When talking about Pacific Rim you really have to start with expectations. Expectations for this particular film were all over the place. Those who just saw the trailers simply thought it was yet another giant robot movie with lots of destruction. Those who were aware that Guillermo del Toro was directing the film knew better. Del Toro is original and interesting and we already know he can turn a science fiction film into something special thanks to Hellboy. Pacific Rim for these people had some pretty high expectations.
Those people (myself included) were pretty darn wrong. Those people simply with giant robot expectations were pretty damn right. Damn you, expectations.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Release Date: July 12, 2013
The unfortunate thing about Pacific Rim is that aside from it being a move where giant robots beat up on giant monsters there really isn’t anything that special about it. In fact, as far as story and characters go, it’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. In the future a dimensional rift opens up in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and monsters called kaiju start to pop out every so often. In order to defeat these monsters humanity builds giant robots called jaegers. The jaegers must be piloted by two poeple at the same time who connect through memory. The basic premise feels a lot like any monster movie or anime where giant robots punch monsters, and that’s really the point — so we’re good to go so far.
However, the characters in this film are as bland and two dimensional as they come. We meet Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), two Jaegar pilots who are at the top of their game until the bad guys on the other side of the rift start sending through monsters that are a bit tougher to kill. Yancy dies as part of the longest pre-title sequence ever and Raleigh quits the jaeger program. Five years later the jaegers are all but destroyed and humanity is retreating behind walls. However, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the leader of the jeager program, doesn’t think it should be shut down so he starts running it outside of the world’s governments with only four jaegers left and brings Raleigh back. Raleigh eventually partners up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) as the last jaegers attempt to destroy the rift.
Lots of awesome jaeger/kaiju fighting ensue. This film is stunningly gorgeous to look at when giant robots are punching cleverly designed monsters in the face. The fight sequences are massive and impressive all around — even in this day and age of massive and impressive fight sequences. Seeing them on the big screen is well worth your while and if you go in with expectations of only seeing big, impressive monster/robot fights that were clearly inspired by all the classic Japanese monster/robot fights then you won’t be let down. So there’s the recommendation. It’s a perfectly cool monster/robot movie. Unfortunately the second the folks step out of those giant robots things get really dull and incredibly flat.
The characters in this film feel like they were ripped from the worst cliches of every anime/action movie ever. The dialog sometimes felt like it was taken directly from a bad dubbing of Gundam. There’s the headstrong jock who thinks he’s the best, the stern commander, the no-rules hot shot, the meek-but-secretly-strong woman. There’s even two goofball scientists in the form of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman who are so clearly attempting to be comedic relief anime characters that they successfully become 100 percent annoying. Sadly, much of the film’s plot rests with them. A lot of these tropes may actually be del Toro attempting to pay homage to the films he’s referencing, but the problem is that that doesn’t make the characters any more interesting. He teeters back and forth between trying to be serious about the subject and trying to poke fun at it, and fails at both.
The big problem here is that the lack of interesting plot or characters effects the action sequences. It’s really hard to care about two minor jaeger pilots who may die because we’ve only seen them on screen for ten seconds and they’re some of the worst stereotypes ever. When Elbra stands up to make his triumphant speech before the last battle you don’t get that “fuck yea, HUMANITY!” feeling that Bill Pullman engenders in Independence Day, but instead you simply know another monster/robot fight is about to ensue. Yes, it will be cool, but there’s almost no emotion attached to it.
This issue also stems from the fact that there are no real bad guys for the movie to latch onto. Much like we can’t get attached to the giant robots because we don’t care about the people in them, there’s no enemy to really start hating. The monsters are sent through from the other side of the portal, and we’re told the aliens are evil, but we never have any chance to really hate them because we don’t get to see it. Most of the destruction is on such a massive scale that it’s hard to humanize with it, and when it does come down to a smaller scale it is often obscured in bad dialog or attempts at humor.
I am being incredibly harsh, however. I had expectations that this movie was going to be something different and it wasn’t so it’s way easier to point out its flaws. In comparison to Transformers 3 this film has just as much emotional connection and interest — the action is definitely better. The problem is that this should have been better than that. It should have been something special, and all we got was more of the norm. Normally you shouldn’t gripe about an action movie being big and dumb, but after the destruction of Superman I was hoping that Pacific Rim would give us something more.