Zimbio Review - Disappointing 'Pacific Rim' Plays it Safe

(Warner Brothers)

The Bottom Line
Should you see it?

It's a summer popcorn flick from a premiere directorial talent that falls flat in the brain and heart departments.
Pacific Rim stars toys doing the same thing the toys in Real Steel and Transformers do. Director Guillermo del Toro's toys are eight stories high, they club each other mercilessly, and the wide shots from breathless angles are spectacular, but that's all Pacific Rim's got.

The film fails to paint a truly horrifying portrait of a terrified society, narrowing its focus on a small cast of characters. Those characters are all cookie-cutter types who say stuff like, "Age before beauty." Plus, the monsters aren't any more impressive than the Kraken from 2010's Clash of the Titans. Where's the Guillermo del Toro who put eyeballs in the palms of the Pale Man? The artist has been studio-fied by his latest endeavor. He's playing to the masses (and playing it safe) and losing his identity in the process.

Earth is overrun by Kaiju (Japanese for "giant monster" and synonymous with the creature feature genre). "To fight monsters, we created our own monsters." Hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) tells us in voice over. "Our monsters" are huge robots, called Jaegars, that stand toe to toe with the bad guys. We win the early years, but the Kaiju are getting more and more dangerous and the Jaegars, more and more extinct.

"As foretold in the Necronomicon, Cthulu shall rise from the deep..." Oh right, wrong story. Pacific Rim is much different. This time there're a bunch of cthulus and they do never-before-seen stuff like destroy the Golden Gate Bridge. Untold millions perish but the Jaegars come to save the day. They battle the Kaiju for years (actually a very cool detail) but the big lugs keep coming.

It's important to keep the film's title in mind because the scope of Pacific Rim is small. The monsters only come out of this one portal between dimensions in the Pacific so if you live in Jersey, you're cool. Late night talk shows interview famous Jaegar pilots and life goes on for the most part. San Francisco, Manila, and Cabo are gone but the Jaegars have things in hand. Basically, the Kaiju aren't that dangerous or world threatening. Pacific Rim is not an apocalyptic film.

Disappointingly, the Kaiju themselves are unimpressive. There are nine in the film, chosen from a reported 40 del Toro designed. One has an axe head, one has a shark head, one has lobster claws, and one looks like Predator. They're an homage to Godzilla and Mothra, but there's nothing original about them. They're also supposedly intent on global domination, using their portal to take over planets one by one. So why do they appear one at a time? Seems like an army of Kaiju could take Earth in a week.

There wouldn't be a movie if they did that, by the way, because the urgency of this film is fueled by the fact the Kaiju are, finally, beginning to appear more frequently. Almost all the Jaegars have been destroyed, but there are three or four left. The perfect amount to focus on for the rest of the movie!

The human element of Pacific Rim is embarrassingly contrived. It's at Michael Bay-levels of dialogue and humor. Hunnam struts around like he does on Sons of Anarchy, but has much less to say, and Idris Elba does the stoic general thing that we've seen a thousand times. Charlie Day is in full Fran Drescher-mode as an eccentric scientist. And Rinko Kikuchi shows up as Raleigh's new partner, Mako Mori. They bond while fighting in a terribly-choreographed sparring scene that belongs in another movie.

The bond between pilots is important since two are needed to control a jaegar. They "drift" with the robot in a kind of collective mind meld that allows the pilots to think together and share memories. It's kind of like Avatar and Voltron but a lot like the Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion

As Pacific Rim bombards your five senses (especially hearing) with fight scene after fight scene, the stakes do get raised. It makes no sense, but they get raised. Jaegars don't use their best weapons until the end. Kaiju start attacking in groups. It's convenient for the plot to do this of course, but it's frustrating while watching it. The early Jaegar/Kaiju fight scenes are basically boxing matches and pilots die. There are bullets in the chamber, use them!

I can't apologize for this movie. Del Toro doesn't make bad films, but he's got one here. Pacific Rim's got to be about 50 percent fight scenes between Jaegars and Kaiju, at least half of that is the camera whizzing by the action at speeds and scale too fast for the human eye. Yes, some of it is very cool and the film does not lack for entertainment, but it's kid's stuff. They'll love Pacific Rim. It's totally juvenile in every way.

Senior Editor at Zimbio. I've been everywhere and done everything. Now I write about movies. It's awesome.