Review: PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Stringer Bell, Nicholas Nickleby, and Bang Bang cancel the apocalypse.


DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro

CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, and Idris Elba



Pacific Rim One-SheetA majority of Guillermo del Toro’s filmography is founded upon trips into the fantastic and the weird. Monsters can be friends and heroes. Creatures can guide you or hinder you along a journey. More mundane horrors, such as insects or ghosts, can bring our nightmares into reality. No matter what the subject matter, del Toro has never been afraid to explore the wilder side of genre cinema. His most recent work exposes some of his more fetishistic desires in relation to giant mecha and Asian cinema-inspired beasts. The film is PACIFIC RIM, and it is arguably the director’s biggest and most ambitious film to date.

In the futuristic world of PACIFIC RIM, the planet is being invaded by monsters, known as kaiju, who seek to destroy all of humankind. The nations of the world unite to create Jaegers, giant mechs with two pilots that can fight back against the monster invasion. The story picks up as humanity is at it’s breaking point, with the kaiju evolving in their tactics and the Jaegers down to four working units. A former hotshot Jaeger pilot must pair with a rookie as one of the few remaining teams tasked with making the final stand as the fate of all mankind hangs in the balance.

The basic premise of PACIFIC RIM is exciting. Stories of this style and scale involving giant creatures and robots are rarely seen from a major Hollywood studio, making the idea feel fresh and innovative. Unfortunately, that feeling never extends beyond this basic premise. The story is a predictable, paint-by-numbers affair with no twists or surprises in store for the viewer. These sentiments also apply to the characters, who are one-dimensional caricatures lacking in any depth or originality. That’s not to say any of these elements are bad or poorly executed. It’s just none of them feel particularly alive or inspired. PACIFIC RIM is the epitome of the old adage: “What you see is what you get.”

In a film such as this one, though, the story and the characters aren’t the real draw. The main attractions will be the kaiju, the Jaegers, and the large-scale action that results from the clashing of the two. The designs for these mechanical and biological titans are pretty cool. Each of them has a unique look and identity that is very much their own. What is missing from them is any sense of personality or awe. None of them fill you with a sense of wonder, fear, or jubilation. They are, for all intents and purposes, just big, hulking masses. Action figures on a screen.

As for the action sequences themselves, they are serviceable. The film plays many of its big cards right at the beginning, leaving very little to be unveiled throughout the remainder of the flick. The scale and locations change, with action sequences taking place in cities, under the ocean, and even including brief stints off-world. But the sense of escalation is, more or less, absent. Also missing is any sense of suspense or tension. There is never any fear for the lives or safety of the pilots, even when they are dying or failing in their goals. The stakes for the survival of mankind are ever-present in the film, but there’s never an effort made to emphasize them in a way to make them matter.

The script from Travis Beacham and del Toro is laughably clichéd. Almost every story beat and character is borrowed from other, far more interesting works with unthinking precision. Del Toro’s direction is confidant but underwhelming. There are no standout shots or sequences. The actors all do the best they can with the script they were given. It is to their credit the film can be taken seriously in any way. The set and production design is fantastic. A curious, intriguing world is created and hinted at through these achievements. The CGI and practical effects are all outstanding. From the towering giants to the pieces of kaiju carcass, every effect is convincing and detailed. The sound design and music score serve their purposes. Neither is bad, neither is great. A lot of work and care went into bringing this film to life. It’s a shame that the same cannot be said for the film that is being brought to life.

PACIFIC RIM feels like a middling effort from a master filmmaker. The film succeeds at providing the bare minimum requirements for a summer action sci-fi film, and for many this will be enough. If you are just looking to see robots punching monsters, this film will satisfy. If you are looking for some genuine excitement with heart-pounding action sequences and characters worth rooting for, this film may disappoint. PACIFIC RIM is fast food action fare; nothing less, and nothing more.

PACIFIC RIM is now playing in theaters nationwide. It can be very, very mildly recommended by this critic.

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