The humans thought they were winning the war with the monsters. They weren't.
It's 2020, several years into a civilization-razing conflagration with the 200-foot-tall dinosaur-like terrors known as Kaiju—Japanese for monster. "We always thought alien life would come from the stars," Raleigh Becket explains early in Pacific Rim. "But it came from deep beneath the sea. A portal between dimensions in the Pacific Ocean."
Becket, along with his brother, Yancy, is a Jaeger pilot. The Jaeger project represents humanity's grand gambit to stop the rampaging, city-destroying scourge of the Kaiju. Each Jaeger—German for hunter—packs two neurally linked pilots into the head of a mechanized behemoth bristling with enough firepower to stop, well, one of those rampaging, city-destroying Kaiju. "To fight monsters, we created monsters," Becket tells us.
At first, the humans had the upper hand. "We got really good," Becket brags. But then something happened: The invading Kaiju got bigger. And faster. And, worst of all, smarter.
When a Category 4 Kaiju takes down the Beckets' Jaeger (named Gipsy Danger) and ends Yancy's life, it's the first casualty in the second phase of the war. Suddenly the once-indomitable Jaegers begin falling to the Kaiju all across the Pacific Rim. World leaders begin expressing second thoughts about the Jaeger strategy, then opt instead to build "Walls of Life" around cities to defend them.
Marshal Stacker Pentacost, a former Jaeger pilot himself and now head of the program, knows it won't work. He knows the Jaegers are humanity's last, best hope. And he knows he's got to have the best pilots to make the most of the meager resources left under his command: just four of the mighty mech warriors, one from the U.S. (the Gipsy Danger), the three others from China (the Crimson Typhoon), Russia (the Cherno Alpha) and Australia (the Striker Eureka).
Stacker flies to Alaska to recruit Becket for one last tour of duty in his reconditioned Jaeger, now stationed in Hong Kong. But Becket's not interested in going through the mind-melding process of learning to pilot his old Jaeger with a new partner. "I can't have anyone else in my head again," he tells the marshal. "I was still connected to my brother when he died."
Mako Mori changes his mind.
The young woman (whose entire family was wiped out by marauding Kaiju) is tasked with helping Becket find a new copilot once he arrives in Hong Kong. But it turns out she's the best candidate, never mind that her horrific childhood memories of the Kaiju's rage render her an unstable partner for Jaeger mind-melding (known as the Drift).
But when Hong Kong is attacked, they have no choice but to join with the three other Jaeger teams trying to repel the fearsome invaders … even as Stacker and several scientists hatch a last-ditch effort to seal off the Kaiju's portal in the Pacific.
Pacific Rim is packed with the kind of humans-vs.-the-apocalypse bravery, heroism and sacrifice that we're used to seeing in summer spectacles. With their backs against the wall, Becket, Mako, Stacker and everyone else must summon the courage to go after the monsters one last time, even though the going is grimmer than it's ever been before.
Stacker, especially, plays multiple critical roles. He's dying of cancer due to radiation he received during his stint in the first primitive generation of Jaegers. But even when others give up on the Jaeger program, he's determined to leverage what's left to stop the Kaiju. He also responds to Becket's challenge to his authority and leadership by telling the younger man that he has to be a "fixed point" when so much uncertainty and fear is sweeping over the besieged human populace.
There are more than a few nods to family as well. The loss of Becket's brother levels him, and it's clear that the bond between the two was deep. Indeed, Becket says, "The deeper the bond, the better you fight." He's loathe to bond with another person, but as he begins to fall in love with Mako, he's once again willing to try.
That requires entering into her horrific memory of her whole family (and all of Tokyo) getting destroyed when she was a little girl. The loss galvanizes and drives her, though Stacker wisely warns her that the desire for vengeance can be a dangerous and consuming one. [Spoiler Warning] As for Stacker and Mori, we learn that Stacker adopted and raised the little girl after she was orphaned. His initial reluctance to let her copilot a Jaeger is eventually explained in part by his fatherly desire to protect her.
Another team is made up of a father and son. It's clear that they have their problems, but in the end they affirm how much they love each other.
Stacker alludes to the afterlife. There's talk of an "act of God" and the "the handwriting of God."
Some people in Hong Kong have taken to worshipping the Kaiju, believing that the beasts have been sent by angry gods to punish humanity. We glimpse some of them walking into a Kaiju-themed temple.
Mako wears a tank top that reveals cleavage. Becket is seen shirtless, with Mako eying him as he changes. Becket catches her watching, and she closes the door to her quarters (which are right across from his), but then keeps watching through the door's peephole.
Someone mentions using powder from bones of the Kaiju as a sexual-enhancement aid.
Pacific Rim never strays far from its signature draw: bombastic, decibel-cranked battles between Jaegers and Kaiju. Each cacophonous clash involves heaping screenfuls of metallic gauntlets slamming into alien reptiles as monsters' claws, teeth and tentacles tear into the Jaegers. It's CGI-rendered sci-fi warfare on a gargantuan scale as Jaegers get torn apart and Kaiju are shredded (or burned, cut and blown to bits) with feral ferocity.
Just as frequently, we watch the ponderous beasts vent their wrath on fragile buildings, bridges and whole cities. The Golden Gate Bridge (followed by all of San Francisco) takes its terrible lumps early on, with cars and people plunging over the side as a Kaiju rips through it. Video footage of Manila and Sydney presents similar damage.
When several of the creatures tag-team to attack Hong Kong—and are soon met by Jaeger resistance—skyscrapers get shattered like brittle candy canes, one after another after another … after another. In that lengthy battle, we repeatedly see people fleeing to shelters. And those in an underground hideout hear the wrenching screams of others who couldn't make it in.
A similar scene involves Mako's flashback to similar destruction from when she was little. And since those scenes get at the horror of it all from a vulnerable girl's perspective, they have a greater emotional impact than most of the rest of the carnage.
Several sequences involve Jaeger pilots' deaths. Yancy is plucked from his machine's cockpit. Other pilots drown. Becket is bruised and bloodied. Becket and his arrogant fellow pilot Chuck Hansen engage in a bruising melee full of punches and body slams. Becket's copilot "trials" involve one-on-one martial arts matches, with each fighter using a staff. Some blows are pulled, but there's still heavy contact shown. A knife is shoved up someone's nose, cutting it cruelly.
A deceased Kaiju unexpectedly proves to be pregnant with a spawn that, while smaller, is still fierce enough to devour one poor human. Said victim is later shown carving his way out of the creature with his pocket knife. People harvesting Kaiju body parts and organs crawl around in the neon blue goo of a dead beast's innards.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word. God's name is taken in vain a dozen times, four times paired with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused twice. "H‑‑‑" is used six or seven times, "a‑‑" five or six. We hear a handful of uses each of "b‑‑tard," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" and "p‑‑‑," as well as a "bloody."
Drug and Alcohol Content
There's a reference to using dried and crushed remains of dead Kaiju as a drug. Several times, Stacker takes an unnamed prescription medication to stem his nose bleeds.
Other Negative Elements
Becket's maverick nature at times veers into unwillingness to follow direct orders. He struggles to submit to Stacker's authority, with Becket even grabbing his commanding officer in an attempt to talk him into a certain course of action. (Stacker rightly calls him out for his insubordination.) Fellow Jaeger pilot Chuck Hansen is arrogant, verbally abusive and condescending to Becket.
In a rousing speech before the film's climactic battle, Marshal Stacker Pentacost tells his troops, "Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen to believe in each other. Today we face the monsters that are at our door. Today we are canceling the apocalypse."
Well, sort of.
The humans do win, of course (a statement that's not much of a spoiler in this genre). But let's not get too carried away with this "canceling the apocalypse" business. After all, pulverizing civilization to smithereens is the raison d'être for movies like this one and so many others (Man of Steel, The Avengers, World War Z and all of the Transformers films, to name just a few recent examples). So Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro wastes no time catapulting fans into the apocalyptic abyss, with San Francisco and Manila crumbling before us in the first two minutes.
After that, the film rockets into a two-hour roller-coaster ride, rarely backing off the destruction for long. It tips its hat not only to the recent Transformers films but also to all those Godzilla monster movies of yesteryear—updated with eye-popping, eardrum-numbing, 21st-century blare and bombast, of course.
Unlike so much of today's big-budget CGI fare, however, del Toro has also managed to craft a surprisingly earnest story in which we're invited to care about individual characters as well as the fate of humanity as a whole. We empathize with little Mako while watching a particularly poignant (and intense) scene of a Kaiju destroying her city as tears stream down her face. And more so than many—if not most—other recent entries in this over-the-top genre, Pacific Rim manages to give us compelling glimpses of struggling-but-heroic humanity amid all the madness.
But make no mistake: Shock and awe is still and always the name of the end-of-the-world game. This is a bruising monster-vs.-machine popcorn muncher that will have moviegoers' adrenaline glands pining for a two-week vacation after two hours of Kaiju carnage.