A film review by Craig J. Koban July 17, 2013


2013, PG-13, 130 mins.


Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost  /  Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Antrobus  /  Charlie Day as Newt Gotlieb  /  Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chow  /  Burn Gorman as Gottlieb  /  Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori  /  Max Martini as Herc Hansen  /  Robert Maillet as Aleksis Kaidanovsky  /  Robert Kazinsky as Chuck Hansen  /  Larry Joe Campbell as Tommy T  /  Brad William Henke as Miles

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro  /  Written by Travis Beacham and Del Toro



The little boy in me giddily embraced Guillermo del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM with ecstatic open arms.  The adult critic in me…not so much.  

On paper, the film is pure silliness, but it certainly deserves points for embracing its absurdity, even when its guilty of perhaps taking it all a bit too seriously.  Del Toro’s magnum opus of ear-piercing sound and retina-pummeling fury will elicit many overt comparisons to the TRANSFORMERS films, which is certainly apt.  PACIFIC RIM hurtles giant robotic mayhem at us with a numbing repetitiveness like Bay’s films, but Del Toro is most definitely the superior to Bay in terms of not letting his film get too bogged down in headache-inducing nihilism.  Deep down, you sense that Del Toro cares deeply about his underlining material, and he does so through every frame of PACIFIC RIM. 

On a positive, the film is a joyous and loving ode to things that the writer/director obviously holds very dear to his heart, like the giant robot films of yesteryear, not to mention the Godzilla/gianormous-monsters-run-amok genres, which helps elevate it from the stylistically overpowering and cynically detached aesthetic of Bay’s work.  De Toro’s science fiction extravaganza has a wholly unique premise behind the massive robots that populate it.  In the not-to-distant future Earth is attacked by "Kaiju", unfathomably large monsters that emerge from the ocean floor via a cosmic portal.  Mankind decides to fight the creatures using "Jaegers", equally humongous mechas that are neurally and physically controlled by two human pilots.  Since one pilot’s body and soul cannot withstand the pressures of controlling such a mechanical beastie, two are required to join their minds – and share memories in the process – in a procedure called “Drifting.”  With mind and body spiritually connected, the Jaeger pilots control their robots like puppeteers.   

In short…cooooooool. 



It’s not altogether thoroughly explained, though, how a portal in the ocean floor was created that allowed the kaiju to unleash themselves on our world, but what is expanded upon is the notion that the long human versus monster war has nearly decimated countless cities across the planet.  When the threat of more frequent and numerous kaiju attacks are eminent – with the creatures increasing in both size and ferocity – the once indestructible Jaeger program is dealt with a crippling blow.  With only a few left, the vast worldwide program is de-funded, which really pisses off one of its chief supporters and leaders, General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, who does command the Titanic-sized screen presence and machismo required for this role), who then decides to continue the program underground as a resistance movement. 

Before all of this we are given a prologue that involves a hot shot, Han Solo-esque Jaeger pilot, Raleigh Antrobus (Charlie Hunnam), who works in tandem with his brother on a Jaeger, mostly because their minds are the most compatible and linked.  When Raleigh’s brother is killed during one particularly nasty battle with a very lethal kaiju, Raleigh goes AWOL from the program having been traumatized by the experience.  Predictably, though, Pentecost does locate him years later and tries to pull him back into active duty to deal with the ever-escalating threat of more dangerous kaiju.  Alas, since Raleigh is now partner and brotherless, he desperately needs a new co-pilot, which he finds in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, the marvelous Oscar nominated actress from BABEL), who has her own past demons to deal with.  Their very first mission ends almost catastrophically, but when it appears that multiple kaiju are going to come through the portal for a final assault on mankind, Raleigh and Mako find themselves trying to find a way to work together to ensure the survival of the human race. 

As stated, PACIFIC RIM shows Del Toro at his most joyously ecstatic; given an enormous budget and unlimited technological tools at his disposal, the director is given free reign to run around in his imaginative world like a proverbial kid in a candy store.  One thing that can be said about him is that he knows how to construct visually appealing and eccentrically creative movie universes, made with precision, dexterity, and panache.  PACIFIC RIM, if anything, is an utterly bravura showpiece of large-scale visual effects ingenuity, not to mention that Del Toro knows how to give the Jaeger/kaiju battles a satisfying and base-heavy oomph factor.  Thankfully, Del Toro’s robots and monsters have a tactile weight and sense of movement for their awe-inspiring size, and all of the battles rendered here achieve a relative visual clarity, which is nice in the era of editorial overkill.  Granted, since so many of the epic skirmishes take place at night and in the rain, the dimness of some shots does not lend itself very well to 3D. 

Yet, it’s so very deceptively easy to become enraptured with all of the film’s awesomely rendered effects (courtesy of the same wizards at ILM that helmed the STAR WARS prequel trilogy) and nerdgasmic city leveling carnage that you may almost forget the film’s shortcomings.  Even though the battles between monsters and machines are, indeed, a sight to behold, they seem to become a bit more monotonous as the film progresses, which is not assisted by the fact that many of the Jaegers and monsters themselves have a relative sameness.  Then there are the aims of Del Toro himself, whom has publicly stated that he hoped PACIFIC RIM would be the antithesis of other city-decimating disaster films that only care about the remorseless destruction.  Even though he is indeed a more thoughtful and soulful filmmaker than most in the disaster genre, I never really gained a sense that Del Toro cared more about the human element than he did about his own mecha-inspired eye candy. 

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that PACIFIC RIM leaves absolutely no war/action film cliché stone left unturned.  The script is mournfully awash in overt narrative predictability and paper-thin stock character types.  Charlie Hunnam looks the part of a handsome leading man/action hero, but he lacks charisma and an invigorating screen presence required for his otherwise rather thinly written role of a fallen hero that has to pull himself up to achieve ultimate victory.  Rinko Kikuchi fares a bit better as Mako, but she's saddled with the soft spoken and meager rookie role on auto-pilot that we’ve seen countless times before.  Even though Pentecost is the teeth-and-fist-clenched military leader that gives one of those obligatory rallying speeches in the third act to hammy melodramatic effect, Idris Elba nonetheless immerses himself in it with a fiery gusto.   Charlie Day shows up as a fast-talking and neurotic scientist that provides some sustained and quirky comic relief, but very little else.  There is also one welcome and inspired cameo from a rather famous HELLBOY alumni that I will not spoil.

In the end, though, I dunno.  I just wished that the character dynamics were more finely and uniquely delineated and stronger here.  PACIFIC RIM’s overall story – outside of its ultra-glossy look and enormously scaled veneer – criminally lacks originality (more often than not, dialogue is of the cookie cutter variety and only used for expository purposes of advancing the plot).  That, and at 130 minutes, the film runs a bit detrimentally long, which only strains the audiences’ senses, I think, the longer it progresses.  I absolutely loved the look and feel of PACIFIC RIM and the passions of its filmmaker truly shines through to its surface, but I ultimately found myself more exhausted by it than I was entertained by it.  The makers have tried to make a dramatic film at the epicenter of its deafening action sequences and orgy of earth-shattering destruction.  Yet, in the end, there’s not much rooting interest to be had here outside of its robots versus monsters dynamic.  That might be enough for some, but not for me.

  H O M E