In three days time, one of my most anticipated films of the year comes out. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a long time coming, as the first film is one of the few recent original films that deserves a franchise. To celebrate the second film, let’s look back at the original 2013 film, already gone down as a cult classic and an action masterpiece, all brought to life by the masterful skills by Academy-award winning director Guillermo del Toro (it feels so satisfying saying that. Never before have I agreed with the Oscars so much).
The world of this film is expertly constructed. In the opening ten minutes, the audience is told everything they need to know about the backstory of the Kaiju and the Jaegar, with a fully detailed future established before the first action sequence. Every frame is gorgeous and packed with immense detail- as soon as the movie is over you instantly want to return to it, which thankfully we will. What makes this film stand out amongst the crowd of CGI blockbusters is the fact that it feels real and tangible. The Jaegars look real, the Kaiju look real, the world presented is worn down and believable. It’s all down to del Toro’s magnificent eye for production design and attention to detail throughout. His use of colours and practical set design complement the amazing visual effects perfectly. How this did not win at least Best Visual Effects, I do not know. Every creature in this film was designed from the ground up, and it shows.
But it’s not just the visuals and direction that make this film work. The characters are also great. They aren’t the most complex or fleshed out, but it’s the simple characterisation that works. Raleigh Beckett is a character afraid of living up to his brother’s name and afraid of failing. Throughout the film he is told he must help Stacker Pentecost fight the Kaiju, but Raleigh is frequently hiding from doing the right thing. Through his connection with Mako and the realisation that they must work together, he decides to lead the charge against the Kaiju. It’s a simple and satisfying arc. Mako Mori is one of del Toro’s best female characters, being fully independent and fleshed out. Her arc is brilliant, as she learns how to use her past as a motivation to keep fighting. Rounding off the best characters is del Toro regular Ron Perlman stealing the show as Hannibal Chau and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, being plain awesome every second he is one screen.
The themes in this film are quite inspiring and meaningful in today’s world. The multi-national characters present a world that has overcome differences to fight a greater threat and it’s a great message about how the human race can work together. Of course, with this being a del Toro film, expect lots of rain, contrasting colours, thing in jars, dissection, water and common themes. Like other del Toro protagonists, Raleigh refuses to be shaped by what society and circumstance dictates them to be and is able to forge his own path through his personal choices. Of course, this is just subtext, and the film is mainly focused on the spectacle of watching giant robots punch giant monsters in the face. The action is incredible- yes, it’s mostly CGI, but it’s done so well and so engaging, thanks to the amazing music, great buildup and stunning landscapes. The gigantic Hong Kong battle works so well because the film already established the characters and the combination of location filming, real sets and meticulous computer effects are mind blowing. I do not know how this battle was made to look so good, but I’m certainly very impressed.
The script by del Toro and Travis Beacham is clever and witty. I love how the film gives everybody subplots and actions that move the story along and expand the world. Newt’s trip into the neon drenched streets of Hong Kong is so detailed and Hannibal Chau is so fun I could watch an entire film focused on him. Everyone in this film has a purpose, right down to the other Jaegar pilots. The film is so fun to watch and never takes itself seriously. I’ve heard people complain how this isn’t like del Toro’s other films and how it lacks the depth of his Spanish language films, and I agree. But this isn’t trying to be Pan’s Labyrinth, this is trying to be a love letter to giant monsters and is del Toro’s way of recovering from the turbulent production of the Hobbit and the failure of At the Mountains of Madness getting produced. He would return to his usual style after this, but this stands as his most fun and accessible film, which anyone who has an inherent passion for giant monsters and giant monsters (which is nearly everyone, I guarantee) can enjoy. As I’ve mentioned, this film still has the master of monsters’s regular style, themes and auteur signature present. It may be simple and is at the end of the day a summer blockbuster, but it’s the vivid world, great style and underlying messages that make this stand out amongst the crowd.
So, am I looking forward to the sequel? Of course I am. I have faith that Steven S DeKnight can give us a satisfying sequel. It’s always good to see John Boyega in a leading role and based on the trailers it looks like del Toro’s unique visual style has not been completely lost. I’ve decided to not have the long gap between the first and second film put me off (after all, there was seven years between Alien and Aliens) and instead focus on how the second could improve on the first. It’s great to see an original franchise get recognised, and del Toro’s producer credit will certainly get people watching. How can you turn down an award winner? And no, I will never not be satisfied with saying that. Here’s hoping Uprising can live up to the first.