Pacific Rim

Movie Information

The Story: It's giant robots vs. giant monsters as (of course) the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The Lowdown: It's big. It's deliberately dumb. And it's a lot of good-natured fun with all the stock giant-monster movie clichés intact. However, it must be noted that the robot vs. monster bouts tend to be too dark and shot too close-up to fully register.
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Clifton Collins Jr., Ron Perlman
Rated: PG-13

While entertaining and immensely likable, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim misses being a truly great action picture because of the very thing that’s supposed to be at the core of the film: the action scenes. Here we have a film — in the spirit of the old Japanese kaiju (giant monster) movies — in which the theoretical point of interest is the rock-‘em-sock-‘em antics of these giant horrors going best-two-out-of-three rounds with the giant robots mankind has built to defend us. With that in mind, it probably wasn’t the best idea to have every such grudge match take place at night, in the pouring rain or at the bottom of the sea. In other words, it’s mostly too dark to really see just what the hell is going on — even though the rapid editing and close compositions assure us that it’s all very exciting indeed.

I might be willing to cut the battle-editing style more slack if I hadn’t just seen the brilliantly coherent action scenes in The Lone Ranger, but I did, and this action pales in comparison. It’s also nothing like the tomfoolery of the old Japanese movies. I didn’t expect the men-in-costumes wrestling silliness of Godzilla vs. whoever, but couldn’t these big guys at least have squared off on opposite sides of a Japanese castle like in the old days? Apparently not. Instead, what we get is murky modernity in a movie with its heart in the past. (Ishiro Honda — the grandfather of the kaiju movie — would just be perplexed by these monster battles.) The surprise is that the movie largely overcomes these hangups.

What makes Pacific Rim work — and work far better than it probably has any right to — is the way del Toro embraces the movie’s deliberately corny tone. It may not really look like Japanese sci-fi from 40 or 50 years ago, but it’s every bit as goofy — and delightfully so. The film’s science is charmingly preposterous with its mind-melding (or whatever its called) giant robot operators. For that matter, the whole idea that the best hope for a defense against these huge monsters lies in the creation of 250-foot-tall robots to punch the crap out of them is … well, pretty darn silly, but in a good way. Much the same can be said for the movie’s characters. They have the charm of something from childhood — starting with the Buckaroo Banzai geek-chic look of Clifton Collins Jr.‘s central control operator. We even get Charlie Day and Burn Gorman (who seems to be channeling Victor Spinetti’s mad scientist in Richard Lester’s 1965 Help!) as comedy-relief science nerds who’d have been perfectly at home in an Ishiro Honda picture. The hero (Charlie Hunnam) is stolid. The heroine (Rinko Kikuchi) is suitably devoted to her mentor. And her mentor (Idris Elba) shouts a lot of absolute nonsense that somehow manages to sound believable. But best of all is the way that del Toro pulls off the unlikely feat of making this flapdoodle work on a rudimentary emotional level.

The real question is whether the viewer can embrace del Toro’s nonsense in the way the director intends — not to mention whether the viewer can get past the suspicion that the man who made Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is frittering away his talent on a project like this. I’m not entirely sold on that myself, but I do recognize that this is a wholly personal project and a daring one from a financial standpoint. After all, this is an expensive movie without a big name cast and without any kind of name brand to draw viewers. (A lackluster opening weekend bears out the idea that this is a folly in terms of money.) Even so, it’s a kind of glorious madness that entertains despite its flaws, which is more than I can say for most of the big summer releases. The question is whether you can mind-meld with del Toro’s goofiness. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action, violence and brief language.

Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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14 thoughts on “Pacific Rim

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    mind-melding (or whatever its called)

    Neural handshake, which I thought was a great name. As Mike D’Angelo points out in his review for The Dissolve, “there

  2. Jeremy Dylan

    Burn Gorman (who seems to be channeling Victor Spinetti’s mad scientist in Richard Lester’s 1965 Help!)

    “MIT was after me, you know. Wanted me to rule the world for them.”

  3. Xanadon't

    Had me feeling like I was 13 years old again. Exiting the auditorium I nearly searched for a pay phone so I could call my mom for a ride home.

    I’m perfectly okay with the turn del Toro has taken here. My biggest regret was not opting for a large sized popcorn.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I know I’m going to end up being the odd man out here. I liked it a good bit, but I can tell already that it’s not going to stick with me.

  5. Xanadon't

    Well there’s really nothing left to chew on, the lead performances are nothing more than adequate, and the most compelling characters are the those provided for comic relief. The whole experience will more or less fall completely out of my head by the weekend. But it passed the time nicely as a one and done movie.

    I feel like I took less issue than you did with the visuals and perpetual late night rain storm settings, however. Plus, I can now stop worrying about a Voltron: Defender of the Universe movie that will seemingly never happen and would almost surely end up more comparable to a Michael Bay crap-fest anyway.

  6. Ken Hanke

    They could have probably completely won my heart if — since Chinatown had already been referenced — the last line in the picture had been, “Son of a bitch, goddamn Florsheim shoe.”

  7. Erik Harrison

    Del Toro is perhaps the only filmmaker in the world whose small, challenging, independent films give him sufficient cachet to make his wholly personal big budget popcorn flicks.

  8. DrSerizawa

    Anyone who can make this sort of movie enjoyable at all in this day and age gets my vote. These big loud sci-fi extravaganzas have been on the downhill slope for some time, being led by the likes of Bay and Emmerich. It’d be nice to see one that makes me laugh because it intended to. Unintentional laughs get old after awhile.

  9. Orbit DVD

    And the good news is that it has matched its budget worldwide and hasn’t even opened in Asia yet.

    There is apparently a feud between WB and Legendary Pictures, and Pacific Rim was the sacrificial lamb.

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