Craig's First Take: "Pacific Rim"

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A sci-fi action adventure directed by Guillermo del Toro which is set in a world where soldiers piloting giant robots battle against giant monsters who have mysteriously risen five miles from beneath the ocean. The film is meant to be an homage to Japanese giant monster films, known as Kaiju worldwide. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman & Charlie Day star in primary roles.
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“Pacific Rim” is all about the metal suits and over the past couple months you probably couldn’t blame Guillermo Del Toro if he wanted to crawl inside one for defense. First Michael Bay called him out for making a “Transformers” rip-off, then some box office prognosticators said that his 180 million dollar robot movie was tracking worse than Adam Sandler’s “Grown-Ups 2”, and the comparisons to last year’s “Battleship” haven’t been a huge help either.

But now we can get a clearer picture of just what this is. It’s another us vs. aliens movie but it’s not as incredibly loud and dumb as “Battleship”, and it’s another giant robot movie, but Del Toro has added a human component that makes it far more entertaining than just two hunks of metal going at each other. The robots here are actually called Jaegers, powered by having two pilots control the left and right hemispheres of its brain. For some reason this results in a mind meld that not only syncs both parties up to the robot, but with each other.

The always reliable Idris Elba (“The Wire”) gives the films best performance as the Jaeger team commander, Stacker, but we soon realize that’s not much of a compliment. His Jaeger program is dying, beaten by Kaiju (giant beasts) who are steadily evolving. His plan is try one last mission where he force feeds a nuke right into the hole of the Earth where the beasts are coming out of and pilots Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam, “Sons of Anarchy”) and Mako (Rinko Kukuchi) are the team to do that, except each harbors a traumatic past. In one early scene we learn how dangerous this psychological pairing can be, but the rest of the time these two are stiffs, their problems only serving to make them a drag before the last third of the film forgets any emotional involvement with them entirely.

The poor human characters also extend to Charlie Day and Ron Perlman, each seemingly here to fill a comic relief role and each surprisingly given nothing by Del Toro and Travis Beacham’s script. But at least they’re putting in some energy that’s more fun to watch.

The robots fare better. As soon as we are brought into Stacker’s factory, it’s incredible the grandiosity of these things as they are built, usually it’s more fun to see what’s happening in the background than actually listening to anything the characters are saying. The Kaiju also have their strong points as well, large reptilian Godzillas, but you can also see some alien and dinosaur inspiration in their creations as well. And the pummeling and ripping each other apart and wide spread destruction is all terrific stuff. Why Del Toro had to set his action sequences at night, in the rain or underwater, so they look all dreary and a little washed out is a question but it’s not enough to kill these awesome action scenes.

“Pacific Rim” winds up being the giant robot vs. Godzilla movie we expected it to be. Could it have been better with stronger characters, some humor, and a less dreary sensibility? Yes. But creature feature fetishists are going to love it anyway and if you like a sense of grandeur, so will you.