze it with in-story logic, or out-of-story logic.

    In-story logic: The film also makes it clear that the kaiju and their masters are a hive mind. It’s explicitly spelled out that whatever one kaiju learns, the entire species learns as well. The exact implications of this are a bit foggy. Perhaps it means the kaiju are not really sapient organisms, but biotech machines being remotely piloted. (This would certainly cast the line “To fight monsters, we created monsters of our own,” in an interesting light.) Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the kaiju and their masters are collectively just one organism—with the death of an individual kaiju comparable to the loss of a finger… maybe just the death of an individual cell. Or perhaps the individual kaiju actually are sapient organisms, in which case their hive mind implies that they are 100% supportive of their masters’ plan to commit xenocide.

    The movie does go out of its way to depict the kaiju not as unthinking monsters, but as intelligent villains—and incredibly petty ones at that. Recall the fight off the Alaskan coast, where the kaiju targeted a single fishing boat. Or Mako’s flashback (assuming her memories of the event were accurate), where the kaiju paused its destruction of Tokyo in order to menace a single child.

    There’s an interesting contrast in the effects of “drifting”. When humans drift together, they grow much closer and empathize with each other. When humans drift with the kaiju hive mind, there is no empathy. Both sides learn how to better kill each other, and that’s it.

    And that brings us to the out-of-story logic. Why did Del Toro choose to write the kaiju this way? He’s fully capable of writing sympathetic giant monsters when he wants to: just watch the fight with the plant elemental from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. So the decision to portray these giant monsters as giant assholes is a deliberate one.

    Another, seemingly unrelated, issue sheds light on this question. Before the big fight in Hong Kong, Marshall Pentecost gives the order to evacuate the city. In real life, that would be a logistical nightmare. In Pacific Rim, the evacuation goes off without a hitch, and the entire population is in shelters by the time the kaiju reach land. Del Toro stated in an interview that this bit of fantasy was a conscious decision: it allowed the spectacle of city destruction without the deaths of innocent civilians.

    In short, Del Toro wanted spectacular giant robot vs. monster action, without the unpleasant details that would make it horrific if it were to happen in real life. That’s why civilian deaths are minimized, and (getting back to my point) that’s why there are no shades of gray in the conflict. The kaiju are completely in the wrong, so their passing should be celebrated, not mourned.

    Real conflicts are nuanced and messy, so Del Toro created a fantasy war against a fantasy enemy that we can kill without feeling guilty about.

  17. Thanks metaphizzle – that was extremely well argued! The points you make about the kaiju hive mind as opposed to the human drifting experience has compelled me to rethink my stance on the empathy question.

    Again, thanks for such a thoughtful contribution to the discussion.

  18. hades_ibex says:

    The final defence of a Chinese city, Hong Kong, is undertaken by the Americans, Japanese, and English, while the Chinese and Russian robots fail miserably. Some political undercurrents there?

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