Today is my birthday, so I wanted to reflect on a movie that is so dear to me that I watch it almost every year on my birthday to celebrate.
My seventh-favorite movie, as of this writing, is none other than 2013’s Pacific Rim. I first learned about it when making this article for my high school blog, only knowing that it was some strange new movie by the director of Pan’s Labyrinth about mechas fighting kaijus. I was instantly sold by that alone, and set my calendar to watch.
Then, seven months later I saw it in IMAX and it became an instant classic. Save for the fact that I have loved Star Wars since before I could form complete sentences, Pacific Rim in every way is “my” Star Wars, the movie that captured my heart and imagination in a way almost no movie before or sense has managed to do. I saw this four times in theaters, which is more than any other recent movie in an age where ticket prices are so high.
It’s a pretty lofty claim to say that any movie is so good that it’s on the same inspiration level as Star Wars. Why the heck did this move me so much?
I actually did not watch the trailers at all. Somehow, I managed to completely avoid anything about it other than posters and a single TV commercial. It wasn’t even intentional, really; I think it was a massive coincidence that none of the movies I saw had trailers attached, but I guess I was too busy that spring and summer to have watched it of my own volition, either.
I’m kinda glad I didn’t see the trailer, though; it would not have made me more excited for the movie, I think:
This is two and a half minutes of Jaegar-Kaiju beatdown… and, uh, that’s it. It sets up the world, shows off a bunch of robots punching, but… uh, where’s the characters?
No wonder this movie “only” made $100 million in the U.S.; the marketing was so focused on the spectacle and action that it forgot to show the part that would make people care about the damn movie in the first place!
And that’s the secret to why Pacific Rim is so amazing. It does indeed have giant robots fighting giant monsters, and that is some badass stuff.
But it’s the characters that make this movie so special. The cast is quirky, memorable, and each member has enough depth that I actually remember everyone’s names off the top of my head. Barely any movie is good enough to get me to remember character names!
We got a solid, though not-particularly-quirky protagonist in Raleigh Beckett, complete with Charlie Hunam’s shaky American accent and hunky expressions. And next to him. we got Mako Mori, one of the strongest and coolest female protagonists in blockbuster movie history, a character so memorable that she inspired the Mako Mori Test for a measure of female characters in movies. These two are very good together, and have so much chemistry. It’s enough to make me an avid shipper… of a heterosexual pairing. Who woulda thunk it?
Then… the side characters! They’re so good!
Stacker “Canceling the Apocalypse!” Pentecost is one of the defining roles for Idris Elba and probably one of the main non-Luther reasons people have been begging for him to be the next James Bond since the beginning of the decade (too bad he’s too old now).
Tendo Choi, played by the bizarrely underrated Clifton Collins Jr. (of Capote, The Last Castle, and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit fame), is a quite minor character, played so skeevily that he’s got a weird fanbase of his own. He’s got so much history for how unimportant his part is. It’s just crazy.
Hermann Gottlieb and Newt, uh… IDK what Newt’s last name is, but these two squabbling scientists are the perfect recreation of the bumbling C-3PO/R2D2 sidekick duo without venturing anywhere near annoying thanks to, as usual, weirdly nuanced characters that are played so well. Also, it took me like ten watches to realize that they are kind of a gay couple. It’s incredibly obvious now, though, so I’m confused why it took so long…
Herc Hansen and his son Chuck Hansen are the Australians, and their strained relationship while also being Jaegar co-pilots makes for such an interesting subplot. Chuck is kind of a generic dick, but Herc Hansen is such a great character thanks to his status as Pentecost’s closest ally and a single father. Also, his actor’s name is Max Martini, and that is apparently his legal name. I love that.
And then there’s Hannibal Chau. He’s basically just Ron Perlman playing himself. That is not a bad thing whatsoever.
The key to everything, the reason why Pacific Rim is “my” Star Wars, is the characters. Sure, the mecha action is fantastic, the worldbuilding is amazing, the cinematography is superb, there’s tons of great practical effects, and the soundtrack is one of the best of the decade. But none of that would matter– Okay, wait, I gotta listen to the Pacific Rim theme song now.
…Where was I? Oh yeah. But none of those cool things about Pacific Rim would have mattered if the characters weren’t great.
Even if I loved the sci-fi weirdness of Oblivion, even if I was in awe at the absurd silliness of the Jurassic World movies, even if Justice League had some cool fight scenes, none of them really matter anything to me because the characters weren’t memorable. I don’t know any of the character names, let alone their personalities or what they likely do in their spare time offscreen.
Pacific Rim is like the Star Wars movies in that it gave us a TV season of story and character, wrapped up in a neat two-hour bow. No dilly-dallying, no four-movie infinity stone buildup with six filler movies, just a one-and-done start-to-finish masterpiece.
The sequel wasn’t as good, partially because it forgot to have good characters, partially because the director wasn’t up to snuff, and partially because of weird studio interference that forced a lot of China pandering in there. I still love it for what it is, but with the recognition that it pales in comparison to our lovely original.
But that’s okay. The original still exists, after all.
Since it’s my birthday, I’ll probably be watching Pacific Rim today, and I’ll get to see some robots beat up monsters with glee on my face. Because no matter how many times I see this movie, the wonder never goes away. This movie’s a bonafide winner.
(Also, never forget that I did 25 chapters of a Madoka Magica x Pacific Rim crossover story, Caribbean Rim, and only stopped because I moved to Japan. Never forget this at all.)