‘Pacific Rim’ Finally Gives The Kaiju Film Its Due

Senior Contributor
07.12.13 21 Comments

If you want to talk about Pacific Rim in the context of “all movies”, then it’s got some problems. But who wants to compare this movie to Citizen Kane? It’s a giant monster movie; it’s not asking us to consider its political beliefs. More to the point, it’s a giant monster movie, made with an enormous budget, by a man who loves giant monster movies, and it’s a demonstration that Guillermo Del Toro can set aside his tastes and obsessions and just make a straight-up piece of popcorn brilliance.

I suppose, if I’m going to be a fair-minded critic, I should state there are a few problems here and that I largely agree with FilmDrunk’s review in a few respects. The human characters never get particularly complex, even with “The Drift” existing largely to try and give this movie a semblance of a plot beyond “Giant robots hit giant monsters really, really hard.” It’s not a stupid movie, and it never assumes (or worse, demands) the audience to be stupid, understanding that a world that feels real and sensible is more immersive, to its credit. But the humans are not the reason we’re here, and the script can’t quite make them into the reason why.

This movie is owned largely by Charlie Day, Ron Perlman and Idris Elba because they’re the actors that can do the most with the material they’re given. The rest of the cast just can’t elevate what are fairly standard characters and plot twists. The movie deserves points for making an effort, at least, but it feels like it’s doing homework during some stretches. It’s not as excruciating as, well, almost every other kaiju film in this respect, but that’s a back-handed compliment.

That said… So what? This isn’t a movie we see for the character drama, and the action scenes are so lovingly crafted and thought-out that these are ultimately minor concerns. The real question here is “Am I going to have an incredible amount of fun in this movie?” and the answer is “Dear God, yes.”

For me, part of the pleasure is seeing Guillermo Del Toro finally take a step back from the clockwork/storybook shtick that was at risk of overwhelming his work. Hellboy II, his previous film, was Batman Returns-grade “filmmaker stuffing his obsessions into a licensed property” to the point where it actively interfered with the movie. None of that is here. Oh, there’s a gadget obsession: It’s a movie about giant robots, after all. But it’s toned down quite a bit, and that’s a relief. One Tim Burton is enough.

Really, this movie is one lengthy city-smashing, kaiju-punching spectacle, all of it done with a large budget and an artist’s eye. Del Toro has always been an excellent filmmaker, capable of taking even a terrible script and making it into something great (think Blade II), and here you can feel him really get into it. There are action scenes in this movie that sing, a filmmaker taking something that’s always had potential and bringing that potential, finally, to the screen.

Pacific Rim is not a great movie, in the sense that it will be analyzed by critics for eternity. It is a great movie in the sense that you will enjoy the hell out of it. And really, that’s all we can ask.

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