With Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman. Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language. 131 minutes.
PACIFIC RIM is not a very good movie. That’s not to say that a lot of people aren’t going to have a lot of fun watching it. If you are in touch with your inner twelve-year-old and can check your brain at the door, you’re going to have a great time.
Guillermo del Toro divides his time between Hollywood blockbusters and arthouse fare and has notched amazing achievements with both. This is the director who made both “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This time, though, he’s gone high-concept. The movie is essentially “Godzilla vs. Transformers.” For some that’s going to be more than enough. One doesn’t pop in the DVD for, say, “Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla” expecting to see “The Seventh Seal.”
The premise is that an undersea rift in the Pacific Ocean has brought forth increasingly ferocious giant monsters which are destroying coastal cities around the world. They are dubbed “kaiju” from the Japanese word defining the whole genre of giant monster movies. To fight back, humanity has built the “jaegers,” from the German for “hunter.” The jaegers are giant robots that require two humans to meld their minds with the mechanism and each other in order to operate it.
That’s really all you need to know. Yes, there are human characters who are given sketchy backstories, but you won’t really care about them. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) lost his brother in a fight with one of the kaiju. Stacker (Idris Elba) is the leader of the human fighters who keeps popping pills to deal with some mysterious injury inflicted in an earlier fight. Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) was rescued by Stacker as a young girl and now helps train the jaegers. None of these characters are much more than cardboard cutouts.
There are a couple scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman) who provide crucial information late in the film but who are essentially there for comic relief. Thank goodness for Ron Perlman who chews the scenery in fine style as Hannibal Chau, a shady dealer who markets in the remains of dead kaiju. His scenes come to life in a way that very little else does in the film.
That’s the problem. “Pacific Rim” exists primarily for the battle scenes between the kaiju and the jaegers and then does everything it can to make them difficult to follow. They take place mostly at night, often in the rain when not underwater, and are edited in such a way that it’s often difficult to know what precisely is going on except that two large special effects are fighting each other. Are those pieces flying away part of the kaiju, part of the robot, or simply pieces of yet another city being trashed in one of this summer’s movies? Who can tell? At one point one of the jaegers turns out to have a hidden sword that proves an effective weapon and one can only wonder why it wasn’t used earlier.
So, if you’re all hopped up for “Pacific Rim” because you can’t imagine more fun than giant monsters battling giant robots, go and enjoy yourself. Just don’t expect it to make much sense logically, narratively or visually. It’s not a very good science fiction movie, but’s it’s a heck of an amusement park ride.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.