Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinski, Ron Perlman
So let me guess this straight. The visionary director of Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, and The Devil's Backbone is going to make this huge action/sci-fi picture that is basically Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots vs. Godzilla? Yes. That is correct. Let's back up a little. The voice-over expedition at the beginning of the movie fills us in on how the world is being destroyed by the Kaijus, a massive Godzilla like creature that attacks everything in sight that are unleashed from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean floor. In an attempt to combat and destroy these beasts, the outlining countries band together to make Jaegers, ginormous robots that are operated by two soldiers. The two soldiers must have a special relationship as they must get into each other’s minds in order to control each half of the robot. Raleigh (Hunnam) and his brother Yancy were soldiers together until a Kaiju struck down their Jaeger. Raleigh retired from the program after Yancy perished in the attack.
Years pass but the Kaijus are gaining strength and momentum again. Commander Stacker Pentecost (Elba) convinces Raleigh to reenlist in the program. He must be "their only hope" or something. Raleigh knows you need to have a certain connection to your co-pilot so he is particular about who he is paired up with to board a Jaeger. After some training lessons, he feels a connection to Mako Mori (Kikucki) who is one of the directors of the program. Stacker dismisses the idea of Mako piloting a Jaeger and risking her life due to their past and the fact that Stacker is a father figure to her. Scientist Dr. Newton Geiszler (Day) is brought in to study the dead Kaijus. He discovers a way to connect with them which opens up a whole new theory about the species.
Director Guillermo del Toro set out to make a larger than life movie. With such a huge undertaking, the film is too big and too ambitious for its own good. There is so much to take in but the quality of the substance is quite lacking throughout. As soon as the movie started with exposition through narration I was perturbed. If you read my review of Oblivion, you know that I strongly dislike that writing device. I do not want gobs and gobs of exposition told through a voice-over. To state it frankly, the writing is awful. The script is so full of cheesy lines and stereotypical characters; it was immensely laughable and eye-rolling. Was that the point? Was del Toro purposefully trying to make a parody of every other apocalyptic type movie? Idris Elba is a strong enough actor to keep the cheese factor sustained, but every line did come out as the most serious thing he was going to say. He did play the stoic commander character after all. Unfortunately, Charlie Hunnam suffered the most with the bad dialogue. Charlie Day is funny as Dr. Geiszler but can border on annoying at times. I do like the casting choices of some of the supporting characters. The characters are stereotypical, but del Toro picks not-so-obvious choices for them. Day brought a youthful hipster vibe to his scientist. With a name like Hannibal Chau, the Kaiju organ smuggler, you may not picture Ron Perlman in the part. Perlman frequently collaborates with del Toro so it is a smart casting choice to make Hannibal Chau a bit different than you would expect him to be. My problem with Chau is that his whole subplot feels completely pointless. Perlman is great in the part, but it is an odd story that is already an off shoot of the scientist storyline. It just drags down the rest of the film.
The action films this summer seem to have a pattern. The fight sequences seem to last forever and are repeated over and over again without anything new happening in each one. You end up feeling like you are watching the same battle scene over and over again. Man of Steel was a big offender of this. The Kaijus can clone themselves so just because a Jaeger can take one down does not mean the battle is over. Another problem belongs to the cinematography. Another common trend (see World War Z) is having the camera so close up on these battles and moving around so fast that you cannot make out what is happening. I get that it makes you feel like you are in the middle of the action right there with our characters, but I actually want to see what is going on. You may also notice that it continually seems to be raining and dark out which causes more obstacles in fully taking in the scope of the destruction. Maybe I’m getting too picky.
It may sound like I really hated the movie, but that is a pretty harsh statement. I will say that the special effects are top-notch. The sheer size and proportions of the Kaijus and Jaegers are breathtaking set against the rest of the characters and landscape. It is stunning to see them set against landmarks we know like the Sydney Opera House. Del Toro is known to be a very visual director, and it is clearly evident with the design and look of the Kaijus and Jaegers. The film is dedicated to late greats Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda. You can clearly see the influence these creature creators had on del Toro on the vision he created. The film will definitely resonate with certain audience members. Children and old fans of the creature feature genre films will love it. If that is what del Toro was going for, than he succeeded. I had a higher bar set knowing it was coming from him. I expect more out of one of his movies and feel a little cheapened knowing it felt like something Michael Bay wished he would have done. I will note that Pacific Rim is leagues better than Transformers. I saw the film in 2D but it is also shown in 3D and IMAX. There is so much going on in certain sequences that it can be hard to take it all in. I can’t imagine seeing it on a bigger screen or shown even darker with the 3D projection. At the end of the day, a movie can look really good on the outside but I still want there to be some substance beneath it. Am I asking for too much to have interesting characters, a plotline, and better dialogue?
RATING: ** (2 out of 5 stars)