“Pacific Rim” Movie Review


     Director Guillermo del Toro is known for his ability to create strange, detailed, artistic, and highly original landscapes to populate his equally stunning lineup of odd characters.  Look no further than the directors successful outings, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy”, to see his creative mind at work.  It comes as a great surprise while viewing his latest film, “Pacific Rim”, to see none of what has earned del Toro high marks from an ever growing fan base of both critics and general audiences.  Instead, the director has created a mash up of the “Transformers” films with “Godzilla”, while borrowing the general concepts and much of the technical designs from “Avatar”.  Back when the film’s trailer premiered, it didn’t take a scholar to predict this would be the case, though based on del Toro’s solid reputation, I was more than willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt.

     In the near future, massive reptile like creatures, referred to as Kaiju, ascend from the depths of the ocean and attack coastal cities around the world.  In an act of solidarity and sheer survival, humankind utilizes each country’s technological expertise and creates the Jaeger program.  Essentially, these are large scale robots piloted by humans that are capable of fighting the Kaiju head on with a combination of pugilistic maneuvering and advanced weapons.  As portrayed on screen, the Kaiju are a game and difficult adversary, capable of changing their tactics in order to exploit weaknesses in the Jaeger defenses.

     We are shown early on the attempts of single pilots controlling these massive weapons with negative results.  It is determined it takes two humans, one using his/her left side of the brain, the other using his/her right side of the brain, to connect and simultaneously act as one brain to control the movements of a Jaeger.  This connection between two humans and the robot is called “drifting”, which seems a lot like the humans in “Avatar” entering a machine which allowed them to connect and control the “Na’vi” version of themselves.  Combine this with the fact we are treated to several CGI tours of the inside of the Jaegers, complete with “Transformers” like gears and mechanical parts, and one can see the tremendous difficulty del Toro had in setting his film apart from others.

     This, of course, can all be solved easily with a solid script full of memorable dialogue and interesting characters for the audience to root for.  Unfortunately, del Toro’s script is missing all of these important elements with only small bits of humor here and there (mostly from two scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman who have conflicting points of view), but mostly characters going through the motions with standard military motivational speeches used as introductions for an upcoming action set piece.  In one such speech, I half expected Idris Elba, the Jaeger program leader,  to bust out with “Today...Is our Independence Day!!”, just as Bill Pullman once did.  This leads to mostly corny fanboy type dialogue spoken by wooden characters played by a combination of del Toro regulars and stars from “Sons of Anarchy”.  Nothing plot wise really amounts to anything of substance as these scenes deploy standard plot devices in order to connect the action scenes together.

     The script mainly relies on a cliched story involving a washed up pilot, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) called back to duty, who out of necessity, takes on a rookie pilot, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) and the two are counted on as the last line of defense against the Kaiju. I’ll let you try and predict whether or not they succeed.  The rest of the Jaeger pilots are presented as stereotypical caricatures of the country they are from.  In battle, they act as fodder for the front and center characters and you won’t care if they live or die.  Exactly the kind of film you want to study when you’re looking to see how it looks when characters are not developed properly.

     On the positive side, del Toro and his team have designed a thoroughly immersive world for his robots and monsters to fight in.  Each set design, from the hangers which house the Jaegers to the massive depiction of Hong Kong where the final battle takes place, show true craftsmanship as they burst with color and detail unlike anything I’ve seen since, well, “Avatar”.  As is always the case, an elaborate production design won’t make up for other crucial elements, especially the story, which here is quite basic.  It’s humans versus monsters and really nothing more.  It’s easy to see every penny of the film’s $180 million production budget on screen, but it’s surprising the studio would spend that much on something so elementary.  Children who range from 8 to about 16 will eat this stuff up, but if you expect something more, see one of del Toro’s better efforts from the past.  “Pacific Rim” is way beneath his true abilities as a filmmaker.  GRADE: C