For a $200-million movie about robots beating up on generic giant monsters (and that's literally all it's about), the biggest surprise about Pacific Rim is how underimagined it all feels. This is especially shocking when considering that it comes from the fertile fantasy-inspired brain of Guillermo Del Toro. (Is the movie getting the benefit of the doubt in some circles because of how well-loved were his Hellboy movies, and Pan's Labyrinth, and The Devil's Backbone?) Pacific Rim is packed with visually incoherent, almost claustrophobic battles-- Del Toro goes for atmosphere by shooting everything in close, and usually at night, in the rain. The camera is never far enough away from the action to allow us to get our bearings, and after a few minutes I longed for a simple long shot. There is one early on (seen above), a glimpse of a Kaiju bearing down on a city, in which the camera holds still, and the shot communicates the horror of true scale, of being borne down upon by an unfathomably large beast-- but that shot is a rare and fleeting thrill among the visual noise surrounding it.
Two years later I can still remember sequences and images from the equally dumb, but deliriously silly Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. But a single day after seeing Del Toro's dud I can barely remember a thing in it that isn't called Rinko Kikuchi, as a would-be robot pilot with lots of past trauma left to process, or Idris Elba, who couldn't not be imposing as the gleefully named Stacker Pentecost, leader of the robot resistance. (It's another annoyance that the movie never builds on the hopes raised by that name, which alone is as funny as Pacific Rim gets.) Both actors do their best to etch human impressions among all the artfully worn steel and clammy Blade Runner-style visual borrowings, but among all this noise it truly is a losing battle. (Charlie Hunnam, lead hunky robot pilot, is functional but really hasn't much to do besides look noble and good and hunky.)
But that's indicative of the movie as a whole-- Del Toro's monster mash makes a hell of a racket, but it goes nowhere, and not particularly fast at that. The sinking feeling I got from watching the trailers, which was dissipated somewhat by some of the decent reviews, came back very quickly as I waited for the endless battle sequences to amount to something-- anything-- but the conclusion of Pacific Rim ends up as routine as everything that came before it, and just as exhausting as well. Much has been made of Del Toro and how he links his cinematic genius here with the sensibility of a 12-year-old boy and his toy-inspired imagination, but after seeing the actual result of that marriage the enthusiasm seems more like rationalization to me. I'd rather see what inspired Del Toro-- the delirious, low-tech action sequences staged by Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya-- than sit through another round of his Rock' Em-Sock 'Em Robots vs. Scary Horde of Interchangeable Terrors, and mostly for the reasons stated here. And so I shall...
By the way, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero is now playing on Netflix Streaming. I recommend it highly.