Is Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ a Big Ol’ Monster Movie That’s Critical of the Military?

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Big. Loud. Imaginative. Any good summer blockbuster delivers on these components. That’s why we’re drooling on our keyboards over Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, a man vs. monster epic that fully realizes our the sandbox action figure battles of yesteryear.

The latest spot — Del Toro’s extended trailer shown to privy WonderCon audiences earlier this year — builds on the teased images of robot/monster combat. Actor Charlie Hunnam murmurs prophetic voiceover as he suits up in the “Jaeger” armor, a towering exoskeleton that allows his character Raleigh Becket to take on the alien beings creeping in from the core of the Earth. The “Kaiju” threaten mankind. Becket, along with Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), and an army of Jaegers, are ready to squash them. Besides having the best names ever, the squad looks well-equipped to punch, kick, and slam the beasts into the great beyond. But there’s a lone voice, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day), who thinks that may be the wrong move, and adds an intriguing layer to the visceral spectacle:

About halfway through the spot, Day as Geiszler suggests, “If you want to stop them, you have to understand them. There sole purpose was to aim for the populated areas and take out the vermin.” To this, Hunnam’s Becket replies, “Or we could just blow ’em to pieces.”

The clash of scientific understanding with militaristic action is a common science fiction trope. Clearly, Becket gets his way in Pacific Rim. There’s some jaw-dropping action on display in the above trailer. But as is so often the case, the human defenders of post-Kaiju Earth may learn a thing or two about their otherworldly enemies by the time the credits roll. The case could be like Godzilla: a creature bent on destruction who, at the end of the day, was man’s own atomic creation. Or maybe the film has an eco-lesson in store à la Avatar. Enough drilling into the Earth eventually broke open a portal to an alternate dimension. Thanks a lot, oil barons!

Pacific Rim‘s moralistic pondering could run even deeper, making Del Toro’s simple premise more subversive than a typical blockbuster. In Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven took the battle between humans and alien insects to criticize military and its use of propaganda in blinding the global population. Over the course of the film, the bugs who ferociously ripped apart gun-toting soldiers were turned into sympathetic figures — the victims of war-mongering. If there’s a central mystery at the heart of Pacific Rim that complicates the dynamic, large-scale fights at the center of the trailer, it could be a characterization of the threat. While it’s cool to see a skyscraper-sized robot use a boat to beat the living daylights out of a Kaiju, it’s compelling to consider “why?” Dumb fun minus the dumb.

Pacific Rim arrives in theaters July 12. Is it the next Starship Troopers or simply an attempt at the biggest, baddest popcorn title of 2013? Can it be both?

Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches

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