To fight monsters we created monsters. And swiped some Top Gun plot beats.
Earth is under attack. Towering alien monsters called Kaiju are pouring through an inter-dimensional rift deep within the Pacific Ocean. As they stomp the cities of the world into a fine brown paste, humanity comes together and kickstarts the Jaeger program, an audacious project that places two human pilots in the cockpit of colossal fighting robots. The best pilot? Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy), a hotshot who’s built a solid career of waxing Kaiju with his brother by his side. But when the Kaiju up their game and tragedy strikes, Raleigh finds himself on the outside of the war for humanity’s survival, looking in. Until Idris Elba comes calling. And you don’t say no to Idris Elba.
As I sat in the theater, punished by an amped-up speaker system and visually assaulted by relentless CGI, I could only picture the size of the goofy grin plastered on my face. The first ten minutes of Pacific Rim made me a believer, a buyer of what del Toro was selling, a gleeful little puddle of a kid.
And then the movie kept going. The plot wilted into a predictably unsurprising morass, and that small joyful kid devolved into the jaded 36 year-old with an achy back. Disappointment crept back into my bloodstream, as I made peace with the sad simple fact that Pacific Rim was utter mediocrity encased in the shiniest wrapper ever made. And it pains me to admit it.
First, let’s talk about what Guillermo del Toro gets right; gloriously, fantastically right. He built an awesome landscape. A man renowned for his cinematic world-building, del Toro outdoes himself with Pacific Rim, crafting an alternate futuristic Earth populated by its own customs, pop culture ,and wacko characters. In his audio commentary, the director gives away the secret to effective world-building: get the little things right. The amount of detail in this film is staggering and points to del Toro’s love of the material. From the World War II-inspired artwork on the Jaegers, to the minutia of the Kaiju biology, the design is a sight to behold. Thankfully, the cutting-edge tech bringing it all to life is top-notch and immersive.
But what a waste! Taking this immaculately generated playground, filling it with plotlines lifted from Top Gun and two-dimensional cardboard characters belching out milquetoast action chatter is one of the biggest misfires in genre moviemaking I can recall. The crime isn’t that the story terrible or the acting wooden, it’s that so much effort was put into the style, someone forgot to inject the substance.
You’re going to spot all the plot points from a mile away; figuring out who the only other pilot to operate a Jaeger is, who’s not going to make it to the end of the film, who’s going to survive, who’s going to give himself up in a stirring scene of self-sacrifice, and how the final epic battle will shake out. I’m no genius, and typically wrong more than I’m right when it comes to diagnosing plot twists, but I was all over this thing from the beginning and that’s only because I’ve seen at least three movies in my life.
To make matters worse, the robot-on-monster action isn’t the revelation I was hoping for. There’s one bad-ass throwdown in the middle of the film, but the action never achieves similar heights after that. And while del Toro knows how to shoot giant robot action a lot cleaner than Michael Bay, he’s opted to stage all these sequences in the dead of night or underwater. You put all this effort into these creations, just give us the lighting to soak up the eye candy, man! Why couldn’t we get an epic clash with multiple Jaegers and Kaiju? Everything is either one-on-one or two-on-one. Let’s really see this war!
I don’t know, kids. I hate to dump on something that goes so over-the-top and indulges in the sort of moviemaking that is popcorn cinema at its popcorniest, but Pacific Rim stands as a monster misfire. Stay in front of the computers as long as you want, brining these magnificent creatures to life, but a little more time in the writers’ room would have done wonders.
Regardless of content, Warner Bros. delivers a sublime Blu-ray. Del Toro’s wonders are rendered exquisitely in a sterling 1.85:1/1080p transfer. The picture quality pops from the first moments and serves the expensive visual effects well, bringing out the details while maintaining a solid suspension of disbelief. Just gorgeous. Aurally, the DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (5.1 and 7.1) blast out the mayhem and Ramin Djawadi’s aggressive score with a serious thump. As far as A/V reference quality discs, I’m struggling to come up with something much better than what this one delivers.
Bonus features are bountiful, spread over two discs. Disc 1 sports an absorbing Del Toro audio commentary to go with the feature and an hour’s worth of making-of footage. Disc 2 brings a very cool (if slow-footed) interactive director’s notebook; featuring concept art, interview footage and more. Rounding out the materials are deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a shot-by-shot breakdown of what’s going on in “The Drift,” animatics, an art gallery, a featurette on the visual effects, DVD copy, Digital copy, and an UltraViolet download. Great, great offering.
I really don’t want to stick a Guilty verdict on this, so let’s agree to six months community service cleaning bird poop off the tops of cell towers.