Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Premise: Set in the near future, civilization is under siege from gigantic sea creatures. Equally large humanoid robots are built to fight and defend the human race.
What Works: Pacific Rim is a monster movie and a very entertaining one. This is Godzilla and It Came from Beneath the Sea reimagined for a twenty-first century audience and it has the same appeals as those films. The summer of 2013 has included the release of a number of movies featuring spectacular destruction but Pacific Rim finds an appropriate tone in a way that movies like Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness did not. Despite the massive destruction on screen, the movie has a lighthearted tone, including humor where appropriate, and the scenes of destruction are spaced out enough so that they aren’t overwhelming and filmed in such a way that they incite awe instead of fatigue. This picture is a showcase of special effects and the technical achievements of Pacific Rim are first rate. The details in the set and costume design create a convincing story world, the use of sound adds a lot of dimension and thunder, and the fights between the robots and the monsters are magnificent. The film also has a few notable performances. Idris Elba plays the leader of the human resistance and Elba is a commanding screen presence. The script allows for a few moments of emotion that are unusual for this kind of role and Elba conveys that emotion with some nuance. Pacific Rim also features supporting performances by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as rival scientists trying to understand the invading monsters and Day and Gorman provide the movie’s most memorable human scenes.
What Doesn’t: Pacific Rim is enormously successful as a spectacle but it is a wrestling movie and little else. Something people forget about Godzilla is that the original film was a metaphor of Japan’s experience in World War II, specifically the horror wrought by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pacific Rim has no subtext. It is a movie about giant robots punching giant lizards. That’s all its filmmakers desire it to be and they succeed, but that’s all the movie is. That shallowness is a little disappointing coming from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro; this material seems beneath the director responsible for pictures like Blade II, Mimic, and Pan’s Labyrinth. It is notable that the most interesting portion of Pacific Rim is its opening prologue; the backstory of how human beings first encountered and dealt with the monsters is more interesting than the story presented in the film. Like a lot of Hollywood spectacles, the idea of Pacific Rim is stupid. These robots are not practical. In every scene they are proven to be slow, unstable, and cause as much property destruction as the beasts they are fighting. Of course, that kind of rational thinking is beside the point in a movie like Pacific Rim; it’s like complaining that the Stormtroopers of Star Wars would probably be better shots if they had more utilitarian helmets or pointing out that “warp speed” of Star Trek is impossible. This stupidity is largely excusable because the movie is so much fun. Pacific Rim’s more serious flaws are in its characters. Although Idris Elba is a strong lead actor, his role cannot really be described as a protagonist. For that matter, none of the human characters in Pacific Rim are more than one dimensional and there is no coherent point of view character. This creates a problem for Pacific Rim as a disaster movie. The human element is critically important in a movie like this because it gives the heroes something worth fighting for. Because Pacific Rim is no more than a sci-fi boxing match the movie never makes an emotional impact.
Bottom Line: Pacific Rim is not exactly groundbreaking or thoughtful but it is cool and a spectacular display of special effects showmanship. Viewers who enter into the film wanting to be dazzled will get their money’s worth but if Pacific Rim is supposed to inspire sequels it is going to need more interesting characters to support a franchise.
Episode: #448 (July 21, 2013)