Top 10 films of 2013: Pacific Rim

Feature Andrew Blair 23 Dec 2013 - 07:28

At number 6 in our countdown of our favourite films of the year, it's Guillermo del Toro's monster smash...

Over the past few weeks, Den of Geek writers have been voting for their favourite films of the year. The votes were weighted, calculated, and compiled into our top ten. And here, at number 6, is Pacific Rim...

The last Kaiju movie that I had seen prior to Pacific Rim was 1962's King Kong vs Godzilla. Its entertainment value lay mainly in its kitsch qualities, although no-one watching could claim they hadn't been entertained. This was in 2005. I would not claim to be any sort of expert or have much more than a passing knowledge of Kaiju creatures and movies.

However, I do enjoy a good bout of ludicrously macho shouting-fests, especially if this includes: swaggering posture, homoerotic undercurrents, and preposterous dialogue (all delivered with a special blend of utter conviction and a twinkle in the eye that suggests they know exactly how silly this is all is). Pacific Rim was, in this respect, an insidious throwback to 80s action movies, and nary a greased Statham in sight. Instead, we had Idris Elba, and he was drier than Dave Allen in a talcum powder factory.

This testosterone-fuelled pomp, however, was not the reason that I left the cinema in a mood psychologists refer to as 'Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins'. Obviously the monstrous behemothradite denizens of a Lovecraftian ubermension combined with the roaring Jaeger-folk barfing spurious morality at each other was - as I believe the youth say - 'fun', but that wasn't it.

It, in this case, was Thunderbirds.

'Hold your horses,' you might be saying, but that's a silly thing to say. I have no horses. This is the future. And, being in the future, I reserve the right to be disappointed by the lack of Gerry Anderson-style tech developed by Mekon-lobed Poindexters. Thunderbirds is set in 2065. Pacific Rim is set in the 2020s. I see no reason why we can't assume they're set in the same universe, apart from both the reasons.

What Pacific Rim did better than anything else I have seen for decades is make me fall a little bit in love with the hardware. The production design of Pacific Rim just reduces me to a wide-eyed child watching the Thunderbird 3 take-off sequence for the first time, uncaring that to its detractors it seems to go on forever and features Alan Tracy more than is ever necessary. That launch sequence is ludicrous, the scale is huge, and – my favourite thing about Thunderbirds ever – a key part of the launch sequence of this spacecraft involves the Tracy's sofa being poked up Thunderbird 3 with a big stick.

Pacific Rim's world is a long way from the homeliness of Tracy Island, being pre-postponed apocalypse and all that, but the scale is similar, and taps into that ineffably giddy love that folk have for giant machines, the one that informs Steampunk, Scrapheap Challenge, the romance of space-exploration, Heath Robinson, and Ted Hughes' Iron Man. Next time you watch Pacific Rim have a look at the backgrounds, the sheer wealth of mundane-yet-reality-selling detail there. Then keep an eye out in the credits for the people who designed and built all of this. Someone out there remembered Thunderbirds, and that the only way to improve a tooling up sequence is to make it bigger, and with machines designed to do what we can't: go into space, rescue a plane, knee a pure radge hammerhead lizard thingy right up its nads.

I've mentioned that Pacific Rim is a bit ridiculous. It could be – and for some people, it is – a farrago of violent splurges, amplified nonsense on stilts at the shallow end of the meme pool. Part of its success is that – given the eternal 'most films/cynicism' loop – we had no reason to expect such a concept to be anything other than another 12A action film where some young white American guy blows stuff up. Fortunately, there's more to it than that. A huge reason for this, I believe, is down to its director.

Guillermo del Toro took his love of Kaiju, took influences ranging from Francisco Goya to H.P. Lovecraft to George Bellows, and took his relentless energy; with these he turned Pacific Rim from being another Real Steel into something other. Under no delusions that he was making high art, he gave us a film that could have simply been a bit like Transformers and put his own spin on it. Can you imagine this film being directed by Michael Bay? Even with Francis Lawrence or Alan Taylor – who have put in great work with blockbusters this year – at the helm, it's hard to see the film working anywhere near as well without del Toro.

He brings with him a determination to get the world of his film right, to tell a story with backgrounds as well as actors, and also to film fight sequences in static, comprehensible wide-shots. Here the fights are between giants, and are brought to life as that concept deserves. Another boon to the Snakes on a Plane-esque 'robots vs monsters' high concept is that you can do things to your combatants that wouldn't be possible with two humans in those positions. 12A rated violence ensues, but because the only blood is from another dimension it's easier to pass by the censors (is that racist? Are the BBFC ultimately going to cause the first interplanetary conflict?).

The fight sequences are therefore very satisfying: fun and perilous, bittersweet like eating a Crunchie on a Thursday. Also the concept of Drifting means that the deaths of the Jaeger pilots are more horrible than their being merely physically damaged. Despite the inherent silliness, the cast nail playing it completely straight while having fun, and ultimately that conviction sells the harder edges that make the film all the more impressive.

Pacific Rim ticks many boxes. It's nostalgia-inducing for a variety of genres, visually splendid (building a world with pictures more than dialogue), gleefully serious, has fights you can actually follow, and – after The Mountains of Madness was not to be – brings some Lovecraftian spectacle to a mass audience.

There's a lot in there, and part of the thrill comes from Pacific Rim having no right to be this good, but del Toro was looking for an operatic scale, and found it where another director might only have found a Pendulum b-side.

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Sadly found this just a terrible film. The characters were awful - I mean really, really awful - the two tech 'geeks' for instance.....
I could have lived though the bad characters, the 'top gun' rivaly/homoerotica part, the painfully bad dialog if the action was good - sadly it wasn't, it was poorly shot, and the 'fighting' (when you could see it) seemed to be based purely on American Wrestling.....Until the mech's would remember they actually had missiles.
Biggest letdown of the year for me. Del Toro could have (and should have) done with the monster movie what Nolan did for Comicbook films - instead he played it safe and dumb.

Extremely enjoyable. You can never call Guillermo del Toro conventional and that is his greatest strength. He takes his love of monster movies and puts his heart and soul into what's on screen. I was hooked within minutes of the start, with a great big grin on my face. The visuals were astounding! The sheer scale has to be seen to be believed. One of the best looking and sounding films of the year. The main theme just kicks ass.

Its like Ronseal - it does exactly what it says on the tin. Blows Michael Bay's Transformers out of the water.

Apocalypse cancelled. In style.

Haha. Polar opposite thoughts posted simultaneously.

I went to see this with my girlfriend this summer and we though it was a hoot. We spent the entire time laughing at the film not because it was funny but because the dialogue was so corny, the acting was over the top and the plot was absurd. The final act was beat for beat identical to the final act of Independence Day. It wasn't a bad film as the SFX was awesome but it was. Really really F**king stupid.

I completely agree with you. However pretty much everything you mention is not his fault. Pacific Rim is really Travis Beacham's film who worte the script. Having known Travis Beacham is the writer of the Clash of the Ttians remake I kinda knew this was gonna suck. The only mistake Del Toro made was signing on. But he'll redeem himself shortly with The Strain I'm sure.

"Bittersweet like eating a Crunchie on a Thursday." I ... what?

Still, Pacific Rim was immensely enjoyable, and comfortably served up the best visuals of the year in my opinion. Yes, the plot was entirely filled with stupid and was just an excuse to enjoy big metal things punching big scaly things ... and somehow I don't feel the need to list other reasons why it was the most awesome dumb movie of this year.

One of my favourite films of 2013 as well so I'm pleased it's on DoG's list! I think some people were disappointed by it because they were expecting a more subtle, sophisticated sci-fi flick. I went into it expecting an over-the-top aliens vs. robots spectacle. That's exactly what I got and I enjoyed every minute of it, ridiculous dialogue and all.

Also the score by Ramin Djawadi has been on repeat ever since - it's absolutely epic.

There are lots of problems with the script. Dialogue is ropey, and some characters are wafer thing. The acting is pretty dodgy in places too.

But none of this matters. This movie turns me back into a five year old, playing with robot and monster toys, and its glorious. Definitely the most fun movie of the year.

and who doesnt love Tom Morellos guitar work - so epic in a 'f**k yeah' sort of way

This was easily one of my favourite films of the years. Beautiful from beginning to end with a fantastic soundtrack; some of the dialogue is cheesy but the acting is good throughout.

I was initially a little disappointed in it, but it just seems to get better with every watch.. I think if you go into it expecting Monster / Mech Porn and nothing more, then you're in for an awesome time!

I'm going to go there - I thought it was worst than Transformers (and I hated Transformers).

I've heard good and bad. I'll make my own decision

I can't fathom how anyone can call this a good film, not to mention one of the best of 2013. Different strokes, I guess. This would make my worst of 2013, alongside Man of Steel.

Travis Beacham was rewritten by Guillermo del Toro, Neil Cross, and the beloved Drew Pearce among a dozen other top writers. You cannot blame Beacham in this case - and certainly not for Clash of the Titans for which he doesn't even get credit as he was rewritten - you blame the producers and the director. They have final say and are in charge of quality control. They said: this is good enough. And it was not; it was awful.

This film was both good and a lot of fun, but you can't seriously be telling us it was better than Django Unchained...

"bittersweet like eating a Crunchie on a Thursday."

HAHA, this made me laugh too much.

A fun movie but it wouldn't be in my top ten. The acting sometimes came off as flat and dull. It's all subjective though.

It's such a breath of fresh air to see someone put this rightly-deserved film on a best of year list. It's being overlooked everywhere else simply because every other site takes themselves far too seriously to acknowledge this as anything other than nonsense for kiddies. Yes the script's as cornball as it comes and the acting is a bit scattershot, but what does it matter when the film is made with so much love. Every little detail is considered to build up this wonderful world, and the cast and crew were clearly having the time of their lives when they made this film. Seeing this was the most fun I'd had in the cinema in a long time, and it probably takes my vote for most entertaining film of the year. After all, what other film of 2013 offers an elbow rocket?

but............it was so far from being a good movie :(

"We're analogue, not digital" = dialogue when describing a nuclear powered mechanoid. So stupid it made my brain leak out of my eyes. Not good movie.

It was fun, but disappointingly stupid.It really was Roland Emmerich quality, with some nice design: no more.

Agree on MOS. The most vile film experience since Twilight 2

The plot and script were 100% conventional: that is what is SO disappointing. I expected a little more savvy from Del Toro

I think Pacific Rim is both one of the most entertaining and (perhaps) misunderstood movies of the year.

Was it corny? Yes! Was the acting a bit stiff and broad? Another yes. But does that instantly make it a bad film? In my opinion, no - some of my favourite movies of all time have cheesy dialogue and ripe acting, and it didn't prevent Pacific Rim from being - in my humble opinion - the best blockbuster since The Avengers by some considerable distance.

I don't quite know what PacRim's harshest critics were expecting of it, but to me the tone seemed very deliberate - it's a gloriously OTT live-action cartoon - and every
facet from the outrageous costumes to the outlandish character names on up reflect this. I find it mind-boggling when people criticise it for these reasons, as if Del Toro was unaware that he was making a cheesy feel-good summer blockbuster!? Were people really expecting a grim and gritty 'hard sci-fi' take on giant monsters vs giant robots? And all the pedantic criticisms that the robots didn't use their ballistic or bladed weapons
until the critical moment? Have they ever SEEN a Kaiju movie or tv show before?

I'll be the first to admit it's not a perfect film - the lead actor is a charisma vacuum with terrible line delivery for a start, and I'll admit that the 'drift' concept could have been utilised to greater effect - but I'll defend the film's script til I'm blue in the face.

In a world of mediocre, convoluted, plot-hole-ridden, written-by-committee and bloated blockbusters (Iron Man 3, Elysium, Thor 2, Man of Steel, Star Trek 2, The Hobbit, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus I'm looking at you), Pacific Rim seemed positively lean - every scene moved the story forward, every character got their own moment to shine, it was focused rather than sprawling and didn't have a needlessly confusing plot or loads of redundant characters. I appreciated the optimistic, international tone, and it felt like a fresh and vibrant homage to the genre - the vision of a team working towards the same goal, not the usual hackneyed garbage that passes for blockbusters these days.

I think it's a film that will only grow as a cult favourite in years to come as many of its peers fade into obscurity. And the theme tune does indeed ROCK!

Agreed. Some people may call it 'dumb' but I actually liked watching a blockbuster where plot wasn't so half-baked and poorly-conceived I had to Google it afterwards to figure out what was going on. Once again, when it comes to film plots; 'simple' doesn't mean 'stupid' just as 'complex' doesn't mean 'intelligent'. Give me a well-executed 'dumb' movie any day of the week.

And I too really loved the sense of design - was so nice to see a film with a lovely sense of world-building and tonnes of inventive background detail - put there because of the director's passion rather than to set up sequels as is usually the norm.

Exactly, it's Top Gun vs Godzilla, and exactly as cheesy and wonderful as that sounds. I really can't fathom why so many people took against it. To me it felt like a welcome throwback to simpler blockbuster times. I find most blockbusters so plodding, overlong and serious these days.

Agreed - really shows up Bay for the hack he is. THIS is how you do a giant robots movie. The combination of the music and visuals really gave me that sense of childlike wonder and excitement I thought I didn't get from movies anymore. Went to see it twice, AND bought the Blu Ray!

Awful Aussie accents aside, this was pretty great. Wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did.

I don;t watch too many films but I recently saw this. If it was one of the best films of the year I didn't miss much by not bothering to go to the cinema this year. Very poor I thought.

Well given that Thunderbirds heavily influenced a generation of Japanese mecha shows in the first place, that parallel you draw with Pacific Rim is reasonable. Without Gerry Anderson, no Japanese Mecha as we know it to influence the design of Pacific Rim...

This movie did the right thing to not be dragged down by the uber philosophy that frequents many anime mecha. As much as I love Evangelion, I don't need more angst ridden protagonists with daddy issues being the main focus of the plot. Our attentions spans are not that great for that kind of stuff...

This for me was one of the most disappointing movies of 2013.. The acting was woeful, the dialogue was ridiculous, and what was a promising premise was poorly executed. Once again we get a movie where it's great visual effects tries to compensate for its flawed story. How this made it into the Den's top ten let alone number six is quite baffling..I guess what's one persons trash is another persons treasure..
Ps I don't accept the premise that it was a homage to those Japanse cinema classics and that's was why it was cheesy etc..no excuse for terrible acting and dialogue!

Have you seen Evangelion 3.0? Even those who kinda-sorta-maybe understood the end of the TV show were flummoxed by that one... :-)

Sad but true. Del Toro made a really dumb movie. Like the actual script was just dumb action full of stupid characters. It was very colorful though, I'll give it that.
And Man of Steel was awful. I don't understand why people say it's better than the 2006 version.

I too expected more from Del Toro's big shot at Hollywood. It was a major MAJOR let down, but still, big in China.

So I'm not the only one who tought about Thunderbirds when watching this! The opening sequence with Gipsy Danger being assambled and rolled out was Thunderbird 1 written all over. The 2004 Thunderbirds film should have been a lot more like that.

"Mekon-lobed Poindexters"...this is probably one of the best written reviews I've read in a while!

Make that another one.

Voices drowned out by the screams of "Del Toro for Transformers!"

It would definitely need a lighter, more hopeful tone, but Del Toro definitely gets it.

I stopped watching this after roughly 25 minutes, and haven't ever wondered, or cared, how it ends. That's how much I disliked this movie.

Watch any anime which influenced Pacific Rim and know that Gerry Anderson has had a massive impact on all the sci-fi mecha in Japan. So yeah without the likes of Thunderbirds and the other Supermarionation stuff, no mecha as we know it...

i enjoyed much much more than Django, not even close

The acting in Top Gun was miles ahead of the am-dram performances in this shoddy mess.

This film was so hilariously bad it should be on the top ten of all time funny movies... unintentional that is. I like it how you completely avoid the issue by calling it "top" and not "best films of 2013", lol.

I asked my childhood best friend (with whom I have fond memories of playing with toy dinosaurs and making cardboard robots amongst other things) whether this film was any good. He told me that he really didn't know if I would like it but said to give it a go.

I'm glad I did - it's easily the best film I've watched for the last couple of years, hands down beating Man of Steel, Dark Knight RIses, even Star Trek Into Darkness. I got my 8 & 9 year old sons to watch the pre-title sequence, mainly because at that moment in time their attention was focused on their Xbox and I couldn't get them to commit to a full length movie. That all changed when Gypsy Danger punched it's open palm in preparation for ass-kicking time, and they hungrily devoured the rest of the film.

We cannot wait for the sequel.

Hyperbole alert!

This was the worst film of the year for me!

I have met about 3 people who enjoyed it. Maybe I was expecting alot more from Del Toro but the acting alone made the cast of Arrow look like oscar winners (Arrow is awesome BTW but the first 10 episodes were painful sometimes).

I may have missed a trick and may need to re-watch it again but there was no story, no feeling and hell, i wanted the humans to die because I couldnt care less.

I see there are a few people here whop share the same feeling and maybe someone can point out what i missed??

i agree the film was the worst of this year but i actually enjoyed Man of Steel. Why? I dunno. I like Zack Snyder and the way he directs and i know alot of people dont like him :)

agreed!

The saddest thing about it was that it could have been an intelligent take on Transformers-mongoloid-cinema. It wasn't. At all.

No way, MOS at least strived for something - Twilight movies are cannon fodder

Jeffrey Dahmer strived for something but you don't give him a pass. Same difference as far as I'm concerned.

Fair point - I can't really defend the acting, though I do believe the actors were deliberately going for big, broad performances.

I'm sure Charlie Hunnam has been good in other things (I remember liking him in Children of Men where he used his own accent), but he is just dire in Pac Rim - his American accent is laughably bad. As I've never seen The Wire, I'm yet to see what all the fuss is about with Idris Elba. He's OK in this, but nothing more, and has a strange cadence to his line readings - I thought he was woeful in Prometheus, though.

I think the only performances I enjoyed in and of themselves were Charlie Day and the other scientist* and the always-excellent Ron Perlman. I also thought the girl who played Mako was decent enough.

*Though I can totally appreciate that it's a bit of a Marmite thing and they might just as easily annoy people.

I find it quite funny that Charlie Hunnam is criticised for his accent when he's the lead in the U.S. series 'Sons of Anarchy' and so speaks with it all the time; I thought it was fine.

This film is pure awful. You can dress it up all you want with Del Toro's Lovecraftian influences and how beautiful it was or how visually spectacular it was but this movie blows goats and is awful in every sense of the word.

It just sounds totally off to me. Not the worst US accent I've heard, but distractingly bad all the same, which is kind of baffling as a generic 'mid-atlantic' psuedo-US accent should in theory be fairly easy for any UK actor to pull off.

It's not as bad as his EXCRUCIATING cockney accent in Green Street, though. Seriously, Youtube it.

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