Like a lot of geeks who came up during the 90s, I was briefly pretty into Japanese giant monsters (known as kaiju in their homeland). The (ultimately disappointing) Hollywood version of Godzilla was on the way, so all the classic Toho giant monster movies were re-issued on video and available at Blockbuster, and I watched every one of them I could get my hands on. Yes, they were cheesy as hell for the most part, but there was also something undeniably appealing about them. So, needless to say, I was intrigued by the prospect of Pacific Rim — a tribute to classic kaiju movies from the guy who totally nailed Blade and Hellboy? I’m there! Unfortunately, while Pacific Rim is by no means a terrible film, it wasn’t much of a kaiju movie. Certainly not the labor-of-love tribute to giant rubber monsters I was hoping it would be. How did Pacific Rim miss the mark? Well (SPOILERS AHEAD!)…
The monsters have no personality
Probably the best part of classic kaiju movies is how unique all the monsters are. They all have their own looks, origins, abilities and personalities. Nobody’s mistaking Godzilla for Rodan. Or Mothra. Or King Ghidorah. You could pick your favorites and root them on.
Pacific Rim touched on this a bit with the giant robot half of its equation — some of the robots and their pilots had unique personalities at least. I was definitely a fan of goofy-looking Russian underdog Cherno Alpha with its big cylindrical head.
The monsters on the other hand were mostly indistinguishable. With a few exceptions they all had the same “hammerhead shark” type look and behaved in the more-or-less the same way. Hell, we even find later in the movie that they’re all just clones. What’s the point in giving kaiju a fancy CGI makeover if you’re going to make them all the same?
The Fight Scenes Weren’t Right
A good kaiju fight is a pretty straightforward thing — two giant monsters duking it out in a suspiciously human-like fashion, unleashing all their best moves until one is left standing. It’s basically pro-wrestling featuring guys in rubber lizard suits. Yes, they crash through the occasional building, but they’re obvious fakes. The destruction of property isn’t the focus, those buildings are just there to set the scale. A good kaiju fight is about setting two immense forces with defined powers against each other and seeing who wins, plain and simple.
Pacific Rim actually got it right with its first big fight scene. It was just a good, stand up brawl between two behemoths (with a little bit of levity mixed in with the Jaeger having to save the fishing boat multiple times throughout the battle). I was less into the movie’s later fight scenes.
They were too focused on property damage, making them feel like typical Roland Emmerich destruction porn. The monsters were too animalistic and wild, robbing the fights of that classic kaiju “Clash of the Titans” mano-a-mano feel. The camera was too crazy and the scenes were too dark. The big fights scenes should have been the backbone of the movie, but with the exception of that first scene they were never as fun or deeply satisfying as the rubber suit ridiculousness of yesteryear.
MST3K Jet Jaguar song!
A proper kaiju movie should always, if at all possible, be resolved with giant monster fisticuffs. One monster beats up (or sometimes kills) the other monster. The end. Simple and satisfying.
The end of Pacific Rim by comparison was a ridiculous, convoluted, technobabble-filled mess involving alternate universes, finicky interdimensional portals, mind melding with a baby monster and ARGH! Too…much…s–t! Just have some giant monsters punch each other! Gah!
Us Humans Are A Bunch of Goody-Two-Shoes
Classic kaiju movies aren’t known for being particularly complex, but there is some depth to be found in them. The original Godzilla took a strongly anti-nuclear stance (Godzilla, it’s implied, is a creation of nuclear testing) and a number of later giant monster movies had pro-environmental themes. Humans often inadvertently create monsters or are controlling them for evil purposes. In other words, the human race pretty much has it coming in many classic kaiju movies.
Not so in Pacific Rim! Humans are awesome and all the Jaeger pilots of selfless pillars of moral fortitude deep down! The fact that mankind has gone and created these immensely destructive robots who seem to cause almost as much mayhem as the kaiju is never even momentarily questioned. There’s a very brief line about how maybe the kaiju are attacking us because of pollution or something, but it’s immediately dropped and never mentioned again.
When your massively budgeted 2013 movie can’t even match the depth of movies from the 60s in which a giant lizard dropkicks space dragons through cardboard skyscrapers, you’ve got a problem.