Take this as you will: My least favorite scenes in Pacific Rim were the ones when the giant robots were fighting the giant alien sea monsters.
Considering the fact that such scenes comprise about 50 percent of the film, this is a problem—for me, at least.
Now if you’ve come to Pacific Rim specifically for some hot giant robot on giant alien action, you will be thrilled—but perhaps annoyed that human beings occasionally get in the way.
Still, if we’re comparing Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim to Michael Bay’s Transformer films—and we must—advantage Del Toro. (Of course, advantage Del Toro for life, since he made the transporting Pans Labyrinth.)
The genius, I suppose, of Del Toro’s giant robots is that they are human-powered. Tag team powered, in fact, by a pair that does a mind meld called “drifting” and then operate the robot in concert, like it’s a massive, clunky Wii game. (Or, if you prefer, they appear to be doing a very slow, synchronized version of the dance “The Robot.”)
The potential for this mind meld is wonderful—the two pilots share memories and sensations—albeit not fully realized. Suffice it to say, none of the human elements are fully realized in this film, but at last Del Toro bothered to add a few.
As we start, earth is under attack (duh) by subterranean alien monsters called Kaiju and our cocky (double duh) hero Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is co-piloting one of the massive robots known as Jaegers with his brother. They’re mavericks (triple duh) and they disobey a direct order from Commander Stacker (Idris Elba) in a bold move to save some sailors. The mission goes awry and Raleigh’s brother dies. Five years later, the Jaeger project has been decimated by equipment damage, pilot death, and budget cuts and Stacker recruits a now sadsack, loner Raleigh for one last earth-saving mission.
Stacker is particularly protective of his most talented pilot recruit, the beautiful Mako (Rinko Kikuchi)—and we don’t know why he’s so reluctant to let her co-pilot with Raleigh, even though their natural chemistry makes them a perfect match for a “drift”.
I liked these three main leads—Elba is his typical commanding, Othello-esque presence (he was born to deliver the film’s best line: “Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!”) and there’s even a bit of nifty gender reversal while Mako regards a shirtless Raleigh through a keyhole. (No complaints here.)
But some of the best scenes in the film involve Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), a fast talking, gumption-filled biologist (a sort of Jimmy Olsen in a lab coat) and his genuinely weird German lab partner Gottleib (Burn Gorman). The many comic book, disaster film, and pop culture references in Pacific Rim undoubtedly went over my head—I got Godzilla and maybe a bit of Jaws and. . . yeah, that’s it. But I’m pretty sure that the twitchy, mumbling Gottleib, with his Moe from the Three Stooges haircut and permanent bad mood, is a nod to someone—and he’s quite funny, especially when interacting with the hyper Newton.
I also loved the scenes where Newton goes to visit a Hong Kong black market Kaiju parts dealer. I’d tell you who plays the dealer, but I think it’s meant to be a secret reveal. (Only the Del Toro completists in the audience will be fully geeked, however.) There’s a great moment where a presumed dead Kaiju seems to have a heartbeat—and, again, I won’t tell you what occurs, but word to the wise: With aliens, as in life, never assume.
Bottom line: Del Toro is more than capable of giving us great moments of specific imagination and visual wit and intrigue. Why can’t he leave the giant monster/robot fights to the Michael Bays of this world?
I guess he’s just giving the people what they want. And by people, I mean people who are not named me.