Film Review: ‘Pacific Rim’

Offering up an apocalyptic spectacle in a spirit of unapologetic fun, this is the squarest, clunkiest and certainly loudest movie of Guillermo del Toro's career.

Of all the doom-laden fantasies the studios have rolled out this summer, “Pacific Rim” is the one pushing itself most aggressively as guilt-free entertainment, offering up an apocalyptic spectacle in a spirit of unpretentious, unapologetic fun. Which it will be, at least for those who measure fun primarily in terms of noise, chaos and bombast, or who can find continual novelty in the sight of giant monsters and robots doing battle for the better part of two hours. Viewers with less of an appetite for nonstop destruction should brace themselves for the squarest, clunkiest and certainly loudest movie of director Guillermo del Toro’s career, a crushed-metal orgy that plays like an extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on very expensive acid.

Although this epic gamble from Warner Bros. has generated considerable anticipation among del Toro’s fanbase, it remains to be seen whether a non-franchise property, rooted in the Japanese Kaiju tradition that spawned Godzilla among other legends, can generate the sustained B.O. needed to offset a nearly $200 million production budget. International prospects look strong if nothing else, especially around the Pacific Rim itself, where the picture’s numerous Asian elements, not least co-lead Rinko Kikuchi, can be counted on to have particular appeal.

With this gargantuan passion project, del Toro means to fashion a giddy throwback to the monster movies of yore and restore a sense of pure escapism to the summer movie landscape, an eminently worthy goal for a genre master of such inexhaustible imagination and knowledge of the B-movie canon. Yet while the director’s love for his material is at once sincere and self-evident, it’s the sort of devotion that winds up holding all but the most like-minded viewers at an uninvolving remove; although assembled with consummate care and obsessive attention to visual detail, “Pacific Rim” manages only fitful engagement and little in the way of real wonderment, suspense or terror. It may not reside in the same crass, soulless neighborhood as Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies, but its sensory-overload aesthetics are at times no more than a junkyard or two away.

Del Toro and Travis Beacham’s script lays out the futuristic premise with a burst of breathless exposition: It’s 2020, and for years humanity has been at war with the Kaiju — enormous, lizard-like beasts that arise from the ocean floor to wreak havoc on coastal cities (San Francisco, Manila and Cabo San Lucas are decimated in a matter of minutes). But the tide turns when the men and women of Earth form the Pan Pacific Defense Corps and begin building Jaegers, 25-story-high fighting robots that ward off enough Kaiju attacks to achieve an uneasy stalemate.

SEE MORE: ‘Pacific Rim’s’ Legendary Marketing Challenge

In a plot point that will remind some of Japan’s popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” franchise, each Jaeger is controlled from within by two humans, one to operate each hemisphere of the robot’s body. Hotshot American brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) make a trusty co-piloting team, at least until their Jaeger engages a Kaiju off the coast of Alaska, spelling a hasty exit for Yancy while granting audiences their first taste of monster-vs.-robot action. The viewer’s level of appreciation for this initial bout will likely indicate how much they enjoy the rest of the picture, with its wall-to-demolished-wall action.

Five years later, a still-scarred Raleigh gets a shot at redemption from well-named PPDC commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who wants him to take charge of his old Jaeger, Gipsy Danger, as the humans prepare to make one last stand against the ever more powerful and dangerous Kaiju. Heading to a massively fortified version of Hong Kong, Raleigh finds an ideal Gipsy co-pilot in Pentecost’s demure but formidable young protege, Mako Mori (Kikuchi), whose appointment sets off literal and figurative sparks.

The story’s most intriguing angle is the trippy process by which two fighters power a Jaeger, requiring them to enter into a unique state of mental and bodily fusion called “the Drift.” That Raleigh and Mako must share each other’s thoughts, feelings and memories is a conceit that would seem to raise any number of tantalizing dramatic possibilities, and there is one memorable flashback to Mako’s childhood — an episode that, in evoking the atomic horrors that spawned the Godzilla legend, briefly recalls the nightmarish fairy-tale intensity of del Toro’s 2006 masterwork, “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

SEE MORE: Inside ‘Pacific Rim’ with Guillermo del Toro

In all other respects, the script is content to skim the surface. The psychological effects of the Drift are not dramatized but assumed, the progression of the story not developed so much as programmed. (“I can’t have anyone else in my head again,” Raleigh says, a curious complaint from a hero about whom we know almost nothing by film’s end.) Del Toro’s trademark humor does emerge in an overlong subplot involving Dr. Newton Geiszler (an overamped Charlie Day), a hysteric-prone scientist attempting to figure out the monsters’ master plan, and Hannibal Chau (an obligatory appearance by del Toro fixture Ron Perlman), a pimped-out black-market dealer in Kaiju body parts.

Here and there, “Pacific Rim” reveals hints of a potentially rich but underdeveloped science-fiction mythology, full of satirical and speculative touches that are ultimately overwhelmed by the fight sequences that represent the film’s raison d’etre. Overkill is not just the goal but a governing artistic principle, and del Toro takes it on such faith that nothing could be more compelling than his monsters-and-robots mash-ups that he spends almost no time easing us into the fray. The pacing is mechanical, even bludgeoning, in its single-mindedness. Buildings topple and bridges collapse; the mid-ocean battles are so ferocious that mankind would surely be wiped out by the resulting tidal waves, if not the monsters themselves. Yet such is the blithe, upbeat spirit of the whole enterprise (“Today we are canceling the apocalypse!” is the film’s signature rouse-the-troops line) that nothing in these gladiator-style faceoffs feels at stake, except perhaps the viewer’s desire to see a Jaeger swing an aircraft carrier like a 2×4.

One of the picture’s persistent problems is that its man-meets-machine conceit never really comes to life, resulting in a strange disconnect between these metal marionettes and the humans at the controls; aside from a few impressive payoffs, as when Mako’s ingenious maneuvering saves the day, the overall experience is not unlike that of watching someone play a highly elaborate videogame. The whooshing cinematography by Guillermo Navarro (lensing his first picture in digital) and the rapid-fire editing by John Gilroy and Peter Amundson conspire to create a metronomic visual rhythm with little sense of mounting excitement, an effect unaltered by the film’s post-production 3D conversion (it will also be released in stereoscopic Imax).

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As conceived by a small army of concept artists, sculptors and designers, and seamlessly animated by a larger army of ILM visual-effects artists, the combatants are arresting enough to behold when you can see them clearly — particularly the Kaiju, some of which are equipped with sharp appendages capable of impaling their opponents and/or squirting bioluminescent venom. Enhancing this glow-in-the-dark effect, almost all the major setpieces unfold at night against futuristic cityscapes brushed with vibrant neon hues.

Rounding out the fine if underused ensemble are Clifton Collins Jr. and Burn Gorman as gifted, eccentric members of the Kaiju-fighting initiative, and Max Martini and Rob Kazinsky as an Australian father-son pilot duo who add some dramatic tension to the mix. (In the spirit of international cooperation, Chinese and Russian Jaeger teams also make token appearances.) Hunnam reps a blandly serviceable lead, but Kikuchi manages to render her character’s shrinking-violet reserve as intriguing as her sudden displays of physical prowess. Too often the actors, including the terrific Elba, are forced to bellow over Ramin Djawadi’s omnipresent score, likely to be ringing in viewers’ heads as they stagger toward the exits.

Film Review: 'Pacific Rim'

Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Calif., July 1, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 131 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. release and presentation with Legendary Pictures of a Legendary Pictures/DDY production. Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Guillermo del Toro, Mary Parent. Executive producer, Callum Greene. Co-producer, Jillian Zaks.

Crew

Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Screenplay, Travis Beacham, del Toro; story, Beacham. Camera (Technicolor, 3D, digital), Guillermo Navarro; editors, John Gilroy, Peter Amundson; music, Ramin Djawadi; production designers, Andrew Neskoromny, Carol Spier; supervising art directors, Elinor Rose Galbraith, Richard Johnson; art directors, Andrew Li, Sandra Tanaka; set decorator, Pete Nicolakakos; costume designer, Kate Hawley; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat/SDDS), Glen Gauthier; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Scott Martin Gershin; re-recording mixers, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Tim LeBlanc; special effects coordinator, Laird McMurray; special effects supervisors, Clay Pinney, Rocco Larizza; visual effects supervisors, John Knoll, James E. Price; visual effects and stereoscopic producer, Christopher Raimo; ILM senior visual effects producer, Susan Greenhow; ILM visual effects producer, Erin Dusseault; ILM visual effects co-supervisors, Lindy DeQuattro, Eddie Pasquarello; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic; animation supervisor, Hal Hickel; stunt coordinators, Branko Racki, Robert Racki; fight designer/choreographer, Bradley Allan; choreographer, Troy P. Liddell; 3D conversion, Stereo D; assistant director, Alex Gayner; casting, Margery Simkin.

With

Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Burn Gorman, Larry Joe Campbell, Diego Klattenhoff, Brad William Henke. (English, Japanese, Cantonese dialogue)

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  1. Excellent post. I’m experiencing a few of these issues as well..

  2. Rica says:

    Another reviewer who, like when Star Wars was released felt that movie was a cheesy space opera with robots and blasters…reviewer.get a life and have some fun! I saw the movie and indeed liked it a lot! You work for Variety…put some variety in your reviews….not all movies are made to be Oscar winners. Relax and enjoy the eye candy and popcorn for a change!!!! And don’t be stressed about your deadlines.

  3. The problem here is that people are being asked to pay $10 to watch an extended length video game pounding across the screen. A deep plot, creative writing, character depth… who needs those when you can lard two hours of cartoonish CGI across the screen with a deafening soundtrack. It’s more like a ride at an amusement park than a movie.

    If that is what people want, this is that. Movie candy.

    The demographic target is plain enough: 98 percent of the audience was under 30 and male.

  4. Robert Morgan says:

    The reviewer needs to let go and have some fun. I loved Godzilla, Ultraman and all those Japanese movies. Dude it’s fun, they are not trying to save the world or make you think,
    let yourself go and enjoy the ride.

  5. Greg says:

    If you ever grew up watching and idolizing after school cartoons like Robotech, Macross, Transformers, Gobots, Voltron, or G-Force, you are going to love this movie. Del Toro stays true to the greatness of those cartoons with their action, technology, plot, and drama and magnifies them on an exponential level. I’m guessing this reviewer grew up in a different generation and didn’t feel the same excitement I did seeing my childhood brought to the movie screen.

  6. Jay says:

    Justin Chang gives Pacific Rim best unintentional endorsement this year!!! (“power rangers on acid” – YEAH!!!)
    His review isn’t entirely negative, “offering up… unapologetic fun…” He’s obviously in the critics’ minority, but still acknowledges where the film succeeds. Most reviews lean positive, eg: http://www.albany.com/movie-blog/ . It IS unpretentious, unapologetic fun!

  7. angel says:

    Saw the movie last night. I disagree with this writer’s review. The movie was great. Yes there was a couple of cheesy scenes but they really weren’t bad. The fight scenes were great. By the end of the movie, I was on the edge of my sit. If this movie doesnt atleast win a movie award for visual effects, I will be really disappointed. I recommend going to see, It’s worth a trip to the movie theater.

  8. I don’t know about anyone else but I would definitely see “an extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” on very expensive acid” like, at least 50 times … if you were trying to get me not to see this film you failed in an incredible way, Mr. Chang.

  9. DaveGinOly says:

    I have to question a review when the reviewer very apparently wasn’t paying attention to the movie. Even the trailer makes it plain that an “aircraft carrier” is not used “like a 2×4,” as stated in the review – it appears to be a small tanker or freighter, a commercial, not a military, ship, and a far cry from an aircraft carrier. If the reviewer missed this very obvious fact, what else escaped him about the movie?

    • leenstl says:

      Did you actually read the review? He wrote: “…the viewer’s desire to see a Jaeger swing an aircraft carrier like a 2×4 …”, he never wrote anything about what he did or didn’t see being used as a 2X4. He was pointing out that the audience might want to see that, they will have to build their own Jaegers to see that of course.

  10. le0nx says:

    Compare this movie with Power Ranger, It is like comparing ALF with E.T.

    This review is a EPIC FAIL.

  11. Sue Johnson says:

    I have to wonder if this critic has really ever truly watched any of the old Japanese films about Godzilla. They are campy and less concerned with plot, characters and storyline. It is all about the fighting…fighting…fighting. Guillermo del Toro has said that his inspiration has come more from a painting and less from monster movies; although, there does appear to be some inspiration from old monster vs. monster movies. And I understand that there is a video game in the works! I am looking forward to viewing the film…just for its campiness!

  12. Old Man Johnson says:

    “Viewers with less of an appetite for nonstop destruction should brace themselves for the squarest, clunkiest and certainly loudest movie of director Guillermo del Toro’s career, a crushed-metal orgy that plays like an extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on very expensive acid.”

    I realize the author, Justin Chang, intended this statement to be negative, but he just made me want to go see it! This should be on the back of the DVD packaging when it gets distributed.

    Given the studio’s reliance on social media for marketing, definitely a non-traditional approach, I have to wonder how accurate these doom and gloom ticket sales predictions will be.

    Bought my tickets online and I’m ready to go. Thanks Justin Chang!

  13. zeekca says:

    My favorite part of this article is when he pretends he knows anything about Evangelion and then says something patently untrue. Despicable what passes for writing in Variety in 2013.

  14. jiohn says:

    ….See ..This Mov.ie online at T H E A T E R 1 5 . C 0 M.

  15. João Amaral says:

    I don’t know how “extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on very expensive acid.” is a bad thing

  16. vPuik says:

    There is always a Lifetime channel if that is more up your alley.

  17. Freddie says:

    You had me at power rangers

  18. mxv says:

    Sorry but if you wouldn’t watch “an extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on very expensive acid”, you don’t like fun.

  19. I’d like to also point out the ignorant and incredibly offensive comments a Variety Writer has made about Del Toro and the Mexican Nation on Twitter.

  20. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Put on your tin foils hats here folks, here’s my pet theory:

    Warner is going to have meetings with legendary, something about negotiating their commercial relationship and contracts.

    Legendary put a lot of money on this film, so the entire future of the studio is on the table. If flops, legendary will take heavy losses and warner will have the upper hand on the negotiations, so they can buy the studio for peanuts. So, probably, warner is trying to move his influences to bash pacific rim in order to get said advantage, hence variety MUST talk shit about pacific rim.

    Just food for thought.

  21. Scoop says:

    Power Rangers on acid? How the f*ck is that a bad thing?

    • Uhhh… right? ! ? This “negative” review makes me want to see it even MORE! Power Rangers-esque, mega-budget monster movie on acid? Sign me up!
      I miss the old monster movies of yore… at least it isn’t a remake of a reboot of a…. yeah.. You get the drift. Good job del Toro

  22. Tony the WonderHorse says:

    Wow, you really have it in for this film. Apparently selling it as the next Battleship is a coordinated effort, no one else reviews the film so poorly. Did del Toro run over your dog or something?

  23. RMW says:

    “…where the picture’s numerous Asian elements, not least co-lead Rinko Kikuchi, can be counted on to have particular appeal.”
    Ironically, it seems Rinko is not popular back in Japan: http://kotaku.com/5968393/after-starring-in-pacific-rim-will-japan-finally-adore-rinko-kikuchi
    All the best for this film though.

    • Rinko is unpopular in Japan because she takes on “unappealing” sorts of roles, not because she lacks skill or talent. She was wonderful in Liar Game (a personal favourite of mine) but very distinctly not a very likeable character, a role for which actresses in Japan sometimes suffer. She was also simply incredible in Babel but the nudity seemed “unsavory” to a great deal of the film’s Japanese audience and that doomed her (unfairly) as well. Japanese audiences (particularly the very vocal Internet-dwelling community of them) tend to judge an actress (and even an actor, sometimes, though less so) based on the kinds of roles they take on and how easily/naturally it seems to come to them on-screen.

  24. anon says:

    >In a plot point that will remind some of Japan’s popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” franchise, each Jaeger is controlled from within by two humans
    But that’s wrong. The only time the Evas are controlled by 2 pilots was in Rebuild 3.0, and the pilots aren’t even synchronised, Shinji just did his own thing.

  25. LOL says:

    Sorry but Mighty Morphin Power Rangers its a Sentai this movie its a Kaiju.
    Do your homework

  26. mad says:

    Why North Americans are so ignorants? Impossible to the appreciating this cause they don’t know nothing than Transborings and Emongelion.

    • Jay says:

      Guillermo del Toro IS North American, and anime and associated art froms are very popular here. If the film isn’t successful, it has more to do with marketing, and brand awareness. (look at transformers and power rangers, to understand how popular the style can be – and they aren’t even done very well.)

  27. TrustKnow1 says:

    Sorry, but I’ll be skipping this one. Not because of anything else except the 3-D! My one and only exposure to this process left my depth perception screwed up for a week. Too bad…

    • DM says:

      Eva might be deeply deeply silly and melodramatic, but (at least with the original, I haven’t seen the big money remakes) at least it’s actually a clearly personal, quirky, surprising and deeply felt work, even if it is a bit awful. Whereas it seems to be impossible for even a good director like Del Torro to do personal challenging or adventurous work within teen/genre work in Hollywood at the moment. I mean, EVA actually has sympathetic characters doing genuinely awful things, episodes set entirely inside the main characters head, genuine dramatic conflict between the principals as well as external conflict with the bad guys that’s more than perfunctory etc.

    • Priss says:

      That’s why you don’t watch movies like these in 3D. Shit, even del Toro said once “Don’t watch it in 3D, please!” It’s only because the studios are retardedly crazy over 3D these days that PacRim is also in 3D.

  28. Lady Kaede says:

    Ok, you are clearly just not looking for the same kind of primal thrill I expect – what part of “an extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on very expensive acid” sounds bad to you?

  29. Artxuleta says:

    Popcorn flick, I can live with that.

  30. Justin says:

    The review just compared PACIFIC RIM to Godzilla, Power Rangers, Evangelion and even Pan’s Labyrinth. Someone tell me how this is a BAD review? Seriously sounds like the BEST review to me!

  31. Johnnie says:

    So if the critic likes the movie, he’s a good critic.
    If he doesn’t like the movie, he’s a bad critic.
    Is that it?

    • No; when the critic fails to have any understanding of the film he watched at all and tries (and fails!) to draw parallels to a well-established series which he also seems to have no understanding of, he’s a poor critic … and a poor writer.

  32. Human(s) occupy a robotic, ergonomic suit — the essential robot — and do justice to evildoers. Sounds like Iron Man…and look how well that movie did at the box office, its sequels, and the character’s leadership in The Avengers.

    Robots are the next big thing (after vampires, werewolves and zombies). Really, it’s all nostalgia…another way of say, “We’re out of ideas, so to hell with originality; it’s Iron Man v. Godzilla.”

    • Whynheiser says:

      Except Iron Man never invented robots or mechanical suits, and giant robots and giant monsters ( and them fighting each other) has been around for decades. Classic anime from the 70s and 80s are known worldwide in non english speaking countries due to international dubbing and localization.

      As for the author, it really has nothing to do with Evangelion. It’s like saying how Superman is like Mary Poppins because they both help people.

      • squid says:

        “Except Iron Man never invented robots or mechanical suits”

        Someone didn’t see Iron Man III.

  33. Matt Pniewski says:

    Not that I don’t think the reviewer has a right to his opinion, but I don’t follow the “Evangelion” comparison. Sure, there are comparisons to be made between this and other existing material, but to bring up Evangelion and then talk about something that is, well, not part of Evangelion, is quite frankly, very odd to me.

  34. Kamille Bidan says:

    you said it was like evangelion, you literally destroyed your entire argument and invalidated every opinion you were going to state in the 3rd paragraph.
    It’s good to know that no one on earth other than hardcore nerds know anything about giant robots.

  35. Sam says:

    LOL how dare anyone not like a robot vs monster movie! Also LMAO if Hunnam is supposed to be the next big thing thanx to this movie when he lacks the charisma to be a leading man nor can he can he get his accent right. After SOA ends, go tend to the animals on your ranch and fade into obscurity. Hollywood has enough shit actors, we don’t need more.

  36. Frank Caruso says:

    It simply looks like Japanese monsters got bigger, which means more destruction with roc-em-sock robots and creatures that could kick Godzilla’s Butt! Probably would have made a better animated feature, it’s obvious they really did not need any live performances.

  37. When The Power Rangers storyline and CGI has a wide audience approach I will compare this movie PR with the Power Rangers. This comment is a lack of respect of what GDT is trying to do here. He brought old moster-robot nostalgia and he delivered. But what can you expect from this critic, who normally has his head stuck on his butt! LOL

  38. SteveL says:

    Just unlucky for Pacific Rim to get this reviewer, Chang rarely gives positive reviews to big movies. Check out Hollywood Reporter for ex-Variety reviewer and much better critic Todd McCarthy’s review, he enjoyed the movie.

  39. David Peñasco Maldonado says:

    So Pacific Rim is a crap. What a surprise coming of one of the most overrated hacks working on Hollywood today! Guillermo del Toro is fortunate that Thomas Tull has financed his expensive toy, because this is going to sink at the box office.

  40. ccdev says:

    whatever…i just wanna elbow-rocket this reviewer in his face!

  41. JBH says:

    “Viewers with less of an appetite for nonstop destruction should brace themselves for the squarest, clunkiest and certainly loudest movie of director Guillermo del Toro’s career, a crushed-metal orgy that plays like an extended 3D episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on very expensive acid.”

    I know the critic was trying to all critical here, but this makes me want to see the movie even more. They should put this on the back of the DVD as one of the blurbs.

  42. Jo Bannntine says:

    Am I the only one who thinks the majority of film critics today have forgotten that summer movies are primarily designed to entertain mass audiences? I really think they have. It’s very rare to find a critics actually enjoy something these days.I guess my only question is; what were you expecting, The Hours?

    Oh, and opinions are just that – opinions. You know, they’re a lot like assholes. Everybody has one.

  43. Sergio says:

    Just one question – how much “they” paid you to kill the hype around the movie? It really looks strange, that Variety create all-negative articles, while its evident that film isnt bad at all.

  44. You guys really seem to have it in for this movie, especially after the nonsensical story about the poor tracking vs. Grown Ups 2. Evidence to the contrary: http://screencrush.com/pacific-rim-grown-ups-2-poll/

    • Matt Bacon says:

      That’s not evidence at all. The average movie going public wants a light family comedy over a drama about monsters fighting machines. Of course the online film blog poll will have a bias towards Pacific Rim. Do you know at all how tracking works? It’s not some online poll on Screenrant…

    • Johnnie says:

      Why is it “evident” the film isn’t bad?

  45. Sorry what? says:

    Justin Chang, your thesourus is stuck in overdrive… I think you’ve lost touch on how to get your point across with out trying to appear like an oxford lecturer…. the last person who talked like you write died of pomposity 20 years ago. I’ll stick to rotten tomatos thanks.

  46. Betty says:

    I saw the trailor for this movie, I would watch it loads of action,ehat I saw it was looking good!

  47. David says:

    Some keen insights but you missed the depth of Hunnam’s performance.

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