Movies don’t get much more straightforward than giant robots battling giant monsters from another dimension. The giant monster movie is a classic genre, so in this age of all Hollywood blockbusters feeling pressured to earn their stripes by leveling a major world city, a return to these roots was inevitable. “Pacific Rim” delivers that old-school feel with the added pleasure of outstanding contemporary visual effects, and it results in a towering heap of giddy entertainment.
When you look at the entire film catalog of giant monster movies, more than a majority would be classified as B-movies. “Pacific Rim” doesn’t count under “so bad it’s good,” but director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro has no intention of allowing audiences to believe that the film takes itself too seriously, at least never for very long. As much as moviegoers’ appreciation for mentally stimulating “smart” blockbusters has grown, that’s not what this production went for by any stretch.
That essentially means “Pacific Rim” gives your brain permission to turn off and instead soak in the scale and wonder of giant robots fighting giant monsters.
In truth, the script is total garbage. Travis Beacham, who wrote the film (with help from del Toro), also credits 2010’s “Clash of the Titans” to his name, so that tells you del Toro and his uncanny imagination play the biggest role in “Pacific Rim’s” success. Namely it’s the dialogue that’s atrocious, but the characters are poorly developed, with each assigned a single past trauma that completely defines them. The salvation of it all(which understandably may not be salvation for all viewers), comes again from that all-important lack of self-seriousness. It will remind a lot of people of some of the first big special effects blockbusters of the ’90s, in which wonder and excitement take the driver’s seat and help you smile through all the dumb supporting characters and subplots.
The film begins seven years after the Kaiju first began to emerge from a portal deep within the Pacific ocean. Our hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) explains that to limit the planes and tanks it took to bring the beasts down, world leaders worked together to build Jaegers, giant robots piloted by two skilled soldiers connected by a neural bridge. The way all this works is somewhat fascinating, so Beacham deserves props for that much.
When a battle with a Kaiju off the Alaskan coast ends badly for Raleigh, five more years go by and the world is starting to lose the war against the Kaiju, who have begun to adapt and dispatch Jaegers with ease. When all hope appears to be lost, Raleigh’s old boss, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), commander of the Jaeger operation, recruits Raleigh to pilot his old Jaeger in a last-ditch effort. Together, with the world’s few remaining Jaegers and their pilots, a rookie pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) and two nutty researchers (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), they are the last stand for humanity.
The design of both bots and creatures is outstanding, and you’d expect nothing less from del Toro. A much younger version of myself would be captivated enough to buy a Jaeger toy or two, for sure. And not only that, but del Toro captures the sheer size of these things in ways that Michael Bay never has with the “Transformers” films. That sense of scale proves pivotal to being drawn into this film. Without that huge epic scope and some imaginative visual effects, all “Pacific Rim” has going for it is a neat concept.
And oh, the action sequences. The film’s penultimate battle would be grand finale material in 90 percent of other blockbusters. The fact that it comes earlier, however, makes the final sequence much more surprising. The plot appears to lay all the cards out on the table in this second-to-last sequence, making the ending a total mystery.
How del Toro can take something as big and clunky as this film and turn it into a total thrill is mystifying. He should teach a class on how to make big movies that look and feel dumb but somehow slap a stupid smile on your face and all Hollywood studios should force their blockbuster filmmakers to enroll before they set out to make the next big and dumb but also un-watchable movie.
Not every other component besides the visual one stinks. Kikuchi’s Mako is a slightly more complicated character, Day’s role and Ron Perlman’s cameo are stupid funny but funny and the acting is solid enough across the board to make us believe that these characters do indeed care about each other, which in turn helps us care about them more than we might otherwise be inclined.
For all those that complain about critics being cold and unable to appreciate a fun, mindless blockbuster, check out the Rotten Tomatoes score on this one. There are ways to make a good mindless blockbuster and there are ways to make a bad one. “Pacific Rim” is a nearly textbook example of the former.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day