Review: ‘Pacific Rim’ (Welcome to Shatterdome! Two pilots enter…)

At last: a film that redefines what a “Jaeger-shot” is.

In the future, a mysterious rift in the Pacific Ocean floor begins letting skyscraper-sized monsters into our world: the Kaiju. The first creature leveled most of San Francisco before it was destroyed, but with each subsequent attack, it was becoming apparent that these were not isolated incidents: humanity was at war. The Jaeger program was implemented to combat the threat one-on-one with human-piloted fighting machines; a neural link (called The Drift) shared between a minimum of two compatible pilots made the interface work and the program successful. When the Kaiju begin changing tactics and defeating the Jaegers, the world governments pull their support in favor of ineffective defensible walls. With little left to lose, the last of the Jaeger pilots assemble in Hong Kong to implement a final desperate plan to close the rift, stop the monsters and save the world.

The character end of the plot for Pacific Rim is simplicity itself. No one trusts the washed-up pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and the untested rookie (Rinko Kikuchi) he’s paired up with to watch their backs when the giant robots go into battle, but we already know they’ll rise to the occasion and kick ass when the need calls for it. The rest of the film is mech-on-monster goodness spewing from the imagination of writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Little Japanese girl crying as she runs through empty streets escaping huge monsters? Check. Overcomplicated giganto mechanoids with lots of lights, pistons and weaponry? Check. Fantastic faceless monsters created singularly for the purpose of causing mass destruction? Check. It’s nice to see an effects-heavy summer blockbuster leaning more toward Independence Day than Battleship, but if the next Godzilla isn’t at least this entertaining, the studio should pull the plug on it now and save their dough.

Could there have been less predictable drama? Probably, but this is really the only failing of the film, if you can even call it that: one-dimensional characters. The gamer nerd, the mathematician, the field Marshall, the washed-up pilot, the rookie and even the arms dealer. Fortunately, the characters appear to be written in cardboard to allow the actors to wallow in their simplicity, completely aware that their only purpose is to provide reasons for things to get pounded, slashed and ripped apart. Pacific Rim follows the Independence Day formula to the letter; swap fighters vs. flying saucer action for mechs vs. monsters and enjoy. Unlike ID4, however, Pacific Rim prefers battle sequences to humans arguing about how to go about it.

Hats off to both Idris Elba and Ron Perlman for reminding us why we love watching them onscreen. Of course, the success of this film will be largely due to word of mouth (or perhaps due to reviews like this) to pack people into theaters; the advertising has failed to generate appropriate buzz for a concept this big. How is that possible? There have been countless anime shows and movies about this kind of thing on television (Cartoon Network in particular), and as weak as the first two Transformers movies were, they still made tons of cash. In what universe does Michael Bay get a pass while Guillermo del Toro gets passed over? That’s a world I don’t want to watch movies in.

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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