Monster action, minor smarts
It’s one thing for a big, dumb, loud and action-loaded summer blockbuster to appeal to the nine-year-old in all of us, which “Pacific Rim” on some levels certainly does. It is quite another matter to have such an enormously expensive film feel like it was written by those same nine-year-olds.
Heralded director Guillermo del Toro, responsible for a wonderfully restrained superhero film (“Hellboy,” with its sequel being less so) and one of the best films of the past 10 years (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), puts all his creative chips in the massive ‘Giant Robots vs. Sea Monsters’ action sequences which are both undeniably impressive and frustratingly busy.
There is little in the way of originality, plot development, layered characters, or innovative set design.
To that end, “Pacific Rim” feels like a missed opportunity, but it is by no means a bust.
A few years in the future, countries unite to battle Godzilla-sized, cloned sea creatures called “Kaiju,” by creating towering, dual-human commanded robots called “Jaegers.” The technology of these ‘bots is clearly inspired by the soldier-operated machines in “Avatar” and “Iron Man.” So the scientists in the film were apparently big fans of the franchises. That’s fine.
The heroes of the resistance effort are a collection of cookie cutter archetypes portrayed by lesser-known actors, including Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh the damaged veteran making a reluctant comeback. Oscar nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi is Mako, a bright but shy soldier who of course will prove her mettle when teamed with our hero. An interesting plot device requires that the pairs of soldiers who control the Jaegers engage in a unifying “mind-melding” process of sorts in order to enhance their camaraderie and aid in their fighting abilities.
These two lead characters do not lift the contrived script beyond clichéd melodrama, and the normally solid Idris Alba is reduced to the role of a team leader with a chip on his angry-for-no-apparent reason shoulder.
But forget the substantive elements; the audience is here to see “Rock ‘em-Sock ‘em” robot-versus-sea monster beat-downs. Del Toro and crew fashion some excellent confrontations, but for reasons unexplained (nuking the big lizards would send everyone home too soon perhaps), the two forces must engage in mano-a-mano fighting. This allows for a lot of close-up, frantic mayhem that displays some intricate detail, although the action is so chaotic that it is sometimes hard to follow.
The fatigue factor sets in early, especially without much humor and only corny asides available to balance the onslaught. Kids might enjoy certain elements of “Pacific Rim,” but sometimes parents like to be rewarded at the cinema too– hence the reason films like “Despicable Me 2” are crushing it at the box office while “Pacific Rim” may underwhelm.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action and some suggestive material.