×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

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)

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).

SEE MORE: Kanye West’s Praise for ‘Pacific Rim’ Ignites Buzz

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)

More Film

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content