Release Date: July 12, 2013
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Travis Beacham (screenplay/story) & Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
If you’ve been following Guillermo del Toro’s career, you are undoubtedly excited for Pacific Rim. With Pan’s Labyrinth and his Hellboy films in particular, del Toro has shown a knack for telling engaging stories with strikingly original and memorable monsters. So an epic, big budget monsters versus robots film seems like a dream project for the director.
I’m happy to report, as a del Toro fan myself, that for the most part Pacific Rim delivers the goods. The story is a bit thin and contrived, but visually it shines. And sometimes, just watching beautifully-crafted monsters and robots pound the crap out of each other is enough to justify plopping down 10 bucks at the multiplex.
The story is a modern day take on the Japanese kaiju films (like Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, etc.). The monsters are even referred to as “Kaiju” in the film. In the opening narration, our protagonist Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), explains that these Kaiju simply came out of the water one day, via a giant temporal crack at the bottom of the ocean. According to Raleigh, the first few Kaiju laid waste to everything in their path, so all of the top world scientist got together and built giant fighting robots called Jaegers to take them on. The film wisely moves past this tidbit as quickly as possible, not leaving the viewer enough time to figure out how they landed on this particular solution or how they were able to build these robots while their labs were being kicked over by giant monsters.
Raleigh also explains that it takes two people to pilot one of these giant robots. The technology is too much for one brain to handle. A team has their brains linked together – they literally enter each other’s minds in what is called a “neural bridge” – so that they can move the machine as one. Again, this is all spouted out very quickly in the opening scene without much explanation or time to let you question it. But if you can accept that this is the reality the movie is taking place in, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest of the film.
The human race is now on the third generation of these fighting robots and they’ve become pretty efficient at fighting off these attacks. However, the Kaiju continue to adapt and learn and each new one that comes through the portal becomes stronger and harder to take down. So the human race decides to abandon the Jaeger program in favor of building huge walls to fend off the Kaiju (which seems like it would have been an easier strategy to try in the first place). They send the last four Jaegers to Hong Kong to fend off Kaijus while the wall is being constructed. But the leader of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), has a plan to end the war once and for all.
There’s a lot of exposition to set up the storyline, but it really is all just an excuse to watch giant monsters and giant robots fight. Most of these fights take place in the ocean at night, but for the most part, del Toro does a good job choreographing them in a way that doesn’t lose the action. The Kaiju are all well-rendered and suitably disturbing and each of the four Jaegers have distinct looks and abilities that help differentiate them. (The Kaiju are all have differences as well, but they are as unique as the Jaegers.)
There’s also a subplot involving a scientist named Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who has found a way to create a neural bridge with the Kaiju, which he hopes will give him some insight into how to stop these monsters. This storyline gives us a man we are emotionally invested in on the streets of Hong Kong fleeing from these monsters. It also provides most of the film’s comic relief. Most importantly, it puts Charlie Day on screen with Ron Perlman, which is pure cinematic magic. I could have watched two hours of their characters going back and forth with each other.
Unsurprisingly, del Toro succeeds in making the best looking kaiju film ever. Technology has come a long way from the old 1950s films where someone would put on a rubber lizard suit and smash a scale-model city. This is a truly beautiful film that makes the most of its CGI budget. But, unlike the utterly underwhelming 1998 Godzilla film that delivered on the visuals, but failed in just about every other aspect, del Toro also manages to keep the spirit of those old kaiju films intact. There is a sense of fun and camp to the whole thing that lets you know that del Toro gets it.
Personally, I would have liked to see a story that was a bit deeper and had more emotion to it. Del Toro has shown he’s capable of making rich, complex films with strong emotional undercurrents. But that’s not what he set out to do here. Instead, he just wanted to make a really pretty monster movie.
And sometimes, that’s enough.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.