Pacific Rim is epitomized by two of its supporting characters: Charlie Day as an impulsive, frenetic garage scientist (Newt) who makes great strides through incredibly risky feats of breathtaking stupidity, and Hannibal Chow (Ron Pearlman), an over-the-top, butterfly-knife-flipping, armored-boot-wearing black market crime lord who selfishly extorts any leverage he can possible find.
The large majority of the cast does not present their characters anywhere near as creatively as Day and Pearlman, with various shades of grey between these two characters and the straight-faced Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam). But it doesn't matter. As soon as we are introduced to a character as quirky as Day, we as an audience immediately understand the tone of the film. This is a B movie done perfectly, and if you've headed into this film about giant robots fighting alien monsters with any other expectation, you're deluded.
I saw this in IMAX, and what struck me most about the presentation was how well represented the sense of scale is in this film - both in the visual sense and in the amount of impact and shear gravity Guillermo del Toro is able to convey. Every uppercut, every monster sent careening through a building, all of it is felt as much as witnessed. And this isn't Transformers. These robots and monsters move with the speed and intention that their size would practically allow, which doesn't just make for very legible action sequences – ones where we can actually see everything that's going on – it allows us to participate in the stakes for the robots' pilots to pull off even the most minuscule of combat maneuvers. It's an easy thing to completely botch for even the most accomplished filmmaker, but del Toro's vision is wielded perfectly here. We truly have the impression that the robots and their pilots are one, and we know intuitively what's on the line.
The film is set up within the first ten minutes through a drawn-out bit of exposition, recapping the last x number of years on Earth in which aliens have been decimating the major Pacific cities and humanity has struggled to make a stand against them. We are introduced to a strange new world through the gravely-voiced Hunnam, and are quickly caught up to a point in time where mankind is at a crucial tipping point. It's a little on the tedious side, and it would have been interesting to see how the film could have set the stage without this lengthy narrated intro, but the value of it is that we are introduced to the action and are prepared for the stakes to increase rather quickly, right off the starting line.
But once we're into the first act, it doesn't take long to settle into the type of straight-faced but campy action film that I grew up loving – just like Independence Day, Jurassic Park, and Terminator 2, Pacific Rim strikes the right balance of intensity, humour, self-reference and grandiosity. This is the type of film I would have loved as a kid, and the inner child within me couldn't help crying out at how well this film reflected what nine-year-old-me would have wanted to see in a theatre: Unique (badass) pilots with unique skillsets and characters, piloting giant machines with individual attributes and identities, battling varied monsters of unknown origin, and saving humanity through sheer bravery and punishing combat. It does all of that while never once pulling any punches (pardon the expression) – it's delivered in a way in which it feels meant to be presented.
I've heard other viewers say that del Toto nailed it. There's nailing it, and then there's punching it through a fucking skyscraper. It's a lot of fun, and while not at all challenging conceptually or even intellectually, I really felt like I was along for this ride and enjoyed every minute of it.