Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Ron Perlman
The Plot: In the near future a porthole opens in the Pacific Ocean from which giant creatures from a hostile universe spawn and lay siege to cities across the world. To combat the migrant monster population the people of Earth unite and create the Jaeger project – a small army of absolutely titanic robots driven by teams of Earth’s best fist-fighters. Seven-story fists fly furiously.
The Film: If there’s one Summer movie I walked out of this year with next to no idea of what I felt about it, certainly it is Pacific Rim. As for writing a review of a movie that you neither loved nor hated, but mostly enjoyed for being something of an anomaly in this season’s crop of expensive film flatulence, the task feels complicated.
Which it shouldn’t be.
The purest critique I could give of Guillermo del Toro’s new 180 million dollar Kaiju (meaning: strange beast) movie is that if you’ve seen the trailer for this blockbuster, then you’re exactly the right person to decide if this is something you’d spend ten dollars on, or wouldn’t. This is the film explicitly promised in the preview – with nothing else added or lost in the transition from two minutes to two hours.
Which is where it gets complicated, because Pacific Rim, if it is anything else, is at least honest. There is passion behind this product. To the Kaiju fanatic it will feel like the return of cult royalty – much more so than maybe Matt Reeve’s Cloverfield did. To everyone else in creation…? Another Summer action fiasco with huge cannons popping off noisy blanks and retina-searing strobes of light.
Like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sucker Punch! and 2008’s Speed Racer before it, Pacific Rim is like watching a wealthy adult human male play with the toys of his youth. If the film feels corny at all (it does) it isn’t by accident. The Kaiju movies of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were wonderfully cheesy. Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba may play it stiff and straight for Pacific Rim, but Ron Perlman settles into his limited role as if it were an extremely cozy barcalounger. Guillermo seems comfortable letting Perlman run mad through his film, and in doing so gives the movie some much needed vitality.
While the Godzilla movies of yesteryear never gave their creatures much of a personality, there was at least something of a heart and soul thumping around in the rubber suit. The Kaiju in Pacific Rim are rabid mega-demons – all fury and no identity. Like the movie they inhabit they are cool to look at, but shapeless and vague upon recollection.
It is through the Jaegers that del Toro’s movie shows sparks of charm and brilliance. Giant robots take center stage in the Pacific theater, and if this movie has a nuclear-fueled heart radiating behind its cold shell surely it is large metal men with rockets blasting from their nipples.
The Verdict: In Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits Napoleon, (Ian Holm) has the line: I like little things hitting each other. Guillermo del Toro enjoys big things… hitting each other.
Pacific Rim is a spectacle – but never spectacular. It is both cool, and cool. If you get my meaning.