Pacific Rim review by George Bell

“If I was still 8 I would have shit my pants.”

A friend of mine recently said those words to me about Pacific Rim, and I think that just about sums it up. If I was still that little kid screaming “Thundercats, ho!” in my back yard while swinging around a plastic sword, or playing with my Ninja Turtles action figures, I would have absolutely loved Pacific Rim. As it stands, I don’t have any desire to ever see it again. That’s not to say there aren’t fun things about it here and there, but I just wasn’t very impressed by much of anything on-screen. There’s tons of spectacle without a lot to propel it, and when the spectacle itself isn’t very, well, spectacular, there’s not much left to consider praise-worthy or even interesting.

Pacific Rim is about humanity building giant mechs to combat an alien infestation originating from a crack in the ocean floor. These aliens take the form of building-sized behemoths (Kaiju in Japanese) with seemingly one goal in mind: to kill everything. As a response, trained pilots operate mechs, called Jaegers, and proceed to punch a lot of monsters in the face. One even gets punched with a rocket elbow to the jaw (their technical term, not mine). Basically, in order to fully enjoy this movie, you have to be on board with only caring about monstrous creatures fighting humans inside totally impractical robot suits of armor.

Speaking of the humans inside the armor, Pacific Rim comes this close to making me care about any of them. Charlie Hunnam does a decent enough job of playing Raleigh Becket, the protagonist everyone is supposed to root for, and Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) is every bit the commanding officer you’d expect to see running an operation like the Jaeger program. The problem with just about every character, though, is how clichéd they are. Let’s see, there’s the hero with emotional baggage brought back for one last hurrah; the rookie sidekick who’s still rough around the edges but you know will come through in the end; the asshole top jock who thinks he owns the place and has it out for the hero; and last but not least, the oddball scientific guy(s) who seem like a better fit working at Google rather than a military post dealing with end-of-the-world scenarios. The rehashed nature of the characters hurts the story by not allowing any creativity or surprises to break up the monotony, which is too bad, because there are a couple of people who deserve some kudos for their work.

Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play Dr. Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb, respectively, and they’re by far the best part of Pacific Rim. The almost homoerotic nature of the relationship between the two research partners is endearing, I must say, and just about everything out of their mouths is comedic gold. I think I’d have enjoyed the whole thing a lot more if they were the main characters, but I won’t hold my breath for that spin-off. An Amazon or Netflix original, maybe?

As for the spectacle I mentioned, there’s no escaping it. Almost every frame is littered with CGI robots and/or monsters with that oh-so-nice, watery sheen to them, and when they do battle, it’s…really boring, actually. I can appreciate the hoards of people who love kaiju movies and the old Godzilla monster fests, but I don’t count myself as one of them. I’m not above watching the occasional big lizard dude gnaw on an oversized, gross moth, but it’s not my preferred slice of cinema. So, while I won’t totally disregard the merits of this kind of thing, it nevertheless makes for a lot of repetitive, meandering bouts of waiting for the mech pilot to bust out the one move he should have used half-an-hour ago. Case in point, one of the Jaegers has a huge sword that can be erected at will, but nobody ever seems to remember to use it until the mech is about to literally be jettisoned into space. Another mech has, like, four spinning blades on every arm, and I don’t even think a single kill was registered with them. Seriously? Four built-in, spinning blades of doom and all it does with them is flash them around and sort of slice a monster on the arm and chest? All I’m saying is that a little forethought and awareness could have saved a lot of the hassle, guys.

One thing that’s sorely missing from Pacific Rim is the usually-indelible impression Guillermo del Toro tends to leave on me, and most glaringly absent is any creativity with the monster designs. One of them totally reminds me of the Sammael creature from Hellboy; another one is just a big gorilla; and yet another one is basically a hammerhead shark. Maybe I’m missing something here, but all of that seems pretty lame to me. I want the old del Toro charm, such as, oh…the entirety of Pan’s Labyrinth, where everything feels amazing and fresh even though the loose premise has been done before. It’s also extremely dark, and while monsters taking over the world à la The Mistisn’t exactly puffy material, the goofiness of the mechs’ presence alone counters however serious it’s trying to be.

The generic nature of Pacific Rim knocks it down several pegs in my eyes. While I appreciate Charlie Day and Burn Gorman’s antics, as well as some of the down-time inside Jaeger headquarters (including a totally useless-but-fun martial arts demonstration), it isn’t enough for me to give the whole movie a pass. This is one I don’t think I’ll be watching again, and while I have no doubt Pacific Rim will have its supporters, I still expect more from the director of the aforementioned Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, and more. The rocket elbow wasn’t a bad idea, though.

–George Bell

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