Guillermo del Toro co-writing and directing a movie about alien monsters from the sea versus giant robots? Are you kidding? Sign me up!
If you were once a 12-year-old boy, "Pacific Rim" is a movie you want to see. As a 40-year-old man, though, what I don't want to see is a movie that seems as if it was written by an overzealous, brainy 12-year-old boy. And that's exactly what "Pacific Rim" feels like.
In the not-so-distant future, humanity is attacked by Godzilla-like aliens from another dimension who invade us through a portal beneath the ocean. The monsters even have a Japanese name: kaiju. The giant monsters wreak havoc on our coastal cities, but fear not, the world bands together to develop a weapon to fight these aliens - giant robots!
Called jaegers, the robots are commanded by two pilots (jaegermeisters?) who, in order to pilot the jaegers, have to become of one mind with each other and the robot through a process called "the drift." The drift is part plugging into the Matrix and part Na'vi communing with Pandora in "Avatar." Once the drift is complete, the pilots can control the jaegers through a series of synchronized movements that resemble a DDR arcade video game crossed with a Nintendo Wii.
The jaeger program is implemented with astonishing results and the jaeger pilots are awarded celebrity status - that is, until the kaiju evolve and figure out how to beat the jaegers. The beginning of the end comes when hot-shot jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket, played by "Sons of Anarchy's" Charlie Hunnam, loses a battle with a kaiju, and loses his brother as well.
I know Hunnam is a good actor but his performance in "Pacific Rim" is one of the most awkward and uncomfortable I've seen in a long time. When a talented actor is made to look otherwise in performance, it's usually the director's fault. You have no idea how much I hate picking on Guillermo del Toro, but since I'm going to give him credit for everything that's good about "Pacific Rim," I'm going to blame him for everything that's bad - and in my opinion, there's more bad than good.
Visually, "Pacific Rim" is spectacular. The look and feel of the kaiju, the jaegers and the battle scenes is second to none. It's so good, there was a real opportunity here to make a genre-busting classic, but unfortunately del Toro and company didn't pay nearly as much attention to the script, characters and the human beings playing those characters, and that's where "Pacific Rim" suffers a real deficit.
Del Toro stacked the movie with some great talent. Idris Elba, as the tough head of the jaeger program, and del Toro's "Hellboy" star Ron Pearlman are actors with great instincts who require little direction. "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"'s Charlie Day, and Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (2007's "Babel") are also excellent. But co-writer del Toro feeds them pedestrian dialogue and gives them scenes to act in that are so clichéd, it makes you wonder why he bothered to include a story at all.
"Pacific Rim" has a powerful and entertaining aesthetic that even the most superficial fan of 1960s Japanese monster films will appreciate, but it's not a great movie. Still, 12-year-old boys and girls who love the genre, and adults in touch with their inner 12-year-old, will undoubtedly enjoy and embrace the spectacle.
Three out of five stars.