I saw Pacific Rim a few weeks ago, and I loved it. Appreciation for the film has also been coming back to me in a weird sort of boomerang effect. I love it even more now than I did at first.
Pacific Rim tries to be a "blockbuster with heart", which a lot of the best geek media ends up being...a movie with a lot of wondrous visual things but also characters you want to care about and who go through some amount of internal change. It’s good at that. Not mind-blowing, but definitely draws you into the cast’s lives, without leaving you feeling dull and cheated afterwards.
(The two scientists were a little too goofy for my tastes, and I agree there should be more than two people in the research department: just give speaking roles to a few of them.)
This is a movie loaded with cliches, and not just the anime ones everyone keeps pointing out. But Pacific Rim feels, above all else, sincere, and sincerity goes a long way towards making a work appealing, whatever its measurable contents are. While rules are good, art also depends on making something that you want to make, and even the most undiscerning audience can sense when a work is being phony. Likewise, even the most brain-dead trash has someone’s genuine desire behind it (scary as that could sound).
I love monsters and I love giant robots, and Pacific Rim hit me in the “Oh my god I want a giant robot NOW!” spot without sacrificing a sense of tension or drama. The special effects just worked, having more of a sense of weight and depth than I expected, and than I usually get from CGI. Everything also looked pretty cool; love the bioluminescent kaiju and the different mecha shapes. I expected something a little more eerie and disturbing with Del Toro and even Wayne Barlowe involved, but wasn’t disappointed with what we did get instead.
I also enjoyed the little glimpses into how the world had adapted to kaiju presence: building up around the skeletons, trading in kaiju parts, marketing the hell out of everything. It seems like a million other types of stories could be told in this world, if only there was the chance to do something that didn’t only follow a blockbuster format.
I also love giant robot anime, but never would have called Pacific Rim a rip-off or a knockoff. It’s a tribute, obviously. I saw a lot of giant robot anime tropes there, but as with other works, it’s difficult to separate elements directly inspired by another culture from elements universal to storytelling from elements from the producers’ home culture. Just like with Avatar: The Last Airbender, I don’t think of Pacific Rim as purely anime-inspired, but just using anime as one of its influences.
Even so, as I watched it I lost myself at several moments, and could suddenly imagine that a live-action adaptation of anyone’s favourite mecha anime might actually have been cool. However, these likely never would have been made with the sincerity or respect of Pacific Rim, so that dream should quietly disappear.
As for the debate about how progressive the film was or was not, I found it decent. All of it, decent. I couldn’t find anything that really ruffled my feathers, though moments made me go, “Oh, of course.” Not horrible in this way by any means, but at the same time, one can't just go, "Oh, by the standards of a blockbuster movie it was progressive, and Del Toro and crew had to fight for every bit of diversity they did get, so you can't complain". Because that's a stupid way to talk about media and culture, shutting down a conversation before it starts.
So that’s it. A fun movie to see, and one that I’ll probably grab on DVD. I just picked up the novelization, but haven’t read it yet. It’s been a long, long time since I read a film novelization, but this proves I’m interested enough in the film to want to dig up the extra details.