Watching the first 10 or so minutes of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim”, the 12-year old in me went “Squeeeeeeeeeee” and suddenly I knew what it was like to be one of those teenage “Twilight” fans as they watched Bella kissing Edward while the werewolf kid with no shirt looked on. But then something strange happened. The film kept going, and something resembling a “plot” kicked in, and suddenly I wasn’t so enamored with “Pacific Rim” like I had been, oh, 20 minutes earlier. In fact, I became downright annoyed with the movie and director Guillermo del Toro, as I couldn’t quite figure out why he was letting a cliche-ridden, brain dead script by Travis Beacham ruin the movie the 12-year old in me had been waiting for his entire life.
Stitched together with narrative plot points and whole scenes liberally lifted from films like “Top Gun”, “Independence Day”, “Transformers” and (for God’s sake) even Michael Bay’s “Armageddon”, “Pacific Rim” is every geek’s fantasy come true … gone horribly wrong. There are giant robots fighting giant monsters, dammit! How could you possibly mess that up? Unfortunately I’m not a 12-year old kid anymore, and I’m no longer immune to clunky acting, simplistic character “development”, and the ol “we’re going to drop a nuke into it in order to stop it” type of advance plotting. Del Toro even chickens out with the ending. It’s like he said to the studio, “Okay, guys, thanks for giving me $190 million to make the Kaiju movie I’ve always wanted to make, and now I’m paying you back with this crowdpleaser ending even though the filmmaker in me knows it’s utter crap!”
“Sons of Anarchy’s” Charlie Hunnam gets his best chance to become a movie star in “Pacific Rim” (he’s had a couple of at-bats, but they’ve all been back-to-pitcher bunts so far), here playing Raleigh Becket, a hotshot Jaegar (giant robot) pilot who, along with his brother, are the last line of defense when giant monsters start appearing through a dimensional rift/portal/hole in the Pacific Ocean. Called Kaiju, the monsters wreak havoc on mankind, destroying whole cities as giant monsters in sci-fi films are wont to do. (In case you’re wondering, yes, there is an explanation for the Kaiju. Well, a dumbass explanation, but an “explanation” nonetheless.) Alas, after Raleigh’s brother is killed (it takes two pilots to control these giant robots), ol Raleigh sort of disappears. That is, until a Jaegar pilot-strapped Stacker Pentecost (cool name, bro) played by Idris Elba shows up to recruit him back into the fight.
It seems in the 5 years since Raleigh ran off with his tail tucked between his legs, the war is going badly for humanity. Pentecost, who runs the Jaegar program, has just gotten the order to shut down, with all of the world’s population moving behind massive walls for protection. Which seems like kind of a bad idea since the Kaiju just sort of walk through these walls like they’re not even there. Great plan, guys. Pentecost, though, is making one last ditch effort to save the world and it involves — you guessed it — the ol “we’re going to drop a nuke into it in order to stop it” plan. Which makes you wonder: if giant monsters are coming through holes in the ocean, why aren’t there a bunch of submarines down there just waiting to blast them when they show up? Or battlecruisers on top? Or B52s just circling in the air waiting to drop huge payloads? But whatever. Look, giant shiny robots fighting giant monsters!
As the lead, Hunnam is flat and uninteresting, despite the fact that Raleigh swaggers everywhere onscreen. For a guy who has been working construction earning a menial living for the last 5 years, you wonder what he’s got to swagger about. Elba and Max Martini do the best they can, and Elba almost rises above what he’s given. Almost. There are whole chunks of the second half when I actually forgot Rinko Kikuchi is in it. She has that little to do. “Pacific Rim” benefits greatly from having Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the comic relief. The duo play bickering mad scientists trying to discover the Kaiju’s evil master plan. Day is hilarious and his scenes with familiar Del Toro muse Ron Perlman are a riot.
I should like “Pacific Rim” a whole lot, and there are times when I actually do. The robot-monster fights are ridiculous, in an enjoyable, over-the-top way. I knew they would be, and they were. Without a doubt, the film really comes through on that front. Hilariously, the Jaegars do just as much damage to the world they’re trying to save as the monsters, and it seems like the Kaiju only attack when it’s dark and raining. (They must be big fans of mood, I guess.) And while it’s almost impossible to tell what the hell is going on in the final underwater fight sequence, there’s something so primal about giant robots fighting giant monsters in a $190 million dollar movie that makes me absolutely giddy. Just for that, I’m almost inclined to forgive the film’s many failings. Almost.
Guillermo del Toro (director) / Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
CAST: Charlie Hunnam … Raleigh Becket
Idris Elba … Stacker Pentecost
Rinko Kikuchi … Mako Mori
Charlie Day … Dr. Newton Geiszler
Burn Gorman … Gottlieb
Max Martini … Herc Hansen
Robert Kazinsky … Chuck Hansen
Clifton Collins Jr. … Ops Tendo Choi
Ron Perlman … Hannibal Chau