by Coop Cooper
Giant robots smashing Godzilla-sized monsters. It’s a summer movie combo made in heaven and “Pacific Rim” delivers, but in a strange twist, it also got critics excited. Not because the giant robot/monster thing hadn’t been done before (critics including me really hated the increasingly poor “Transformers” films), but this project had an acclaimed director, Guillermo del Toro (the “Hellboy” films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone”) who has a knack for pleasing both critics and audiences. Does he succeed with “Pacific Rim?” Almost.
The story takes place in the future after a dimensional gateway opens up in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, unleashing giant monsters nicknamed ‘kaiju’ after the pantheon of monsters from the “Godzilla” series of films. These monsters begin to lay waste to all Pacific coastal cities and the militaries of the world are unequipped to destroy them without causing massive collateral damage. Enter the ‘Jaeger’ (’hunter’ in German) program in which all first world countries design and deploy their own massive robots to destroy the kaiju when they emerge. Jaegers are piloted by a two-person team who must be compatible via a risky ‘neural handshake’ which binds the pilots memories and abilities so they can control the complex machine in unison. When the kaiju attacks begin to escalate in intensity and size, the American Jaeger robot, codenamed ‘Gipsy (sic) Danger’ suffers a fatal blow when pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) loses his co-pilot brother in a battle. Years later when the world is nearly at its end, program leader Pentecost (Idris Elba) re-hires Becket to pilot the new Gipsy Danger and break in a new co-pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) in a last-ditch attempt to close the dimensional gateway.
It’s a really neat idea suffering from a few annoying problems that could’ve made it the perfect summer movie. First off, it went far too long between battles. Character interaction was not the film’s strong point. All of them were goofy clichés and they brought the story to a screeching halt whenever they had to have any heart-to-heart conversations. Only near the very end did the film find any character heart, but by they it was too late and it quickly dissolved once the action kicked in.
The acting was also dreadful. From all of his acclaim on the cable show “Sons of Anarchy,” I thought “Pacific Rim” lead Charlie Hunnam would bring a bit of high art class to the summer effects-fest. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He dogged it as did nearly the entire cast which added up to some cringe-worth performances. Even worse was his co-star Rinko Kikuchi who didn’t speak good enough English to pull off her role. I would’ve preferred she spoke in Japanese with subtitles the whole time but we all know that’s not allowed for more than a couple of scenes in a Hollywood film. Between Hunnam’s corny Captain America routine and Kikuchi’s puppy dog stares and ‘what did she say?’ dialogue, I’m thankful there was (eventually) enough robot action to cover them. Actually, everyone with a foreign accent in this film were hard to understand. I have an excellent ear for accents – years of practice – but I had to listen closely to understand even the Australians in this one.
Idris Elba as Jaeger team leader Pentecost still continues to be an overrated fan favorite and he added no likability to the film. Only comedic relief Charlie Day as a wacky kaiju-studying scientist and Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, a black market kaiju organ dealer, breathed any life into the listless cast.
The film’s saving grace was the set design, the monsters, the robots, the action and the special effects. Those things carried the weight of the entire film and were sorely missed in the middle (nearly a full hour) when the characters trained, postured and had meaningless conversations. It was absolutely brainless but when the robots and monsters start wailing on each other, it really livens up, especially during the exciting finale. I very rarely say this, but the 3-D was worth the extra money this time. These kind of visuals, with all of the bright colors and set pieces really show off what the 3-D technology is capable of. So going by my logic, it’s best for pretty, mindless sci-fi films. I’m including “Avatar” in that same category.
It’s a nice distraction for the kids and might turn them onto the giant robot/monster thing like Godzilla, Ultraman, Spectreman, Robotech, Shogun Warriors and all of those films, TV shows and toys did for me and my generation. “Pacific Rim” had enough of that cool stuff to keep me entertained, but I’m disappointed del Toro couldn’t get some better performances out of his cast or keep the momentum going in the middle.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars