Monster movies have never been about the monster; they’ve always been about our anxieties about… us. I know this notion may be upsetting to those who only go to movies to be “entertained,” not to “think,” but it’s true. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)? Communists taking over “while you sleep. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)?” The government secretly taking over your life while you sleep. The Invasion (2007)? Okay, just a bad idea, but you get the point. Every beast from 20k fathoms or giant grasshopper, ant, spider or mutant whatever was our fear that the atomic bomb had unleashed something that would destroy the world if we didn’t stop splitting atoms.

So what anxiety do the Kaiju in Pacific Rim represent? As near as I can tell, it’s anxiety about us, and by “us” I mean, Americans.

Foreign directors tend to inject more politics into their films than their American counterparts, Tarantino’s historical whatever-ism included. So the politics in the story by Mexican-born director Guillermo del Toro is not “incidental.” Although the first Kaiju attack is in San Francisco, the majority of the movie is set far away from the US. (“Pacific rim”, duh!) And while it’s an American who is the arguably the “hero,” he’s pretty much the only one in the movie, other than a quirky scientist—and a gagster.

Strange creatures (that’s the literal translation of “Kaiju”) start attacking seacoast cities around the world. To fight back, nations band together to create the Jaeger Program (pronounced “yea-gerr,” as in “Chuck,” German for “hunter”) to fight them, giant machines piloted by two operators (thus making monster-fighting look like some sort of synchronized sporting event). For a while we were winning but now the attacks are becoming more frequent and Kaiju are winning. It is at this moment that people in charge decide to discontinue the Jaeger Program in favor of a solution that is definitely a criticism of US immigration policy (spoiler, so I won’t tell you, but no, it’s not asking the Kaiju to self‑deport). But the head of the program (wonderfully played by Idris Elba) has a plan to stop the Kaiju once and for all…

Despite the subtext, Pacific Rim is not a propaganda film, it’s a fast-paced action flick that takes itself seriously enough to make you overlook the plot holes and the implausibility of the biology and physics surrounding the Kaiju and the jaegers—but things are not so serious that they take away from the fun. It’s a very intelligent movie, despite some stuff you can see coming a mile away. But above all, it subtlety delivers its messages: World problems are world problems, not American problems, and American solutions are not always the best. And we can solve them if we work together.

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