In a summer where most of the big, event movies have been overly cheerless, Pacific Rim arrives like a titan to defend moviegoers from the gloom of monster blockbusters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the strength to prevent a barrage of clichés from beating it down.
Dealing with the 2000-ton beast in the room first, Pacific Rim looks amazing. The scope and scale of the Kaiju are astonishing, and both robot and monster move with a sense of weight and impact. Kaiju models are solid; clearly the same species but individualized and with a sense of uncertainty to how each beast differs. Jaegers aren’t as impressive. Giant robots still can’t break out of the anthropomorphic phrase and present a very obvious target (just aim for the head). Like other giant, CGI robot movies, the graphics are at times so detailed that it’s hard to find what to look for. None of these change the fact that most battles are fun, intense and, at times, badass.
To the film’s credit, it dispenses with set-up immediately rather than taking 30 minutes to progress from the trailer. Yet beyond this is a series of familiar set-ups and interactions so cliché they’re almost embarrassing, even down to a “Don’t get cocky, kid.” These clichés could be argued as homage, but they more often feel derivative, with the entire back half rehashing Independence Day. Idris Elba does his best to add gravitas to familiarity but Pacific Rim, and Del Toro in general, is at its best when veering into the eccentric. The concept of drifting allows for immediate character histories, and Mako’s memory, with its overtones of real world warfare, is especially striking. Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, the Bone Slums, Kaiju harvesting and some brief moments of playfulness provide a giddy joy so rare in the year’s blockbusters.
Perhaps the fault lies with the stakes of making a 100-million-dollar spectacle without a built-in audience, which eliminates the option of making the kind of quirky films Del Toro hopefully will produce once Pacific Rim turns a profit.
Still, it’s fun to see giant robots fight giant monsters. Even if those monsters aren’t guys in rubber suits. [subscribe2]