By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
As a kid I grew up watching animated stories of robots or robot-like machines operated by people (mecha). In fact, my first exposure to Japanese anime came courtesy of cable television which would broadcast the Force Five episodes that inspired the Shogun Warrior toys. As a childhood fan of this series and the toys, I went into Pacific Rim with much anticipation and excitement. Elevating my enthusiasm was the fact that Guillermo Del Toro, a director of whom I am also a fan, had helmed and co-written the movie’s script. Though the “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” monster bashing action and incredible visuals do please, the script and character development, or lack thereof, leave much to be desired. The result is a rocking and smashing fun time at the cinema, but a not completely fulfilling one.
Del Toro and his co-writer Travis Beacham obviously have much love and admiration for Japanese monster films and the anime mecha stories. In their universe, giant monsters have emerged from the sea and have constantly wreaked havoc across the globe. In response to these regularly occurring attacks, the human race have designed and built robotic machines of equal size to battle these creatures or kaiju. The giant mecha which they call jaegers are operated by two human pilots linked by a neural bridge. After years of battling the kaiju, the jaeger program gets disbanded; however, a small band of former pilots and scientists rally together to put an end to the costly war and restore peace to earth once more.
Del Toro and Beacham’s take on Japanese kaiju and mecha delivers the goods when it comes to impressive visual effects and breathtaking action; however, the writing is definitely lacking, particularly in its story, character development and originality. In fact some of the dialogue comes across as corny and cheesy. As far as originality goes, I honestly didn’t expect absolute inventiveness, as the premise drew much inspiration from Japanese entertainment, but when scenes feel like so many other films such as Independence Day, I felt a bit annoyed and irritated. I expected more from Del Toro and this clearly is his weakest film. Then again, Pan’s Labrynth and The Devil’s Backbone are two amazing films that are hard to top.
Audiences shouldn’t have high expectations for the acting either. The performances are adequate at best, but it’s not like the material offers them the opportunity to show a dynamic range. In the lead role, Charlie Hunnam stars as Raleigh Beckett, a talented and arrogant hot shot of a pilot who is recruited by the resistance. Leading the group is Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba. This incredibly talented actor does standout above the rest of the cast, but has little with which to work here. For the occasional comic relief, actors Charlie Day and Burn Gorman star as a couple of cliché scientist characters Dr. Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb. The humor works at times, but the schtick which has these two rival scientists constantly bickering does wear thin. Del Toro fans will enjoy the near obligatory appearance of actor Ron Pearlman as entrepreneur Hannibal Chau. His few appearances actually made me smile and laugh more than the scenes with Day and Gorman. I would have enjoyed more scenes with this cool and funny antihero. Perhaps, if Del Toro and company make a sequel, they can figure out a way to bring back this character and give him a larger role.
In fact if the filmmakers do commence work on a follow up film, they will improve on the story and script. I enjoyed the film enough to want to see more adventures of the monster-stomping machines, but Beacham and Del Toro really need to step up their game when writing the next one. I believe they have the talent to do so, they just fell a bit short with this first movie.