There's an emerging trend amongst film critics to cry out at the new studio fetish to hold a competition over which summer blockbuster can include the darkest materiel and cause the most wanton destruction. It might not be entirely unjustified, hardly a blockbuster this year met the credits without an uneven balance between dark and light, usually tipped in favor of not fun. It's then ironic that the underdog contestant of the summer is the one to master everything no other film this summer succesfully could. Just as the world's biggest powers pooled resources to defend the Earth from monsters, Pacific Rim gathers the best archetypes and tropes from a various set of sources around the globe. As a friend pointed out, the fallen hero on a path to regain honor is a classic American Western storytelling trope. However, the second lead, an asian girl named Mako, features a past and personality familiar to anyone with exposure to Japanese manga or anime. While these are well-worn conventions within their respective cultures, both critics and viewers seem to miss that rarely have they been brought together with such effortless flare. Thus, not only does the international cast and world-wide participation give viewers a sense of stakes and community, but there's something uniquely powerful about including these archetypes that work together so flawlessly as the only measure to defeat these epic foes.
Employing his skill-set from past films, Del Toro's world-building is so organic, he makes including the Kaju's effects on religion, the black market, and the psychology of the warrior so easy it may have even been easy to miss. There's another explanation to the liquid ease on display: the filmmakers have a heavy foot on the gas pedal, and the film absolutely flies by. This is especially the case in the second half, which is a nearly nonstop onslaught of battle that re-write the modern blockbuster definition of epic. Arguably, Pacific Rim features as many cgi-filled action sequences as Man of Steel. However, where Man of Steel exhausted viewers and sometimes bored them, Pacific Rim grounds them in reality with extremely well assembled action photography and editing, wisely employing traditional camera placements and movements to create a sense of needed realism juxtaposed to the fantastic. Because of this, the action feels grounded, and each blow actually impacts the audience. To keep viewers invested before the jaw-dropping Hong Kong set piece (probably the best of the summer), there's a compelling interplay between the melding of each pilot's mind and the control of a Jaeger, and I wish more screen time was devoted to this plot strand, especially as the final act turned its head. The performances are wildly uneven, some imbuing a necessary sense of humanity into the above described scenes, others a rude distraction in an otherwise cohesive film. Unsurprisingly, Idris Elba's flippin' fantastic, and probably had the best materiel to work with on a script level. It should also probably be noted the two bumbling scientists will either strike viewers as abrasive or really fun, but I saw them more as a clever way to diversify storytelling, and to that end they were successful.
That's not to say the film doesn't have flaws: The best ideas are the ones with the least screen time, the performances mostly range from bad to serviceable, the final set piece can't compare to the one taking place in Hong Kong, and the script is surprisingly poor on the easy stuff. By that I mean the screenwriters seemed so busy getting everything right nobody else could. Notably two things: a certain plot element turns out to have absolutely no bearing on the narrative, but to say which or why would be considered a spoiler, and the 'motivation' behind the attacks. While not a flaw, I'm also shocked how literal the film borrows from hard-core science fiction and anime, and I fear this may alienate some audiences. All that said, Pacific Rim triumphs where most films this summer have failed, masterfully balancing not only dark and light with a pervading sense of glee, but by also balancing aesthetics and narrative tropes from international adventure storytelling. This is a film for the world from the heart of a very mature and intelligent teenage boy, confident and proud of the story he wanted to tell. I loved it!