LeatherbackPacific Rim is a movie about giant monsters from another dimension (beneath the ocean) fighting equally giant robots in a long, drawn-out war for Earth. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

I can see why certain people won’t like Pacific Rim. I may not wholly understand it, but I can see why. It’s not as if any of the actors in this movie will win an Oscar for their performance. The plot was fabricated so a child could follow it, and the dialogue was laughable in arguably too many instances. But I think that was the intention. Or at least that’s what I would like to think.

With a budget approaching $200 million, Pacific Rim is what a summer blockbuster should be: stupid, mindless fun.

And I mean that in the nicest, most complimentary fashion. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed Pacific Rim and found it to be an entertaining experience through and through, but my expectations were also tempered going in. I expected to be entertained by the visuals and mesmerized by the idea of living in a world in which epic creatures emerge from beneath the ocean to bring about the destruction of our planet.

It’s really a romantic ending to our civilization.

I don’t want to die because my body is riddled with cancer. I don’t want to die in a car accident on my way to another day of work. I don’t want to just pass away peacefully in my sleep. I want to die trampled by a fucking monster the size of a skyscraper. Who wouldn’t want to see Godzilla before they die? And then there’s the chance you could survive and stick around for the post-monster era.

KaijuAs a fan of creature features, I fell in love with the concept as soon as I heard about Pacific Rim. I would have been in if it were simply titled Monsters vs. Robots. I grew up watching shitty monster movies on the Sci-Fi Channel every Saturday. Let’s just say I’ve seen Method Man in too many made-for-TV movies.

The early glimpses of Pacific Rim before its release showed little except for the promise of an amazing visual. Pacific Rim certainly delivers on that promise. I was convinced to watch it with my wife in IMAX 3D the day after already watching it in the theater for the first time. I don’t regret that decision. For now, I’m opposing a third viewing in theaters, but my resolve may dissolve if Pacific Rim continues to stick in my head for the next few weeks.

In my opinion, the best way to watch Pacific Rim is going in without any expectations. Just sit your ass in a seat and try to appreciate it for what it is: stupid, mindless fun.

Spoilers galore.

The further discussion below that goes more in-depth into Pacific Rim will give away plot points and story that you may not want to view unless you have already seen the movie. No further warnings are given so strop scrolling if you don’t want to hear about ways this movie could have been improved. Definitely stop if you don’t want to hear me complain about the fucking bulldog for 20 or more minutes.

Pacific Rim opens with Charlie Hunnam doing what Charlie Hunnam does best: delivering a voiceover. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Sons of Anarchy, you know Charlie Hunnam can recite an impassioned monologue in a whispered, gravelly tone using his best American accent.

AxeheadIn the opening sequence of Pacific Rim, the audience is treated with some initial background on the first Kaiju attack with Axehead taking out the Golden Gate Bridge and the resulting chaos of how humanity handled this threat. For my tastes, there wasn’t nearly enough Axehead or more focus on the uniqueness of each Kaiju.

I would have opted to focus the introduction on the first attack that sparks the need to create Jaegers (man-made robots piloted by two people connected by a neural bridge) as a weapon to fight these creatures that are capable of destroying whole cities in a day. Why won’t tanks, jets, and missiles take these creatures out? If not for the purpose of revealing more information about Kaiju, the opening sequence should have shown more focus on the Axehead attack because it was one of the better monster conceptions in the whole movie based its silhouette alone. Naturally, Axehead has a giant axe for its head, and it would have been nice to see it rise from an ocean portal and use that axe-head to rip through the world’s most iconic bridge. And maybe even have someone trying to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge, but only to fall in the mouth of a Kaiju or survive by landing on its head. It just seemed like there was more to mine here.

San Francisco went first and then several other cities would soon follow. After trying to bomb the shit out of Axehead for 6 days, humanity defeats its first Kaiju. I was pleasantly surprised by the media montage and allusions to 9/11 as other political parallels attempted later in the movie fell flat. Although I probably would have done it differently, this opening sequence is likely the most well-crafted portion of Pacific Rim. Showing the World War II-esque propaganda campaign and assembly-plant technological process for building the Jaegers was fun and fairly believable—as believable as you can get anyway with monsters vs. robots.

Gipsy DangerThe heavy influence of anime is apparent early on in this sequence, but it does provide a nice context for how this effects the culture with the cult of celebrity surrounding the Jaeger pilots and the false sense of self-confidence resulting from the success against the Kaiju. The opening transitions to introducing Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancey Becket (Diego Klattenhoff), two scrappy brothers who pilot Gipsy Danger, and their fight against Knifehead. Knifehead has a knife for its head. Surprise!

Seeing the whole effort that goes into launching these immense mechanical creations to do battle with a Kaiju is reminiscent of launching a space shuttle. If you’ve seen any of the previews, you would know that Raleigh ends up piloting a Jaeger with young Asian woman so it comes as no surprise when Yancey is ripped out of the cockpit in fight against Knifehead. Note to self: avoid trailers.

I do appreciate the scope and magnitude of what Guillermo Del Toro attempted with this movie. And I really did enjoy Pacific Rim. But I really do want to hear a justification as to why U.N. representatives would drop all funding for the Jaeger program to build a coastal wall in a world where several other-worldly monsters are emerging from a portal in the ocean. The ham-handed nature of this scene was just painful and nonsensical. The parallel to the wall along the US-Mexico border is evident yet clumsy and confusing. This doesn’t even serve to progress the plot except to push Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to seek out Raleigh and give him the opportunity to pilot a Jaeger again instead of slaving away on a wall that shockingly can’t manage to hold up against an immense monster.

The next 20-40 minutes revolve around bringing Raleigh back into the fold, and learning about the Shatterdome and the plan to blow up the ocean portal. It’s a slow burn to find out more about the remaining Jaegers and pilots, but thankfully there’s Charlie Day and Ron Pearlman as comic relief and catalysts to reveal more about the Kaijus along with the other jittery professor. There was not enough Charlie Day in this movie. A recipe for success could have definitely been conjured by more Charlie Day and less Charlie Hunnam.

Anyone who has seen Charlie Hunnam as Jackson in Sons of Anarchy has now seen Charlie Hunnam’s performance as Raleigh in Pacific Rim by the transitive property. Hunnam has been performing as an American for quite some time now, but I’ll always remember him as the British roommate of Jay Baruchel in the underrated and short-lived TV show Undeclared. As with most British actors playing American, I never fully buy scenes of extreme emotional distress. It’s a major problem with the actor who plays Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead. More damaging for Hunnam is the fact that he can hit maybe one or two beats as an actor with his smirk and his snarl—both on prime display in Pacific Rim.

Despite what Charlie Hunnam lacks, there is a certain charm and charisma he brought to this role so he offered about the same chops as Channing Tatum. But, oh fuck, does his acting suffer even more from the countless cliché lines and cutesy quips like one truly cheesy scene in which he actually says, “better check for a pulse,” and then proceeds to shoot a pulse cannon at a Kaiju to kill it 3 or 4 more times. That really happened.

And there’s also a bulldog that inexplicably lives inside this sprawling, never-ending launching station that is all metal without a blade of grass or any glimpse of outdoors in sight. Why does the Australian father-son duo have a bulldog with them in the Shatterdome? I don’t know why. My only guess is that the dog is there so that someone can kneel down and pet the dog while giving a judgmental gaze at another character. This happens about 6 or 7 times in the movie. And when you watch Pacific Rim in 3D, you get to see the bulldog’s bulbous balls bounce around on a giant screen. It’s as if you were there in real life! The dog’s presence is just baffling because they continue to show it throughout the movie. I’m convinced that it has to be Guillermo Del Toro’s dog or it belongs to someone else in the movie who demanded to work with their pooch.

I don’t know why, but it annoyed the fuck out of me trying to figure out what that goddamn dog added to the movie. When a movie is approaching 2 hours or goes beyond that mark, I’m always looking for ways to cut out the filler. While Pacific Rim delivers a lot of action, I would have loved to edit out 30 or so minutes.

The last remaining complaint about/way to improve Pacific Rim is a persistent problem with CGI movies as the action is way too difficult to discern who is fighting who and what the fuck is going on. Pacific Rim does an impressive job differentiating the Jaegers and how each robot is maneuvered by its pilots. I wouldn’t have had a problem with even more Jaegers and different creation styles. And each Kaiju is interesting in its own manner, but not nearly enough attention is paid to the silhouette of each creature and the color palette is nearly uniform amongst the monsters.

FightIf you’ve seen the reality TV series Face Off (a Sci-Fi special effects make-up challenge), then you know even the most unique, detailed creation can be tarnished by a shitty paint job. For the most part, the Kaiju in Pacific Rim suffer from the same dark base color with hints of electric blue. This line of logic may have no appeal to anyone who is not a fan of creature features, but more thought and attention could have easily been paid to effectively executive the Kaiju concepts. My favorite Kaiju had to be Onibaba (crab-like creature) from Mako’s flashback because it fits the Japanese environment and it was the only monster that deviated from the typical color scheme with its orange hues.

While my thoughts may appear to be critical and perhaps indicative of a negative review, I have now watched Pacific Rim twice and may even give consideration for a third viewing before it leaves theaters. My affection for the movie is firmly rooted in my love for the concept, but it’s not all style and no substance. There may not be much depth beyond the monsters vs. robots premise, but I will never apologize for enjoying Pacific Rim. Guillermo Del Toro’s previous work Pan’s Labyrinth is undoubtedly a better all-around movie, but I can’t hold that against Pacific Rim.

I don’t think it inspired to be anything except an unabashed love letter to anime and the monster movie genre. It’s amazing what Guillermo Del Toro was able to do with the scope of Pacific Rim, and I would absolutely love to see a sequel that pushes this concept beyond the clichéd, children-appropriate approach that was employed. I understand the attempt for a more widespread appeal, but I always favor shooting every bullet because you may not get another chance.

Here’s to hoping that Pacific Rim can rebound from a disappointing opening and return a profit on its massive budget in order to justify a sequel or even a prequel that focuses more on the start of this war with the monster under the bed.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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