Guillermo del Toro has been rightfully enjoying the spotlight lately, between his recent launch of a scholarship for up-and-coming Mexican filmmakers and The Shape of Water’s four Oscar wins (including Best Picture). However, his 2013 mecha vs. kaiju feature Pacific Rim still often goes overlooked within critics’ conversations regarding del Toro’s richly imaginative body of work and cinematic influences. Which is a shame, given that Pacific Rim is one of del Toro’s most unabashedly fun movies, and moreover manages to forge genuine wonder and dimensionality from monster-movie tropes that would go stale in any other director’s hands.
Luckily, the team at Storytellers has just released a video examining the film’s symbolism and lasting appeal in the age of the modern sci-fi blockbuster — just in time to get us hyped up for the upcoming release of its sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Stories of larger-than-life humans battling colossal creatures are far from new, but Pacific Rim plays with the formula by maintaining subtle similarities between the extradimensional Kaiju and the humans’ mechanized Jaegers. “To fight monsters, we created monsters of our own,” the washed-up Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) explains in the film’s opening. Rather than being mindless destroyers, the Kaiju are ultimately revealed to be the products of strikingly deliberate alien engineering — they walk on two legs and possess vaguely anthropomorphic bodies, and their mission is not merely to annihilate, but to facilitate the processes of colonization and resource harvesting across countless worlds.
Pacific Rim’s enemies admittedly have the same motivation as the extraterrestrial invaders from 1996’s Independence Day, another sci-fi action flick that hinges on human resistance to a potentially apocalyptic alien invasion. But Pacific Rim’s transcendent vision of humanity is, in fact, its brightest and most distinct element. Independence Day’s optimism is arguably rooted in American exceptionalism (as its title and climactic battle’s additional invocation of the Fourth of July suggests), reveling in its proximity to distinctly national institutions like the US Marine Corps and the presidency. In contrast, Pacific Rim deliberately frames the Jaeger program as a transnational one operating on the figurative margins of the world, in a Hong Kong base long abandoned by the Earth’s high-ranking political leaders and far beyond the massive coastal wall constructed to keep wealthier inlanders safe from the sea’s treacherous, unknown edges. Rather than speaking the language of the military hierarchy, del Toro points out that he made his heroes “sound like cowboys,” underlining their status as outsiders.
Additionally, Pacific Rim imagines heroism as an inherently communal, diverse endeavor. Jaegers require at least a pair to pilot them, and thus the comparatively quiet development of empathy and understanding between Raleigh and his co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) — two people grappling with their lingering traumas from Kaiju encounters in vastly different ways — becomes essential to saving the world. When delivering the genre-requisite rousing speech right before the film’s climax, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), reminds his crew that “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, we are canceling the apocalypse!” It’s the kind of line that’s made epic by its sheer earnestness. We can only hope that Pacific Rim: Uprising will have the same unmistakably human heart beating within its thousand-ton mechanized shell.
Watch the video below for a deeper exploration of Pacific Rim’s mythic meaning.