I’ve been following Pacific Rim’s so-so box office progress with a strange investment. I’ve watched more polished movies like The Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast and the Furious 6, and Iron Man 3 – enjoyed them, and mostly forgotten about them (Star Trek a bit less so). On the other hand, Pacific Rim sticks in my mind (like Real Steel), and I care that it does well.
Del Toro mentioned that he held back on using the dramatic potential of The Drift because he wanted the focus to remain on the gargantuan battles. Given his track record I have no doubt that this is true (rather than an excuse), but the movie has taken a lot of flak for its storyline, characters and acting (and science). I really enjoy twisty plots and realistic characterisation (as well as plausible science), but none of these issues have affected my enjoyment of the film (also see Real Steel).
Some of the support for Pacific Rim has been on the basis that it’s an original property (and complaints against its originality misunderstand its deliberate position in the genre) and we should support non-franchise films unconstrained by expectations – I agree in theory, but my feelings come from a different source.
Real Steel and Pacific Rim are genuine attempts to capture the archetypes of their subgenres in a clear, non-ironic way. The other movies above try desperately to differentiate themselves from prior installments and peer rivals with more spectacular stunts, more self-aware humour, more undercutting of expectations, more franchise callbacks, and twistier storylines – but all of that distances the movies from their original appeal.
We tell stories to bring structure and meaning to the random happenings of the world, and the ones that resonate the strongest and most universally are simple and told with conviction. Do I believe the emotional reality of the characters in Pacific Rim? More than most of the above movies, I want to – and that’s what matters.