At Least It's Not a Michael Bay Movie

Pacific Rim
(USA, 132 min.)
Dir. Guillermo del Toro, Writ. Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman.
Pacific Rim seems like the film that Michael Bay always wanted to make, but probably never will. First, it’s a film, for Michael Bay most definitely makes “movies”. Second, it's spectacular entertainment driven mostly by special effects, yet it’s not eye-rollingly bad. Third, it has monsters, robots, and near-apocalyptic chaos, but it also has enough of novelty to string the action together. Pacific Rim, despite its flaws, is a VFX extravaganza that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Pacific Rim, Michael Bay jokes aside, is actually very much Transformers with a different ’do. It’s a flick in which CGI robots battle CGI monsters. Ergo, Pacific Rim is Transformers meets Real Steel meets Godzilla.

That equation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Pacific Rim provides all one that one expects in a major Hollywood summer movie: large-scale entertainment made for teenage boys. Pacific Rim might not aspire to any higher meaning, but it’s great entertainment if taken as eye-popping diversion on a hot summer day. Guillermo del Toro, the man behind the masterful fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth, presents a fantastical sci-fi adventure about a future in which the human race is threatened by gargantuan aliens known as kaijus.

One kaiju after another, as the lengthy prologue states, attacks the metropolitan areas of the Earth, wreaking havoc and killing people while humans scramble to take down the monster. Humans eventually realize that the best way to defend themselves against a kaiju is to use some fancy robotic monster-smasher-fighter-thing called a Jaeger, which is controlled by two humans that share control by splicing the left hemisphere of one’s brain with the right hemisphere of the other’s. Odd and convoluted, the logic of Pacific Rim is, but it all makes sense if one simply accepts it à la The Matrix and Inception.

The lead Jaeger of Pacific Rim is Raleigh. Raleigh is played by Charlie Hunnam, who is built as solidly as a robot is, but, unfortunately, he acts like one too. (Michael Bay movie frontman Shia LaBeouf would have been just as suitable after a few more rounds at the gym.) Raleigh, after a length bit of exposition, arrives at the fight that could be humanity’s last. He suits up to fight the kaijus under the guidance of Stacker (Idris Elba aka Stringer Bell) and fights with his brain spliced to a bashful young Japanese woman named Mako Mori (Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi). Also at the base in Hong Kong are some annoying scientists, a father-son Jaeger team, and a drooling dog. Every monster movie cliché can be found in Pacific Rim. Even Ron Perlman (Hellboy) makes an appearance as a hammy shady figure who deals black market kaiju parts.

There’s not much new to see in the epic battle of monsters and robots in Pacific Rim, although del Toro and his team change the lingo, add some nifty visuals, and amplify the size of all the fighting fake things. The visual effects alone merit a recommendation of Pacific Rim, for the film is an awesome spectacle of futuristic vision. The technical work is faultless and Pacific Rim is such a visual marvel it could bring out the geek in anyone.

Pacific Rim is also a massive disappointment, if one considers the technical pizzazz del Toro delivers. The director has never made a film on such a scale as Pacific Rim and it’s a wonder to see what he can do with a budget of over $180 000 000. If, however, Pacific Rim is his most aesthetically advanced film to date, it is also his most superficial and shallow. The film only registers on a third dimension if one buys the fancy glasses. Some characters receive decent backstories that elevate Pacific Rim above standard summer fare, but there isn’t much to the story besides a plea for unity. The world can only be saved if everyone works together, Pacific Rim says, but that message is obvious from the preamble. Mako’s story, though, offers an impressive look at the haunting power of memory thanks to a fantastic performance by Mana Ashida as the young girl terrorized by a kaiju. Few of the other supporting players get such juicy roles, although Elba and Kikuchi provide enough nuance and manner to stand out among the robots. Seeing Stringer Bell offer a rousing inspirational speech about “cancelling the apocalypse” is campy and novel enough to make the whole dumb spectacle of Pacific Rim work.

There’s not much to Pacific Rim, but popcorn-movie geekery hasn’t been this spectacular in months. The loud, snazzy fanfare has the forward motion of a video game smackdown. It’s a rousing 132 minutes of blow-for-blow between good and evil. Genre fans will love it, as will viewers who can switch their brains to Summer Movie Mode and filter the nonsense into magic. Pacific Rim is mindless big screen film, but at least it’s not a Michael Bay movie.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Pacific Rim is currently playing in wide release.