In 2013, huge alien monsters called Kaiju emerge from an interdimensional portal called The Breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and begin attacking coastal cities. To combat this enemy, the human race builds huge robots called Jaegers. Each is piloted by two or more people mentally linked as one. In 2020, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) pilot the American Yaeger Gipsy Danger. As they defend Anchorage, Alaska, from a category three Kaiju called Knifehead, the Kaiju rips out half the Yaeger’s head and kills Yancy. Raleigh kills Knifehead and walks Gipsy to shore, then collapses. He quits the Yaeger program.
Five years later, world leaders decide to shut down the Yaeger program and replace it with towering defensive walls along every coast, since the Kaiju are appearing so often that Jaegers cannot be built fast enough. Of course, the walls don’t work. The last Jaegers are moved to Hong Kong under the command of Marshall Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba), who wants to destroy the Breach itself with a tactical nuclear weapon. Raleigh, who is now building walls, is recruited. He travels to Shatterdome in Hong Kong and meets Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s adopted daughter.
There are only four working Yaegers—the rebuilt Gipsy Danger, the Russian Cherno Alpha, the Chinese Crimson Typhoon, and the Australian Striker Eureka, which is piloted by Herc Hansen (Max Martini) and his son Chuck (Robert Kazinsky). Tryouts show that Raleigh’s best co-pilot is Mako, but during the test, Raleigh is lost in his grief about his brother and Mako becomes lost in a bad childhood memory of a Kaiju attack, almost firing the energy cannon. She is grounded by her father.
Pentecost goes to the experts—Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Hermann says the Breach will stabilize and the Kaiju will increase, but the assault will succeed. Newton suggests trying to link with a Kaiju’s brain to learn more about them but is dismissed. So, he tries it himself and the Kaiju hive-mind gets access to his brain as well. Two Kaiju, Leatherback and Otachi, are sent to find him in Hong Kong.
All Jaegers except Gipsy Danger are dispatched. The Kaiju destroy Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha, and Leatherback disables Striker Eureka. But Gipsy Danger is nuclear-powered and not digital and is immune to electro-magnetic pulse; it manages to defeat Leatherback and Otachi. Newton and Hannibal try to harvest Otachi’s second brain and they find that she is pregnant. The infant breaks out and devours Hannibal before accidentally choking itself with its own umbilical cord. Newton and Herrmann read its brain and find that the Breach only opens in the presence of Kaiju DNA.
Pentecost reveals to Raleigh that he has terminal cancer. Two new Kaiju are detected guarding the Breach, so an assault is launched. A new category five Kaiju, Slattern, appears and Striker is crippled. Pentecost and Chuck decide to sacrifice Striker and use Gipsy as the nuclear bomb. Striker self-destructs, Gipsy kills Slattern and rides its corpse into the Breach. Raleigh manages to eject Mako and himself to the surface. The Breach is sealed and Raleigh and Mako get acquainted on their escape pod as the helicopters arrive.
The film, which is a kind of Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla on steroids, was directed by Guillermo del Toro, from a screenplay written by del Toro and Travis Beacham, from a story by Beacham. It was produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Warner Brothers. The reviews were generally positive. Though it was not terribly successful in the U.S., it was in other countries, notably China. It ended up being del Toro’s most commercially successful film. Ron Perlman appears in a side-story as Hannibal Chau, a dealer in black-market Kaiju organs. Burn Gorman we know as the angry dead doctor on Torchwood. The film was dedicated to Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda. The author of the original Pacific Rim Trilogy was Timothy Simpson, who was not consulted and never mentioned.
The Kaiju are compared to cats sent into a warehouse to clean out the human rats. The Kaiju all have animal-like designs, based on reptiles, insects, or crustaceans. Knifehead is based on a goblin shark, Leatherback on a brawling gorilla, Otachi on a Chinese dragon and a Komodo Dragon, Onibaba on a Japanese temple mixed with a crustacean, Slattern on a majestic, long-necked demon. The Jaegers also have complex designs. Gipsy Danger is like a cross between the Chrysler Building and a World War II fighter plane, and it moves like John Wayne. Cherno Alpha is built like a Russian tank with nuclear cooling towers. Crimson Typhoon is a huge medieval warrior. Strike Eureka is built like an Australian Land Rover and is extremely masculine.
The water dynamics were also quite striking, clearly based on Japanese prints. One thing you have to give Guillermo del Toro: his films, whether Gothic ghost-stories, comic book superhero stories, Faerie tales, monster smackdowns, or interspecies love-stories, are always consciously beautiful. A sequel called Pacific Rim Uprising appeared in 2018, with many of the same actors. It did not do well. Del Toro produced but did not direct, stepping down to direct The Shape of Water instead, which was a good move, considering that the latter film netted him an Academy Award.