Perhaps I should have known better. For some reason, I was really looking forward to Pacific Rim despite all of the warning signs that should have given me pause (and perhaps me more specifically than everyone else, as I have a feeling this is going to wind up being a very popular flick in some circles). For one, I’m not a huge Guillermo del Toro fan, seeing his work as being far more hit or miss than most. For another, writer Travis Beachum helped bring the abysmal Clash of the Titans remake to screens. Add to that the fact that I despise the predominant giant robot franchise (cough, Transformers, cough) out there and the previews which seemed to cloak all of the action for this film in darkness or rain and the ingredients were there for a disappointment. Still, I was hoping for a fun summer movie, and while elements of that are here, Pacific Rim is still a let down. It’s a classed up B movie that just never captured my interest. Individual moments work, but the battle scenes are too repetitive and the tone is all over the place. About midway through, I knew something was off, and by the time the credits rolled I was positive that this was just another summer blockbuster that misfired, at least in my eyes.
The opening voice-over brings us up to speed on what’s happening. In 2013, aliens (known as Kaiju) rose from the sea due to a portal found in a crack at the bottom of the ocean and began attacking coastal cities. Fighting them with traditional weapons proved costly and took too big of a toll, so the world’s powers developed the Jaeger program, a plan to build massively large robots that could only be controlled by two pilots linked up together through a “neural bridge” that bonds their minds together. Jaegers were initially successful in beating the Kaiju repeatedly, but in the years that followed, the Kaiju began attacking more often and began taking down Jaegers. A new plan for giant walls to be erected and the Jaegers to be discontinued is being installed, but the head of the Jaeger program Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) believes he can still “postpone the apocalypse”. To do so, he’ll need his last remaining Jaegers, a pair of scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), but also a former pilot named Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who promised never to return after losing his brother in a fight and a trainee (Rinko Kikuchi) out for revenge of a different sort. Together, this motley crew just might be able to save the day…
I didn’t expect to be wild about the acting, but everyone is pretty much over the top here. Charlie Hunnam is our lead and while he’s got some charisma, I’d hardly say he turns in an especially good performance. He’s pretty much one note and doesn’t really show off why he’s so well regarded on his television series Sons of Anarchy. Hunnam looks like a leading man, but for whatever reason he never sold me on himself here. Idris Elba gets to be loud and chew a bit of scenery, but I expect more from him at this point. Elba has a phenomenal character name, I’ll give him that. Charlie Day is pretty much playing the same character he always does, just as a scientist this time, while Burn Gorman is almost a caricature of a scientist. As for Rinko Kikuchi, she’s mostly wasted, as is the supporting cast that includes Clifton Collins Jr., Diego Klattenhoff, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, and more. No one is supposed to steal the show from the aliens and robots, but at least one human should have tried to grab the spotlight from those monsters.
There’s no denying that Guillermo del Toro is the type of visual director who can do wonders with a big budget, but here he seems overwhelmed by the idea of size and scale, losing sight of everything else in the process. I’m not sure who’s more to blame for the silly story, del Toro or co-writer Travis Beachum (who developed the original script), but they both are responsible for its dumbness. Beachum and del Toro did have some ridiculous character names, as mentioned above, and there’s the sense that fun is being had, but it never rubbed off on me. The pair are able to do some interesting things with the operation of the robots, but when they work it into the story as opposed to just a fun detail, it becomes contrived. The battle scenes are also a massive disappointment to me. They’re too repetitive, cloaked in either darkness, rain, underwater, or some combination of that, leading to some confusion and no good looks at anything. Honestly, it’s only a hair better than the horrifically bad stuff seen in the Transformers franchise. There should have been no possible way for me to have been bored here, but lo and behold, by the time the third act climax was on hand, I just wanted everyone to wrap things up and go home. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intent though.
If I seem more negative about Pacific Rim than my two and a half star rating would suggest, it’s merely because of how I’m disappointed and feel let down. Having an original idea and Guillermo del Toro at the helm still ended up resulting in a summer epic that looks, feels, and sounds like all the other would be blockbusters. The quality is also comparable too. The summer of 2013 hasn’t been one to remember too fondly, so this sadly just continues the trend. The few creative bits of this flick are lost in the big, dumb, and loud shuffle. I’m ready for del Toro to go back to smaller moviemaking (perhaps even making another Spanish language feature), since he seems at his best like that. As it stands though, Pacific Rim is neither his best nor his worst, it’s simply his loudest and his silliest. I’m pleased to see an original concept turn into a summer tentpole…I just wish that it was a better one than this.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!