Director: Guillermo del Toro
Studio: Legendary Pictures
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi
Nothing anyone can say or do will stop a self-respecting fan of Kaiju (giant monster) movies like Godzilla and its sequels from flocking to the robots-vs.-monsters sci-fi badassery promised by Pacific Rim. And that’s as it should be. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and cowriter Travis Beacham have aimed their gargantuan, technically dazzling, character-lite valentine straight for the hearts and wallets of beastie movie–loving eight-year-old boys. But considering how visionary and gifted a filmmaker del Toro is, the IMAX 3D-converted movie entertains and sometimes enthralls, but despite its visual virtuosity and spectacularly well done sequences, it doesn’t do much more.
The basic setup goes like so: a portal between dimensions has opened up at the bottom of the Pacific, disgorging massive, acid-spewing, earth-flattening monsters or Kaiju, many of which resemble screen creatures we’ve met before in Cloverfield and the like. Despite widespread destruction, casualties, worldwide panic and economic chaos because of attacks on San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney, nations are somehow able to band together to build towering, Kaiju-stomping robots called Jaegers, piloted by pairs of cocky, macho flyboys like the one played by our hero, Charlie Hunnam (in a dull, gravelly voiced, charmless performance) and his brother (Diego Klattenhoff).
With mankind on the brink of extinction and Kaiju becoming smarter, more plentiful and relentless, the Jaeger program is threatened with phase-out and construction of a massive sea wall gets underway instead. You can predict how well that crackpot scheme will pan out. Instead, in Starship Troopers fashion, rhinoceros-skinned former military man Idris Elba gathers a team of quirky scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) and rebel pilots that include a young Japanese woman (played by the lovely Rinko Kikuchi) in a brilliantly designed Hong Kong training facility called Shatterdome in hopes of stomping out the invaders once and for all. Many, many earsplitting battles ensue, leading up to a corker of a finale that should stir the pulse of any comic or monster movie fan. But del Toro stages too much of the epic action during deep blue nighttime snow or rainstorms and, worse, shoots them in repetitive close-ups that muddy our sense of where we are and what we’re watching.
The biggest disappointment is how little of the movie’s 131-minute screen time gets devoted to story, character and actual emotion. The few times it does, it kills—as in a nightmarish sequence featuring a monster chasing a grief-stricken little girl through a wrecked city or another when terrified civilians get herded to an underground shelter while, above, a monster grabs for one of them. When del Toro and Beacham give us such satisfying glimpses of what their entire movie could have been like, we get reminded that even monster movie–mad eight-year-olds require more than just thrills when they grow up.