Enormously fun and exciting, Pacific Rim delivers the expected action and thrills at the slight expense of storytelling.
In the future, a rift under the sea opens up and giant monsters spill forth from another dimension to wreak havoc on earth. In response, the earth builds giant robots called Jaegers to allow them to fight. They work and work well. Now, the monsters have gotten worse, the Jaeger program is discontinued and it is up to a few remaining resistance fighters to solve the problem once and for all.
So the plot summary up there should pretty well serve as a barrier to entry for anyone who might think this movie and its premise is stupid. Seriously, if you get past that and then try to cry that this movie is stupid then you are to blame for wasting your money. Pacific Rim is a movie about people in giant robots fighting giant kaiju monsters like you would see in a Godzilla movie no more and no less. If you are on board with that then you are in for a treat. If you are not, then do yourself a favor and keep walking because you are not likely to find any joy here.
Director Guillermo del Toro is known for creating vibrant fantasy worlds with a metric ton of special effects so when he said Giant Robots vs Kaiju Monsters I was pretty much sold. If there is anyone I thought could bring this sort of material to life it would be him. My only real reservation was that I was afraid it would be too dark and too serious to just have fun with the concept. Thankfully, this was an unwarranted fear.
The tone of Pacific Rim is pretty much perfect. There is just enough tension and darkness to make it compelling but it understands very well what it is and proceeds accordingly. This is a movie about spectacle and bombast and while it needs to have stakes for the audience to care about, it doesn’t offer those stakes as dreary or dire and del Toro is smart enough to keep the focus where it belongs, which is crazy robot punching monster action.
That is not to say that the characters have no arcs and there is no story. All of that is here but it is the one place the film stumbles a bit. There is a lot to tell and a lot of things that happen and at a certain point I found myself wishing that this had been split into two movies. Not in the way the Hobbit is stretched membrane thin in a trilogy but just one movie to set up the conflict we see in flashbacks and another to resolve the current issues. As it stands, the story is compressed and in some cases rushed. Films like this usually need more story but Pacific Rim has too much to cram in to 132 minutes.
Don’t misunderstand, however. The story issues aren’t terrible or terminal. I just wish it had been expanded and paced better. The real star here is the action and it delivers on a level such that if the story had been handrawn in crayon and animated by a four year old I would still give it an 8.0 out of 10. The action and effects are just that good.
Lately, CGI action fests tend to shut down the brain and fail to engage because at a certain point you are watching two not real things fight each other in a space that has little regard for physics, weight and gravity. Further, the effects start to bleed together in such a way that the viewer loses track of what is going on altogether. Pacific Rim has neither of these problems. The effects are clean and clear and you are never at a loss for what is happening or where the characters are in relation to each other. The robots and monsters have weight and move in the environment in as realistic a way as can be expected from giant robots and monsters. Further, I never had any issues with tracking the action or telling what is going on. It is all there crisp and clear and beautiful.
The acting in the film is not Oscar worthy but everyone does what they need to move the plot along and engage the audience. I happen to love the majority of the cast and while it is not the best work I have seen them do it is still good and they look like they are generally having fun even if they are in heavy scenes. Idris Elba, an actor whose movies I will see just for the fact that he is in them, does a lot of heavy lifting as the man in charge Stacker Pentecost (one of the coolest names ever) and doesn’t find much room for levity but delivers enough emotion and gravitas to sell the situations they are all in. Charlie Hunnam is in full on swagger mode as Raleigh Beckett, a disgraced Jaeger pilot brought back in against his better judgement, and carries most of the weight of the movie on his back. Rinko Kincuhi does a very good job of confidence mixed with humbled modesty and angst as his new co-pilot and Charlie Day is absolutely great as kaiju scientist Dr Geizler even it if is pretty weird to see him without a beard. Ron Perlman does a lot with a little and it was great to see Clifton Collins Jr get a decent helping of screen time.
Conclusion [9.0 out of 10]
At the end of the day the question you have to ask yourself is: Do I want to spend over two hours watching giant robots fight giant monsters. If the answer is yes then I would highly recommend this film and I can’t imagine a scenario in which it would disappoint. If the answer is no then you should stay far away and see something else more in line with your taste. This is the closest thing to a live action episode of Voltron we are likely to see and it delivers on action and excitement in away that I haven’t experienced since I was a kid watching badass cartoons. See it in the theater so you can experience the scope and scale of this thing. It is worth it.