For many of us, the mere fact that Pacific Rim promises – and delivers – giant monsters fighting giant robots is enough to get us into the theater. But I’m well aware that not all of us are so easily pleased. So in light of the rather underwhelming performance of Pacific Rim at the box office this weekend, please accept my thoughts about why this film is possibly the best blockbuster of the summer.
Spoilers for Pacific Rim follow!
The greatest disaster films showcase what it means to be human. Stories that showcase the End of All Things wonder left over. In this regard, Pacific Rim succeeds marvelously. Michael Bay has proven anyone can make a bunch of stuff blow up real good, and even do it with giant robots!
For a blockbuster to matter, it must be about people, not just explosions.
The Kaiju (Japanese for ‘large monster’) could very well spell the end of humanity. But the film recognizes we often feel as though our world is ending: when we lose someone we love, a childhood trauma that stays with us, a parent letting their child grow up. How even building a giant wall won’t keep the monstrous Other from getting in (cough political allegory from a Mexican filmmaker cough). These are all moments when reality comes crashing down around us, when it doesn’t feel like the sun will come up tomorrow.
Pacific Rim asks how we face these monsters at our doorsteps.
Pacific Rim oozes with religious language appropriate to the apocalypse: characters often refer to themselves or their missions as “God-forsaken”. Religions spring up around the Kaiju. The Kaiju emerge from the depths – are these the Lovecraftian old gods, the ancient ones of myth? The film takes us to the edge of human experience, to those places even the writers of the Scriptures deem God-forsaken. After all, how can our world be ending if God is still with us? And more importantly, how can we go on?
Pacific Rim showcases humans at our best: we are noble, courageous, forgiving, bold and inventive.
Most of all, we’re together.
In the face of impossible odds and certain death, humanity joins together and snatches salvation from the jaws of defeat.
Here is a message that we ought to find in more of our worship spaces: our response to tragedy ought to be community. When the world ends for those among us, we ought to be at their sides, ready to face the monsters with them, ready to cry, to question, to rage with them. When God is nowhere to be found, we ought to find God in the body of Christ. Pacific Rim highlights a truth of the scriptures: we weren’t created to be alone. We need each other to thrive.
Who’d have thought giant robots fighting giant monsters could teach us to worship better?
But this is why Pacific Rim works so well. It’s a disaster movie with a heart. It’s a monster story about humanity. It’s an underdog story where all of us are the underdogs.
As Dave Chen‘s great article at /Film highlights, none of the summer’s previous blockbusters have so captured the human heart of good storytelling. Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, for instance, both showed comparably massive levels of devastation, but Pacific Rim invested the giant robots with a level of humanity that’s frankly so shocking it’s masterful.
Del Toro deserves huge recognition for achieving what Michael Bay, J. J. Abrams and Snyder all failed to do half as well.
Make no mistake: Pacific Rim is nothing more than a big, fun summer popcorn flick. But it is the big, fun summer popcorn flick par excellence. It plays every trope and stereotype to great effect and never lets its reach exceed its grasp. Instead, del Torro deftly executes his monstrous vision and leaves us wanting more. So go see Pacific Rim so a few years from now we can all enjoy Atlantic Shelf or whatever the sequel will be called.