Title: Pacific Rim
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Play time: 2h 11min
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenwriters: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi
I’m happy to stipulate to nearly everything that enthusiastic proponents of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim have raved about in early reviews. Epic, well-staged monsters vs. robots action? Yes. An endearing sense of childlike glee? Check. Impressive, top-of-the-line 3D effects? Absolutely. A robot smashing a monster with a full-size battleship? Oh, indeed.
It’s not enough, at least not for me. Why did this consummate labor of love have to be so dumb – so clunky and hollow and poorly-acted? Why does it feel so incomplete? A couple years ago at SXSW I saw Guillermo del Toro host a screening of Matthew Robbins’s 1981 Dragonslayer, and after the film he spoke so eloquently about sympathizing with the monsters in monster movies – about finding beauty and otherworldly humanity in their lumbering destructiveness. Anyone who saw Pan’s Labyrinth knows that he believes in it. What happened to that?
The film posits that Earth is being invaded by giant creatures – “kaiju,” the Japanese word for “monster” of the Godzilla variety – who come from a gateway to another dimension found underneath the sea. (An opening narration tells us that the sky was the wrong place to look for aliens, as – in the film’s loveliest shot – the stars in the night sky turn into underwater flotsam.) The governments of the world join together to repel the reptilian, skyscraper-sized beasts with the Jaeger program – giant robots with two human pilots ensconced in a sort of mind-mend within its metal body. But as the kaiju keep coming – and getting bigger – the Jaegers start to fail. The politicians and generals look elsewhere for safety – there’s talk of a wall, which seems hopeless. The man in charge of the Jaeger program, the marvelously named Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) retreats to a single ocean base with his four remaining robots to make his last stand.
Del Toro, as I say, stages the monster-robot fight scenes with the ill-concealed joy of an 11 year-old boy playing with $200 million worth of toys. It’s charming! But I couldn’t find much beyond that giddy excitement. The creatures that come barreling out of the sea have no sign of a personality; they don’t seem to feel pain or any other emotion. Nor are they especially memorable – the effects that create them are fluid and impressive, to be sure, but the design is anonymous; a couple days later, I have only the vague recollection of contorted reptilian shapes that gradually increase in size. For someone who believes the monster movie to be about the monster, del Toro is awfully cavalier here about parading out one anonymous silent kaiju after another.
The stuff surrounding the monster-robot showdowns seems half-formed, too. There’s a troublesome notion that the two pilots of a Jaeger have to “drift” together – exist in each other’s brains as they jointly take control of a giant piece of hardware – but while this is given a lot of emphasis, it doesn’t really pay off, other than providing an opportunity for exposition. The protagonist, played by Charlie Hunnam – a hero from the early days of the program who fell on hard times after a mission went Horribly Wrong – is a bland, generic hero; the emotional center of the film is meant to be his relationship with Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), an aspiring pilot with a tragic backstory, but it has no time to breathe or have an impact.
The most undercooked part ofPacific Rim might be a pair of supporting characters, competing scientists played by a hyperactive Charlie Day and the distinctive English actor Burn Gorman doing a self-caricature. They have a separate plotline that’s so disconnected from the rest of the action that it feels like a “B-story” on a television episode. They’re also kind of annoying – though they do give Ron Perlman an excuse to make a brief but memorable appearance as a kaiju body part smuggler.
Pacific Rim is too technically proficient and full of restless energy to be a chore, but it’s also not the monster movie classic it obviously aspires to be. When things are not being gleefully destroyed, it feels klutzy and labored as it tries to drum up the illusion that there’s something there beyond robots smashing monsters with battleships. I have some affection for it, but no real desire to ever watch it again.
— Eugene Novikov