Ow. My brain hurts. Pacific Rim is sensory overload featuring two hours of rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots, rocking and socking Godzilla-sized monsters. While the visual effects are among the best of all time, the story and characters are fairly thin. Undeniably, there are numerous “Whoa! That was cool!” moments throughout the film, but by the end it all becomes a bit too much. Fans of subtlety should look elsewhere. Pacific Rim is for a particular kind of action movie audience, and if you like this sort of thing, you’re going to like this thing. Those who prefer more practical effects featuring car chases, shootouts, and humanoids doing the hand-to-hand combat as opposed to androids, you’ll probably grow weary.
The film only takes place about ten years into the future. By then, legions of giant, monstrous sea creatures going by the name Kaiju have invaded our world to wipe out humanity. In order to defeat this enemy, the government built massive robots called Jaegers. The Jaegers are controlled by two pilots, with each pilot getting one half of the body of the machine. The co-pilots minds are then neurologically linked so they can fight in synchronization. Washed up former pilot and loose cannon Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is teamed up with rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a woman whose emotions may get the better of her as a result of watching her father killed by the Kaiju when she was a child. Employing them is the leader of this outfit, Stacker Pentecost, (Idris Elba) a tough-as-nails former pilot. Raleigh and Mako must defeat the biggest threat to humanity yet, a ‘level 5’ Kaiju, which we are to understand is a very high level; and thus very bad.
The preceding paragraph is the A-story and contains the majority of the spectacle. There is also a B-story and this subplot happens to be way more interesting. Here, scientist Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) has discovered a way to neurologically link brains (which is called ‘drifiting’) with the Kaiju in order to see their memories, and hopefully discover their motivations and weaknesses. In order to obtain a Kaiju brain, he has to find Hannibal Chau, (Ron Perlman) a shady black-market dealer of Kaiju body parts. Day, of TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the hit comedy Horrible Bosses, provides most of the comedic relief. Day is a very funny performer but his typical forte and strength is in playing wound-up, borderline mentally disturbed characters. Here, he’s more quirky than irreverent. However, the scenes with Day and Perlman are among the best of the film. Can we get a buddy comedy starring these two? Perlman’s role is small, but a definite highlight; he plays a sleaze-bag all too well.
While I found the B-plot more engaging, the epic-ness and spectacularity of this production (and the reason people are buying a ticket) mostly occurs during the A-plot. The visual effects are as impressive as it gets and you’ll be in wonderment over what is possible with the magic of CGI these days. There’s a show stopping scene halfway through the film featuring a Jaeger beating a Kaiju over the head with a cargo ship. Awesome is the only word to describe that. However, the middle portion of the film also drags quite a bit, and at one point I said to myself, “I haven’t seen a monster or robot in about 30 minutes.” It’s during this section that character development is attempted, with some flashbacks via ‘drifting’ showing us the baggage of the protagonists pasts. It’s admirable to attempt a human story considering the material, but honestly… just give me robots vs. monsters and cut down the two-hour plus runtime.
Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) is clearly giddy over this material and his enthusiasm shows. Del Toro is among the kings of the fanboys/geeks whom eat up this sort of thing. The film is heavily influenced by monster movies such as Mothra vs. Godzilla, as well as Japanese anime and manga comic books. In full discretion, that ain’t my thing, so take that for what it’s worth. Then there’s the obvious similarities to Transformers; they even throw in a bit of Top Gun for good measure, with an adversarial dynamic between the team of pilots. Del Toro is a gifted director. The film is both visually stunning and the action executed well. The final thirty minutes keeps with the action movie formula of a last act consisting of non-stop mayhem. By that point, I was kind of over it. It’s incredibly impressive to watch but not terribly exciting.
Pacific Rim is mostly style over substance. It’s interminably entertaining; at times awesome and other times boring. This is a very genre specific film and chances are you already know if you’re in or out based on the trailers. The film is very energetic and a lot of care was put into the production, but it doesn’t help it from feeling like a live-action cartoon at times. Or worse yet, watching somebody else play a video game. If you have the chance to see this in IMAX 3D, that’s the way to do it. The immersive experience and scope of that giant screen makes the creatures and robots seem life-sized and right on top of you. Watching this movie on an iPad will not be nearly as enjoyable. Pacific Rim is faithful and competent in regard to its specific genre. But this sort of thing just ain’t my bag.