You might be surprised to learn that cinematic battles between giant monsters and giant robots can get tedious rather quickly. That’s the take away I got from Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro’s affectionate but overcooked homage to the Japanese monster movies of his youth.
I loved Japanese monster movies, too, but I haven’t seen one in ages, and I doubt I would like them now. I think the charm of them to adults is that they are cheesy, and you can laugh at them (or make sarcastic remarks) while watching. Pacific Rim is dumb, but without that endearing incompetence. It seems odd to say it, but because Pacific Rim looks so good, it makes the whole thing a chore to sit through.
Del Toro at heart is a fanboy, and the script he has written (along with Travis Beacham) captures the zeitgeist of a thirteen-year-old boy. A fissure in the floor of the Pacific Ocean allows beings from another dimension–large, reptilian monsters (called Kaiju)–to roam loose on Earth. Here is yet another movie with destruction on a massive scale, as before the movie is a minute old San Francisco and Manila have been destroyed.
For reasons that continue to confound me, conventional warfare doesn’t work so well, so mankind has created large robots (called Jaegers) that are piloted from within by a pair, usually people who are simpatico, because they share one mind. I never completely bought this plot contrivance, because there’s just no way that spending billions of dollars on a robot that punches monsters would work better than the entire world’s arsenal.
Our hero is Charlie Hunnam, a generic himbo that is a pilot but loses his brother in a monster fight. He’s recruited back into the program by his boss (Idris Elba) and teamed with a Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi). There’s all sorts of hardware and battles with various monsters. A little of this goes a long way, and by the end, a battle at the bottom of the ocean, I was more than done with it.
Part of the problem is that Del Toro and Beacham’s dialogue makes George Lucas seem like Noel Coward. There is little in the way of characterization. Elba gives a good, intense performance, but Hunnam is a zero and there is some ghastly comic bits with two scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorham). Kikuchi, in what I think is her first English-speaking role, manages to not embarrass herself, and Ron Perlman livens things up as a flamboyant dealer in Kaiju parts.
Some of the reviews I’ve read or heard say that this film is at least fresh, compared to the comic book movies that dominate summers nowadays. I don’t think so. This really isn’t that much different that a Transformers movie crossed with a very expensive Ultra-Man episode. Del Toro has shown he’s capable of making thoughtful films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Maybe the relative disappointment of the box office of Pacific Rim will send him back to those kind of films, which would be welcome in this corner.
My grade for Pacific Rim: C-.