There are two kinds of people going to see this movie. There are people who think it looks cool (or at least are being forced to see it by some other people who think it looks cool), and there are people who have been waiting for a giant monster/giant robot throwdown film for the past thirty years because they worship the Japanese films and TV shows about this kind of thing.
I’m the first guy. I’ve seen a handful of Godzilla and Gamera films. They weren’t really that good, but they were fun. On the other hand, I love-love-love Cloverfield, and this seems to have a similar sensibility, if not the same style of presentation.
I’ll start with the conclusion. This film is fine. It looks great, and it’s funny and exciting… but it’s also largely disposable. More on that at the end.
So, the story is that there’s this spatial rift, like a wormhole, that’s opened up on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, and these crazy-looking giant monsters start emerging and attacking cities on the coast. We are able to take them out with conventional forces… at first. But they increase in size and frequency on a regular basis. So humanity builds giant robots to fight them. The most out-there sci-fi concept in the movie–no, really, there’s a concept weirder than what I just told you–is the idea of the Drift. This is where two pilots’ minds are connected, so they essentially share their consciousness. They need to do this because the robots require more mental power to control than any one person can provide. That’s kind of a nifty idea, but it’s also designed to give the movie two things.
First, it gives characters license to pop up in each others’ memories, for flashback purposes. Second, it gives the science guys who are trying to understand the monsters license to mind meld with a monster brain to get vital information about what the monsters are really doing there. (Remember when Bill Pullman mind melded with the alien in ID4? And when the kid mind melded with the alien in Super 8? It’s like that.) When a concept is so obviously constructed to serve story plotting functions, it’s just that much less interesting to me.
The most original thing in the movie is the character of Hannibal Chau, played by director Guillermo del Toro’s favorite go-to guy, Ron Perlman. He’s a black market trader in monster parts. When one of these things is finally killed, his team swoops in and steals the vital organs and the creepy bugs that infest the monster’s flesh. (A clear reference to Cloverfield.) This is an idea that I hadn’t seen done before, and it’s brilliant. Of course, the only reason it’s in the story is to give the science guys their monster brain to mind meld with… so there’s that.
Another aspect of the movie that I think is kind of cool is how relentlessly multicultural it is. By my count, there are Americans, Australians, Brits, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Koreans and Mexicans. It’s like a sci-fi version of the Fast and Furious series!
There are actors, I guess. Everyone except Idris Elba (as the stoic marshal of the robot army) and Burn Gorman (as a twitchy science guy) is largely unimpressive.
But this movie isn’t about humans and their petty problems. This movie is about huge monsters and huge robots fighting. And fight they do. Big, crazy battles that give the effects team lots of excuses to fill the screen with insane amounts of detail. The fight between three robots and two monsters in Hong Kong is the best of the bunch. In fact, the climactic battle with three monsters and only two robots is a bit of a letdown.
The finale is hampered by plot points that are either technically inaccurate (nuclear reactors are not simply bombs waiting to be triggered to explode) or way too similar to another film.
What kind of depressed me after watching Pacific Rim is that this is just another in a series of films this summer which are big and fun and exciting… but have little or no resonance. Will I care enough to watch Pacific Rim again in two or three years? I’m pretty sure the answer is “no”.