Review: Pacific Rim

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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-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

4 responses »

  1. 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.

    Yeah, that’s what has baffled me about the reaction to this film on places like Twitter – that it’s somehow far more significant than the usual blockbuster action film. From all the clips I’ve seen and read about it, it looks like straight off the assembly line.

  2. I sort of liked this. It’s better than any of the other mega-blockbusters this summer, at least.

    I agree that it got a little old by the end – it’s another big spectacle that needlessly crosses the 120 minute threshold – but unlike Snyder or Abrams, Del Toro at least has some skill as a storyteller. It’s a straightforward, unpretentious, and sincere action movie, with substantial craft put into its making. It doesn’t seem like that’s saying much, but it obviously is.

  3. I really don’t get so many critics giving this a pass. It’s visually stunning, but pretty much every scene with people talking caused my finger to hesitate over the “stop” button. B for the spectacle and D+ overall.

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