restricted access Pacific Rim Directed by Guillermo del Toro (review)
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Pacific Rim (2013). Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Distributed by Warner Bros. 131 minutes.

In Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro weaves an epic tale of humans fighting gigantic monsters, the Kaijus, invading Earth through a portal that opens deep in the floor of the Pacific Ocean, To combat these invading alien monsters, countries that border the Pacific band together to build Jaegers: 300-foot-tall humanoid fighting machines operated from the inside by two human co-pilots. The co-pilots of a Jaeger, their minds linked by a neural bridge interface, share each other’s thoughts, feelings, [End Page 44] and memories, jointly controlling the machines with body movements, voice commands, and some traditional button pushing.

The Jaeger program achieves some initial success against the Kaijus, but when the tide of the battle turns against humankind, the Pacific Rim countries abandon it in favor of building massive defensive walls along their coasts. When the walls, too, begin to fail, Jaeger program commander Stacker Pentacost devises a plan to destroy the Kaijus’ portal to Earth with a nuclear warhead, ending the invasion for good. He tracks down and enlists Raleigh Beckett, an ace Jaeger pilot who disappeared from the program after his brother Yancy, who acted as his co-pilot, was killed in battle. The plan calls for three of the four surviving Jaegers, including Raleigh’s battered, American-built Gypsy Danger, to run interference for a fourth—Australia’s faster and more capable Striker Eureka—as it delivers the warhead. Before the plan can be set in motion, however, it is disrupted by a Kaiju attack that destroys two of the four Jaegers and injures one of Striker Eureka’s co-pilots. Pentacost himself takes over Striker Eureka and, in the final battle, sacrifices himself and his Jaeger in order to give Gypsy Danger—piloted by Beckett and his own adopted daughter, Mako Mori—the opportunity they need to destroy the portal and save the world.

Del Toro roots Pacific Rim in two distinctively Japanese entertainment genres: tokusatsulkaiju and mecha. The tokusatsu genre, characterized by extensive use of special effects, coalesced around the kaiju (literally, “strange creature;” or, colloquially, “monster”) film Gojira (Godzilla in the United States) in 1954. In addition to the many films in the Gojira franchise, later tokusatsu productions include Ultraman and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The kaijus of those early days were performed by actors wearing uncomfortable costumes, and designs of the computer-generated monsters in del Toro’s film pay homage to them by deliberately exhibiting the same man-in-a-suit quality. It also acknowledges the Japanese fascination with mecha: large fighting machines controlled by human operators, such as those in Robotech, Voltron, and episodes of Star Wars.

Beyond these specific links to Japanese film culture, however, Pacific Rim has a distinctly global—and perhaps globalizing—flavor. Del Toro, who hails from Mexico, casts the leading roles with actors from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. The film revolves around countries across the Pacific banding together to fight a global threat, and the final four Jaegers are from Australia, Russia, China, as well as the United States, with Australia’s the most technologically advanced. On the eve of battle, Pentacost, the British commander, addresses his crews in words reminiscent of the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V. Dressed for war in his sleek Jaeger-pilot gear, he declares: “Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today, there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” It is extremely clear that they are not [End Page 45] fighting for one country, one ideology, or one cause, but for the entire planet. Boundaries seemingly do not matter.

These nods to globalism, and to the distinctiveness and even agencies of Others, are undercut, however, by an underlying theme of American Exceptionalism. While an international force is assembled for...