By Will Ashton
It has been a long five years since we last saw a Guillermo Del Toro movie on the silver screen.
While he has earned some credits in the writing (The Hobbit) and producing (Mama) categories, and even in both (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), his last film as a director was 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. To his credit, it was not for a lack of trying. Having been attached to both The Hobbit, before he stepped away and Peter Jackson filled into his place, and At the Mountains of Madness, which Universal was too afraid to spend $150 million on, Guillermo hasn’t just been sitting around twiddling his thumb, but he still hasn’t had a completed film in the cannon for a good while.
Needless to say, this makes the anticipation of a new Guillermo del Toro project all the more tantalizing. Has he been able to live up to fan expectations? Has it all been worth the wait?
Pacific Rim follows a post-apocalyptic world in which the Kaiju, a mysterious batch of monsters, have crept out from beneath the ocean core and have raised havoc onto mankind. But after taking blow after blow, the humans decided to fight back with monsters of their own. Thus, the creation of the Jaegars, or giant mechanical robots, has begun. Though this invention, the humans have been able to stand up to these monsters and fight for their survival. But, in the wake of all this destruction, will they be able to save humanity before it is too late?
There are quite a few things to like about Pacific Rim. The visual effects in the film, more often than not, dazzle the screen, and thankfully are better than what the trailers seemed to suggest. And, with these effects, del Toro makes sure that he finds time to deliver on the goods. When it comes to the action scenes, every shot is full of movement and wonder. And yet, at the same time, they all feel a little empty.
The plot and characters of Pacific Rim often seem to be on the back-burner of the film. But not so much in the way that they are in films like Transformers or practically any other giant summer blockbuster released in the past couple years. To the filmmakers’ credit, they do try to build a strong foundation off of their characters, and this is because of one thing: scope.
Easily one of the best aspects of the film is the sense of scope that is brought in. In just the film’s first five minutes, we are given a quick, but not too quick, glimpse inside the world that our characters live in, and it provides a solid foundation for what we need to know about this world. Most blockbusters fail to give us this sense of background and depth, and it is because of this that they often fail so spectacularly.
Guillermo del Toro is a smart enough filmmaker to know that you need a solid foundation for your characters and setting in order for audiences to care about what is happening on screen. And while he understands this, he doesn’t completely accomplish his goal. The main reason why this is so because Pacific Rim’s lead characters are just plain dull.
I have heard many good things about the FX show Sons of Anarchy, but I have yet to see anything with star Charlie Hunnam in it that shows me that he has any sense of charisma or range. Every line he delivers seems to lack any sense of feeling or emotion, and because of this, it’s hard to really care about his character’s arc and motivations. Which is a shame, considering that his arc is the emotional core of the movie. Thankfully, his blandness can be subsided by some of the more lively supporting characters.
As Stacker Pentecost, the always-reliable Idris Elba pulls in the film’s strongest performance and steals the show from Hunnam. Additionally, del Toro regular Ron Pearlman, while only on screen for about 15 or 20 minutes of the film, is able to both kick-ass in the time he’s got and become the best character in the whole film as Hannibal Chau. The world can always use a little more Ron Pearlman.
Guillermo del Toro’s direction remains as grandiose and confident as ever. His character designs, while not as unique and awe-striking here as they are in Pan’s Labyrinth or the Hellboy movies, are still quite unique and creative. But, like most of his English-language films, his dialogue often leaves much to be desired. Chalk-full of flat one-liners and exposition given at its most face value, Pacific Rim’s script, co-written by Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans), is full of wild and bold ideas, but definitely could have used a punch-up or two from a witty and snappy screenwriter to give the film the kick it needed.
It’s understandable that Pacific Rim doesn’t want to be placed at the same rank as its more serious and darken-themed peers. Not every film aspires to the same goals. Pacific Rim, much like Sucker Punch before it, comes across as a 13-year-old boy’s wildest dream. Thankfully, Pacific Rim is a better film than Sucker Punch, but, with this in mind, the film does come with its shortcomings.
Pacific Rim is a lot like cotton candy. It’s pretty, it’s sweet and it’s tasty, but it is completely empty calories. Often, the film plays out like the blueprints of what a blockbuster action film should be. It pulls in all the typical plot tropes, right down to the rising leader speech given before the giant climax of the film, and can often do so without adding anything unique or interesting to the picture beyond it’s action sequences. These clichés add to the film’s ongoing sense of blandness given by its main characters, and, once again, it is really in the creativeness of the action that keeps this movie afloat.
Pacific Rim is a movie that, if you want to see it, you should make a point of seeing it on the big screen. The giant scale of the movie gains it full potential on the big screen, and the movie makes a point of filling the whole screen with things to enjoy. The action is consistent and engaging, at least, once you get past a dragging second act. The action is undoubtedly cool at times, and it makes for a spectacle of a movie. But, after a while, it starts to lose its flavor.
The first time that you see a giant robot punch a giant monster in the face, it’s awesome. The 25th time that you see a giant robot punching a giant monster, it starts to grow a little dull. But, when you see a giant robot pull out a big-ass sword and cut a giant monster in half, it’s pretty awesome, no matter what. Pacific Rim is full of little awesome moments like this. And this, ultimately, seems to be what saves the film. Which is fine and all, but I just wanted there to be a little more here than just awesome little moments.
Side note, the 3-D in the movie is among the better post-conversion that I have seen. Also, make sure that you stay for at least half the credits. The post credits sequence here is one of the best that I have seen this summer, providing me with the biggest smile that I got from the whole movie.
There will be people that will undoubtedly love Pacific Rim to pieces. These people will likely be under the age of 16, and will probably be boys, but no matter. But, for me, I needed a little more meat on these bones in order to make this film elevate beyond a decent time at the movies. del Toro made a pretty enjoyable film here, but I can’t help feeling like there could have been a better, smarter and more engaging film here that we weren’t given. As surface level entertainment, it’s fine. But, like its villains, it could have gone a lot deeper.