The dismal state of this summer’s blockbusters is multidimensional: not only did big-budget films generally perform poorly, but they also were conceptually and emotionally hollow. The Lone Ranger didn’t seem to understand why Johnny Depp in redface could possibly be a bad thing, and the failure of the Smith-Smith-fronted After Earth to draw in crowds boggled the minds of film studios everywhere. When the promising prospect of Elysium turned out to be a moralistic bull in a china shop, the summer sci-fi set seemed doomed.
Is there anything to salvage from this black hole of summer cinema? I think there is: Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which stands out from the crowd of half-baked action/sci-fi juggernauts for one reason: it knows what it is. It knows that it’s a visually-amazing action flick– but what’s even more interesting is that it knows how to subvert pieces of the genre other films blindly pay homage to. In particular, Pacific Rim has a way of smashing gender-based action movie tropes like they’re Kaiju skulls.