REVIEW OF PACIFIC RIM
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beachem
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, and Ron Perlman
PG-13, 131 Minutes
Pacific Rim exists in its own little world. It is a film wholly engineered in the most special of high-concept constructions that in many ways succeed as justification for warding off any potential criticism while simultaneously providing unsatisfying conclusions given that opportunity. That concept is, of course, giant robots fighting giant alien monsters. If you watch the movie with the expectations of seeing giant robots fight giant alien monsters you will not be disappointed as those sequences are in abundance and very well done. It is in most other aspects that the movie is ultimately lacking, and that comes as something of a disappointment from director Guillermo del Toro, whose work rarely exhibit the lack of heart and purpose on display here.
The movie is set in the near future where an inter-dimensional portal deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has opened, allowing giant alien monsters, referred to as Kaiju, to rise up and attack major cities. In response to all the carnage and destruction being wrought on humanity, we build our own weapon of similar size to combat them: giant mechanical constructions known as Jaegers (I’m surprised there wasn’t a tie-in with the liquor brand). Two humans, linked through a cerebral connection, known as “Drifting,” are required to successfully pilot the machines. This is the set-up for what you will see over the next two hours and its explained to us through a lackadaisical voice over narration supplied by our the protagonist Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam). The movie then breaks off into an electrifying opening sequence that really left me hopeful that this film would, after all, deliver the goods I have been heavily anticipating ever since being blown away by del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006 and subsequently with his 2008 follow-up Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Not that I spent the entire time evaluating this movie based on a yardstick of expectations, that is unfair to experiencing this movie as a viewer and unfair to the movie. It unfortunately fails to deliver in and of itself a compelling reason to be invested in anything that is occurring on screen for a majority of its running time.
Take the characters, for instance, each of them fulfills a very basic function with easy to decipher motivations and yet they all don’t amount to much by the time the credits roll. Our protagonist Raleigh is the prototypical Han Solo/Maverick from Top Gun archetype and for the most part ambles around with a faux-varsity basketball swagger whose hands remain in locked position holding up his britches. He’s trying to get over a tragic incident in his past with some alien-fighting mayhem in the present. The film makes it difficult to really get inside his head and he doesn’t offer much in the way of being an appealing protagonist. Rinko Kikuchi plays Mako, the rookie destined to be Raleigh’s Drifting co-pilot simply because she’s good at stick fight and they occasionally share glances of longing in a pseudo-romantic fashion. This is, of course, in lieu of actually showing us how these two people could be psychologically compatible to pilot a giant robot together. Idris Elba is the mentor figure maintaining a steely resolve for a majority of the time until he has to be called on for the obligatory rallying of the troops speech, and even that is a little underwhelming placed in the context of the film as opposed to how cool it sounded in the trailers. We have a Kaiju-obsessed scientist with radical ideas played by Charlie Day, who fills the role of comedic relief with a surprisingly minimum amount of comedy. He crosses paths with Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) in a subplot that actually makes up what I consider to be the most interesting aspect of the movie, which I will not go into for fear of giving too much away.
This is not to say that any of them give bad performances. Charlie Hunnam seems to be doing his best, Rinko Kikuchi is appealing as always, Charlie Day is appropriately manic (despite, again, not being very funny here) and Idris Elba provides exactly what is expected of him in the role. It’s just that none of them are given any kind of meat to their roles. They are thinly written and underdeveloped, failed by an underwhelming script.
There is an attempt at creating some depth, or at least as much as can be expected from a film about giant robots fighting giant monsters, but it all falls flat under incredibly banal dialogue (with lines that go something like “I never thought much about the future…until now.”) and a small sense of scale that is surprising given just how big everything else in this movie is. That brings up the biggest complaint I have with this movie. It feels ironically small. The stakes don’t seem incredibly dire as the movie barrels through to its conclusion, and they should because as a movie about humanity’s last stand against alien invaders, it could have really lent itself to something that was as big in scale as the size of its computer generated selling points. To that end, the film more or less goes through the motions expected considering its genre and doesn’t offer much substance. A lot of what is shown outside the action sequences feels perfunctory.
From all this ranting, it may sound like I didn’t enjoy this movie at all, and that is not necessarily true. I admire the passion put into this thing by del Toro, who really seems to be playing in the sandbox of his inner child (although saying that about this film has really turned into a cliché at this point, it doesn’t make it any less true). The fact that he built up enough rightly deserved clout to film a sub-200 million-dollar monster mash the likes of which the world has never seen is a terrific prospect in and of itself. Just for that fact, Pacific Rim really deserves to be seen on the big screen if you are going to see it at all. The thrill of watching a Jaeger use a steam ship as a blunt instrument against a Kaiju opponent is admittedly worth the price of admission alone.
Pacific Rim is an entertaining ride that ultimately stumbles on its way to being the sure-fire home run it could have been if more attention was paid to making the action on screen matter beyond the thrill of watching mega-sized combatants duke it out with no qualms over how much carnage is left in their wake. I enjoyed the movie more than I didn’t when all is said and done, but what was lacking felt so glaring that the movie suffers for it. It becomes exactly what I assume it didn’t want to be and something we don’t need, another soulless effects-driven blockbuster in a summer awash with several movies that already match that description.
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