A profound truth often ignored by “professional” movie critics is that mindless entertainment can often still be entertaining. Not all good movies are going to be Schindler’s List or The Godfather. There is also a counter-point to this. Mindless entertainment can be fantastic as long as it doesn’t tread into the waters of utterly stupid. The train-wrecking of promising concepts like, say, Transformers, is what happens when filmmakers go for broke on mindless and wind up in Stupidland. This was the danger with Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi spectacle Pacific Rim (PG-13).
If you’ve seen the previews for this one, you know the whole plot. Humanity’s existence is being threatened by monsters (kaiju) coming out of the ocean. In an effort to save mankind, the humans construct gigantic robots (jaegers- pronounced “yaygers”) controlled by pairs of human pilots to fight back. Many epic battles ensue, with the fate of our species hanging in the balance.
Notice that the plot doesn’t seem all that deep. That’s because it isn’t. Pacific Rim is an enormous homage to the big name monster movies of yesteryear like Godzilla, and nobody watched a Toho feature because they were looking for deep, dramatic themes. The lack of such themes doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, though. It just means that the filmmaker is going to have to get his quality from something else. Del Toro is the kind of guy who can pull this off, even if he is a bit inconsistent. Nobody is going to compare something like Pan’s Labyrinth with Mimic or even Hellboy I with Hellboy II for that matter.
When he’s good, he’s very good. Even when he’s bad, he’s not awful. In Pacific Rim, he’s outstanding, and I’ll tell you why. He actually made me (and my whole family) care about the giant robots doing all the fighting. There was actual, palpable tension associated with the battles. It wasn’t just “oooh” and “aaah” over the special effects and destruction scenes. The battles are well-crafted and meant to connect the audience with the robots and their pilots. Transformers is a good example of how these kinds of things can turn into crap. Pacific Rim does it extremely well. I didn’t even mind the CGI.
Considering this is a 2-hour film and most of it is special effects and monster battles, I was amazed at how “into” the movie I was. The whole audience in our theater was yelling and wincing and cheering throughout.
Alas, this does come at a cost. You can pretty much tell that del Toro spent all of his time on the battle scenes because this is some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen. Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi are simply dreadful and have no chemistry whatsoever, which is ironic considering the robots are supposed to require perfectly compatible pilots to make them work. Even Idris Elba, while having a couple of great moments, is a let-down. Max Martini is the bright spot in a support role as one of the other pilots. It wasn’t even the writing that brought them down. The cast just didn’t deliver. It’s like del Toro was in a separate room working on all the fight stuff, while the actors were just given their lines and told to make-do.
I can’t say there’s a lot Catholic messaging in this. You have basic elements of self-sacrifice and that sort of thing but not much else. I have a colleague who insists that the whole thing can be a metaphor for man’s inability to combat inhuman threats without some sort of assistance beyond his own faculties (grace, in the Catholic world; huge, militarized robots in Pacific Rim). That kind of works, except that robots are the products of humanity, rather than something supernatural. While I may not agree, some of you might, so I figured I’d mention his theory.
As you can expect, there’s a lot of violence in this film. Most of it is robot vs. monster that doesn’t lend itself to anything graphic, but there are scenes with people being eaten as well as some monster gore. There isn’t anything sexual, but the language is pretty bad for a PG-13. My dad said he caught an f-bomb, but I didn’t hear it. Of more concern were the 4-5 instances of blasphemy. So unnecessary. It's always unnecessary. Of course, there were the regular random assortment of minor profanities that one would expect from any show that features military types as the main characters.
On a side note, this probably could have been a PG film without losing any of its edge. I wish people would stop leveraging for that PG-13/R rating, but I don’t see the trend stopping any time soon.
Overall, Pacific Rim is a fun, fun movie. Mindless, yes. Stupid, no, and that’s the exact combination that anyone seeing it should be hoping for. The acting falls utterly flat, but del Toro dialed up some real magic in the action scenes. The problematic elements are there but few; the blasphemy is regrettable and drags down its rating. Anybody looking to blow off some steam or just get pumped about watching humanity laying beat downs on evil creatures from the unknown will love the show and should give it a chance.
Review by Throwback