Long, loud, frenetic and very noisy, Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” almost forgets to be entertaining. In fact without the too-long absent del Toro at the helm, this quirky homage to Japanese big monster movies would be a pretty joyless exercise.
Those worried that this largely CGI monsters vs. robots cage fight would smack too strongly of Saturday morning TV may breathe easier. It doesn’t. Despite the fact that an ethnically diverse cast of ridiculously good-looking actors in tights and body armor pilot really big robots to fight really big monsters from another world, “Pacific Rim” bears startlingly little resemblance to “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”
More’s the pity. A little Saturday morning cheesiness would have helped here. Ironically, “Pacific Rim” is dedicated to stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen and original “Godzilla” director Ishiro Honda. The fact of the matter is, this movie, which is largely comprised of ones and zeroes, could have used some stop motion and guys in rubber suits. Although del Toro’s trademark exuberance does raise its head periodically here, this is a movie which seems oddly unaware of its own preposterousness.
Set in the not-too-distant future, “Pacific Rim” introduces us to a world where the value of beachfront property is taking a nose dive as giant monsters called Kaiju rise from the depths of the ocean to attack coastal cities. Apparently, conventional military responses like bombs and missiles aren’t effective against the Kaiju, but beating the snot out of them with giant robots is. And yes, that’s the sort of logic you’re going to have to buy to get through this.
The robots are are called Jaegers, because if the monsters have a Japanese name, apparently the robots should have a German one, and they need to have two pilots who are neurologically linked or they get bad nose bleeds. This no job for lone wolf rebels who don’t follow orders. Clearly then, our hero must be a lone wolf rebel who doesn’t follow orders.
Enter Raleigh Becket (“Sons of Anarchy’s” Charlie Hunnam), a talent Jaeger pilot who inexplicably doesn’t have “Maverick” painted on his helmet. Becket’s actually a veteran Jaeger pilot who dropped out of the program after his brother and co-pilot died in combat. He’s dragged back in as the Jaeger program is being dismantled in favor of making big walls, despite evidence that the Kaiju regard the walls as about as much of an obstacle as a sturdy baby gate.
Hunnam’s about as distinctive as Channing Tatum’s stand-in. It doesn’t help that he actually has lines like “Stay in the drift!” His “Sons of Anarchy” co-star, del Toro regular Ron Perlman, makes a far stronger impression as a gangster who’s making a killing selling Kaiju innards on the black market, and you could readily believe del Toro, who was certainly going to cast Perlman anyway, asked him for the name of a good-looking young actor to play Becket.
Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi plays Becket’s new co-pilot, whose secret past isn’t that big a deal, and anyone who can’t figure her for a love interest from the get-go needs to get out more. Idris Elba, who has, bar none, one of the greatest speaking voices on the planet right now, plays the head of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost, and yes, we do need to speak to someone about character names. Nonetheless, his line, heard in all the trailers, “We are cancelling the apocalypse,” is probably the best line of its type since “Release the Kraken!”
But then Travis Beacham, who co-wrote the screenplay with del Toro, co-wrote the “Clash of the Titans” remake, and he’s certainly more interested in archetypes (if not stereotypes) than character here. These characters all come pretty much whole hog from the war movie catalogue, and some scenes are so deliberately modeled on “Top Gun” it’s a little surprising Warner Bros. hasn’t gotten a cease-and-desist letter from Paramount’s lawyers. (Spoiler alert:) The last scene in the movie (other than an end credits Easter egg) is ripped from any number of James Bond movies.
This is a bit of a comeback movie for del Toro, who, largely due to simple bad luck, hasn’t actually directed a movie since 2008’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” He was attached for a long time to direct “The Hobbit,” then finally walked when that movie seemed unable to get the green light. He appeared to be about to make an R-rated, 3D adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” when Universal balked at the prospect of spending more than $100 million on an R-rated horror movie.
Del Toro has always had the reputation of preferring to do things practical, rather than CGI, so the amount of CGI here is both surprising and disappointing. Although the Kaiju do visually reflect del Toro’s sensibilities, it would be nice if they didn’t otherwise look like they just shambled out of a video game. Regular del Toro cinematographer Guillermo Navarro has done some exceptionally nice work here though, and “Iron Man” composer Ramin Djawadi’s score is suitably insistent. And non-stop.
Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, as a pair of deranged, geeky scientists steal the show, and “Pacific Rim” could have used more of them, and Perlman. Or some Power Rangers.