To quote the Wizard of Oz, Pacific Rim is “a clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk.” This giant robots versus giant monsters movie is the latest from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro and it’s easily the least of his otherwise stellar body of work.
Giant monsters from the bottom of the ocean, called Kaijus, are terrorizing humankind. Brave warriors battle the massive beasts in skyscraper-sized robots called Jaegers. I know this because the opening title card of the movie told me so. Then, it proceeded to tell me more about the Jaegers and Kaijus, bombarding me with so much additional information that I started wondering if I should be taking notes for a test later in the movie.
Idris Elba plays the leader of the warriors, who work in pairs while manning the huge Jaegers. When they attack the huge Kaijus they make a huge, huge mess.
Had this just been wall-to-wall action with fewer humans running around, it might have worked. Instead, you have a cast of actors who either look silly while trying to be serious or obnoxiously overact. Aside from Elba and Rinko Kikuchi (the Oscar nominated star of Babel), who do their best, I wanted the rest of the characters to be eaten immediately.
Star Charlie Hunnam gives a terrible performance as the insufferable hot shot who learns to be a team player. Almost as bad are Charlie Dey and Burn Gorman, wildly unfunny as scientists investigating how to defeat the monsters once and for all.
Now a few logical questions. Why do the Jaeger warriors have to battle the monsters inside the robots? Why not fight the monsters by remote, ala Avatar? By not physically being in the giant machines, it might cut down on the growing body count.
Also, the two pilots commanding each robot are required to “drift,” or mind-meld, in which their thoughts and memories share “drift compatibility” while they partake in battle. The mind melding is clearly a problem, as evidenced in a scene where a character’s vivid flashback causes a robot to draw its weapon at an unfortunate moment. All this gobbledygook about “drifting” and the mindset of the Jaeger controller’s over-complicates what should have been a simple premise. Even Real Steel made its robots vs. robots concept easy to grasp while retaining a human center.
The movie’s best scene, hands down, is a martial arts battle between Kikuchi and Hunnam, in which they attack one another with bow staffs to test their “drift” potential. This scene of hand-to-hand combat between humans easily overshadows all the CGI smackdowns that follow.
Also squashed in the movie’s laborious action sequences are a few nice touches of humor. Del Toro, the poet director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos, Mimic and the Hellboy movies is nowhere to be found here. The monsters in this picture lack the perverse beauty of his other films and the action is often little more than a CGI blur of color and movement (much like Speed Racer). In terms of over-stuffing its screenplay with annoying human characters, needless subplots, cliche-ridden dialogue and an insistence on making everything BIG, this has a lot in common with the 1998 Matthew Broderick take on Godzilla. I don’t mean that as a compliment.
Imagine Starship Troopers without the clever satire and simpler, more palpable thrills. Obvious inspirations like the TOHO classic monster movies and Robot Jox (everyone remembers that one, right?) have a charm, gusto and offbeat appeal that’s unmistakable. So did Godzilla 1985, a movie my dad took me to see in my youth that left me enthralled, even though it was completely ridiculous. The key to all of those campy delights is that they didn’t take themselves as seriously and never confused generating excitement with massive overkill. Put simply, this movie and I were not drift compatible.
Rated PG-13 / 131 Min.