I am an unabashed Guillermo Del Toro fan. Hellboy II is a lot better than it has any business being, and Pan’s Labyrinth is an undisputed masterpiece. Del Toro and his fellow Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu are responsible for some of the best films of the 21st century thus far. One would think that Del Toro would outdo himself with Pacific Rim; making a Japanese monster movie was a dream project for the director. Pacific Rilm certainly has its moments, but it not the success that one would expect from such a talent as Del Toro.
In the near future, a rift deep in the Pacific Ocean unleashes hordes of “kaiju,” giant prehistoric monsters that ravage city after coastal city. To combat the kaiju, humanity bands together to build giant robots called “jaegers” to combat the creatures. The jaegers are controlled by two pilots that share a psychological link that enhances their combat skills, but also forces them to share memories. One of the most successful pilots is Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), who leaves the program after his co-pilot and brother is killed. As time passes the kaiju evolve and the jaegers become less effective in fighting them. With the jaegers in danger of being scrapped and humanity on the brink of extinction, Raleigh is lured back by the head of the program,Stacker Pentecost, played with world-weary authority by Idris Elba. (On a sidenote, the names in this movie are as laughable as anything in Pearl Harbor. Remember Rafe McCawley? Oh, probably not.) Raleigh is paired up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a rookie pilot whose traumatic experiences may be a liability in fighting the kaiju.
The effects in the movie are certainly impressive, and there are a few scenes where the massive nature of the monsters and the robots is on full display. Unfortunately, most of the movie takes at night and in the rain, and the action scenes are shot in the standard action movie style of shaky closeups that makes it very difficult to know what’s going on. The monsters are also designed with a lack of imagination compared with anything in any of Del Toro’s other films. All the creatures are a variation on a theme, that theme being Godzilla with tentacles. There is nothing in the movie that approaches the genius of something like the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Where the movie succeeds is in the execution of the jaegers and the way they are piloted. The idea of two pilots engaged in what is essentially a Vulcan mind meld while they pilot a giant robot is inspired, and it makes for some surprisingly intimate moments between Raleigh and Mako. The quieter moments are the most interesting parts of the movie to me, and some of the supporting characters are delightful; it wouldn’t be a Del Toro movie without Ron Perlman, who here appears as an unsavory black marketeer with the amazing name of Hannibal Chau.
Those moments aren’t why people will go to this movie. They’ll go to see giant robots fighting Godzilla monsters. Del Toro certainly delivers the goods, but it almost feels like he’s phoning it in. There have been moments throughout his films that filled me with awe and wonder. I found Pacific Rim enjoyable, but I never got the feeling of exhilaration I’ve felt before with Del Toro’s movies, and it seems like a missed opportunity.