In the near future, humanity is on the brink of extinction. Giant monsters called the Kaiju have arisen from the depths of the ocean, causing destruction and terror throughout the globe. In response, the world’s leaders have created the Jaegers, giant robots to be operated by two psychically-connected pilots, allowing them both to operate the machine as a whole. One such pilot (Charlie Hunnam) saw his brother killed in a fight with a Kaiju years prior, and is later re-recruited by his old commander (Idris Elba) for one last assault on the Kaiju before the Jaeger program is abandoned entirely due to its ineffectiveness. Hunnam’s character meets friends (Rinko Kikuchi) and foes (Robert Kazinsky) in his quest to prove himself an effective Jaeger pilot. However, the key to destroying the Kaiju once and for all may lie with the project’s scientists, one British (Burn Gorman), one American (Charlie Day).
Pacific Rim is epic in scale. Early on, we get a thrilling sense of just how massive these entities are, and the destruction they might leave in their wake. The film’s design is also attractive, as is par for the course with director Guillermo Del Toro’s work. There is a mythology to Pacific Rim that will thrill fans of this subgenre and have them running to pick up one of the many comics, figures, and other tie-in materials from its universe. Its deep lore sets it apart from, say Transformers, whose obnoxious, soulless machinations are merely commercial in design.
And yet, I sat in a darkened theater watching Pacific Rim with disdain.
Why? I’m the kind of guy who’ll happily jump into a match of Destroy All Monsters Melee before even touching an actual Godzilla movie. Perhaps it’s the cultural barrier. Perhaps it’s because I never grew up watching giant monster movies outside of King Kong. Perhaps when it comes to giant monsters who I know nothing about, I can’t help but feel emotionally detached.
Blame the film’s wholly mediocre script, which boasts just about ever cliché in the book for this kind of film. From Charlie Day’s shrill, squirrely scientist character, to the comically overacted snobby British scientist, to the cheesy rival that picks fights with the hero, to the forced love interest, not only are these characters flat and their dialogue lifeless, they provide nothing to pull us into the many robot-on-monster tussles. Narratively or otherwise, Pacific Rim is a rather boring film, skirting on the thinnest shred of an already dull, hackneyed plot. And when the film finally crawls into its third act, it abandons any semblance of character development altogether in favor of a slam-bang Independence Day-style finale taking the fight to the aliens, hitting home the trite triumph-of-the-human-will theme that’s become so tired it’s completely lost any power it may have once carried.
Pity that Del Toro had to settle for this film and not his initial choice, a $150 million 3D adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” starring Tom Cruise, a perfect project for the director’s dark, myth-based sensibilities, and which Universal sadly rejected due to the film’s potential lack of marketability. Perhaps Pacific Rim wouldn’t also feel so disappointing if it weren’t Del Toro’s first finished film since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, with five years of the filmmaker constantly hopping from project to project without actually producing anything.
With little other than a unique mythology to its name, Pacific Rim is a movie steeped in cliché. Still, as someone who grew up with superhero adaptations all his life, I’m no stranger to downplaying cliché and thrilling to mythology. As such, if you’ve spent a lifetime collecting the adventures of Godzilla and Mothra and whatever other monsters have attacked Japan in the past 60 years, I have no reason to advise against seeing Pacific Rim. In fact, if you do fall under that demographic, get to the cinemas now and show your support, because if the film’s current box office intake is any indication, we may not see another movie like this for a very long time.
Me, I’d rather grab a controller and play than watch.