I’m still thinking about Pacific Rim, because, man, what a movie.
The obvious awesome moment of it all comes during the Hong Kong battle. Two Kaiju attack the city, an unprecedented event. They take out two of the Jaegers defending the city and incapacitate Striker Eureka, the strongest of the lot. The task of saving the city falls to pilots Raleigh and Mako, an untested team that failed their trial run.
This time, though, they ace it. Piloting Gipsy Danger, they defeat the Kaiu Leatherback in a decisive battle in the harbor, then move through Hong Kong in pursuit of Otachi. The ensuing battle is nothing short of epic, involving crashing through buildings and using an oil tanker as a bludgeoning weapon. It culminates with Otachi flying into the upper atmosphere with Gipsy in tow. To free themselves, Raleigh and Mako break out Gipsy Danger’s sword and slay Otachi, then land in an empty stadium.
It’d be hard to top that sequence. It’s a wonderful culmination of Raleigh and Mako’s character arcs thus far, and an excellent action sequence that really utilizes the scales of these giant robots and monsters in a great way (see: oil tanker as an improvised weapon). This is the movie’s midpoint, the climax is yet to come. How then does Pacific Rim go bigger?
Pacific Rim finds a different route for its climax. There’s already been an epic Robot vs Monster fight and it doesn’t feel the need to try and outdo itself. The final battle: Striker Eureka and Gipsy Danger versus three Kaiju, is a straightforward affair that takes place underwater without too much pomp and circumstance. This is fine because killing the Kaiju isn’t the goal of this mission — the objective is to get into the breach and blow it up. The Kaiju aren’t so much an opposing force as they are obstacles for the heroes to get past. In this movie supposedly about robots fighting monsters, the big climax isn’t a fight between robot and monster.
This frees the movie to go really big at its midpoint, without having to hold anything back nor fear of tiring out the audience. Any action movie runs the risk of numbing its audience to spectacle by the time the climax hits; Transformers is just so many giant robots fighting each other that the final Big Fight just feels like one of many (conversely: it’s remarkable how John Wick keeps its fights feeling fresh and interesting without tiring you out). When Pacific Rim puts all its energy into one fight sequence, it allows for all the Awesome to be present — and be as a direct result of Raleigh and Mako being able to work as a team.
Much of the movie is themed around connection and teamwork — remember, it’s how the Jaegers are controlled! Not long before the Hong Kong fight, Raleigh and Mako pilot Gipsy Danger together for the first time and it does not go well. They’re effectively grounded from operations and ostracized by the other pilots and crews. Hong Kong is their chance to prove themselves. And they do.
But what about the actual climax? By digging into the other part of the movie — teaming up together to save the world — Pacific Rim recenters around teamwork. The final fight isn’t a fight, it’s a relay race with everyone buying time so someone can get to the breach and blow it up. Remember, Pacific Rim is not a war movie, these are Rangers, not soldiers; they aren’t fighting to kill but fighting to save everyone else. A final fight with the goal of defeating the Kaiju would be derivative of the midpoint; by making the big climatic choice Raleigh and Mako’s to take Gipsy into the breach, Pacific Rim goes all-in on its themes of unity and love. The biggest, most important thing in the story isn’t slicing a Kaiju in half with a sword, it’s doing everything you can (together!) to save the world. The fight isn’t the point. Saving people is the point.
This choice to have the final climax be a smaller spectacle than the midpoint can be used to spectacular effect. Captain America: Civil War’s Airport Battle is the big thing in the middle of the film, with the final fight between Captain America and Winter Soldier against Iron Man being a more intimate, smaller fight that’s equally as intense because it’s all about the movie’s theme of divisions. The Lord of The Rings books don’t climax with a big fight against the forces of Mordor (that’s the ending of Book Five), but with Frodo and Gollum grappling for the ring at the Cracks of Doom in Book Six, because this is a story about the smallest doing the most. The Battle of Crait doesn’t hold a candle to the duel in Snoke’s Throne Room, but The Last Jedi’s climax is about self-sacrifice and fighting for a cause. Luke doesn’t defeat Kylo Ren by besting him in combat, he wins by being the most selfless, the most devoted.
Going smaller for a climax runs the risk of being anti-climatic, especially because we, as an audience, are trained to expect the Big Thing at the end to be the biggest. When done well, though, a good climax brings the movie together, usually as a fusion of character arcs, story, and theme. For Pacific Rim, it’s all about saving the world. Together.
Ugh, I just really really love Pacific Rim.