Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is director Guillermo del Toro’s homage to, and update of, Japanese kaiju pictures like Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan--all of which were directed by Ishiro Honda to whom (along with stop-motion innovator Ray Harryhausen) this film is dedicated. The film is set in a dystopian future in which the Earth is under constant threat from giant alien monsters called Kaiju that emerge from another dimension through a porthole deep beneath the Pacific Ocean and attack major cities. All the nations of the world have banned together to fight these creatures, with giant machines called Jaegers that are piloted by two people who bond mentally with each other and their rock-‘em-sock-‘em robots via some kind of genetic or spiritual bond called “drift.” This use of giant piloted machines makes the film a mash-up of kaiju and mecha, another sci-fi genre popularized by the Japanese.

Despite their antiquated charms, I am not a huge fan of the kaiju films of old and I really dislike contemporary movies about giant computer generated monsters, giant computer generated aliens and giant computer generated dystopian futures, so it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that I would not enjoy Pacific Rim. Still, I was willing to give the much-lauded del Toro a chance to win my affection, so I saw the movie on opening weekend in 3D at LA’s wonderful Cinerama Dome.

The story is a bag of sci-fi clichés, but despite that, I think this could have been a good film if the screenplay did not double down on the hackneyed conventions and instead rose above them with creative exposition, unexpected character development, solid internal scientific logic and well-written dialogue. Alas, we get the opposite in Pacific Rim: stock characters and insipid dialogue, which is so awful it sinks the picture beyond its ability to rescue itself with visuals.

The visuals are fairly effective; I was surprised to find myself not bored out of my mind watching the CG monster fights. I think these battle sequences worked for me more than typical digital assaults because they were staged in so much rain, water and darkness that it gave the monsters more mystery and heft. Also, these creatures and machines seemed more subject to physical laws than is usual for digital characters in movies. The fact that the robots were piloted by actual human begins made me care a little more about them than I normally would, but I would have cared a whole lot more if the human begins inside had been less one-dimensional.

Del Toro and his co-writer Travis Beacham take the Avatar approach their screenplay, centering the film on a generic young main character with the requisite washboard stomach and chiseled facial features but absolutely no “star quality.” With the exception of this wooden and uncharismatic performance by Charlie Hunnam, every actor in the picture overplays his or her role to a laughable extent. Pros like Idris Elba and Ron Perlman embarrass themselves, Elba by taking his role too seriously and Perlman by not taking it serious enough. Ingénue Rinko Kikuchi’s broken English and exaggerated sad faces strip all credibility from her girl-power warrior. Worst of all is the comic relief of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, playing young bickering scientists. The depiction of these two characters is what really kills the movie for me. Yes, the films that inspired this movie have goofy scientists in them that strain credibility, but if you are going to update the depiction of technology and monsters in your kaiju homage, you must also update the depiction of the minds that create and study it. The idea that the ONLY scientists left in the entire planetary resistance movement are these two clowns is so ridiculous that it topples any credence in the basic premise of the film.

Add to this uneasy mix all the usual problems that occur when a sci-fi film violates the internal logic and rules it sets up for itself--which this movie does to a shocking degree. The whole potentially stimulating business of how the giant robots are piloted via a special connection found only between the most compatible pilots is thrown out the window in multiple ways during the third act.  I liked this film more that the other big sci-fi offerings of this summer (Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel) but that is only because those films were trying to do more and therefore failing all the most spectacularly. Pacific Rim is just trying to be a big, dumb, fun action movie, but it only delivers the big and dumb.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, and Mary Parent

Written by Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham

With: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr., Diego Klattenhoff, and Ron Perlman

Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Editing: Peter Amundson and John Gilroy
Music: Ramin Djawadi

Runtime: 131 min
Release Date: 12 July 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1