Monster Ball: A Review of Pacific Rim

k-bigpicIn terms of big budget, over-the-top summer fun, conceptually you can’t get any better than director Guillermo del Toro’s slugfest Pacific Rim. With nerd culture booming out of control and society quickly adapting some of our most prized possessions (zombies, super heroes, giant robots fighting giant monsters, etc.) this film is hitting at just the right time. The buzz behind this film was crazy exciting sending geeks and nerds into fits of joy that … well … comes every time something new comes out … so … I guess it’s actually kind of normal in that sense … but … anyway.

Unfortunately, a drub leading man, a “paint-by-the-numbers” plot and a story that keeps getting in its own way stops this from being the amazing experience that it should be.

The basics of the story is actually simple. Big monsters come through a dimensional rift deep in the Pacific Ocean. These monsters, called Kaiju, are devastatingly brutal and smash/devour everything in their path. After tons of loss of life and resources, Earth’s governments unite and develop a new weapons program called Jaegers – giant robot vessels with a co-op fighting system. However, after years of successfully stopping the invading Kaiju, bigger, badder versions are coming through and mankind is falling way behind in the war.

Sound freakin’ amazing doesn’t it? Hell yes it does! Bulls-eye directly into my attraction template.

And for some of the film it is amazing. From the outstanding (although headache inducing in 3-D) fight scenes, the fantastic set and creature designs and some great gems hidden throughout (such as hearing Ellen Mclain voice the computer for the Jaegers) it’s extremely disappointing that, in the end, I just did not like as much as I should have.

Shout out to my buddy Tim who I can feel is starting to roll his eyes at me right about now.

With strong performances by Idris Elba playing the lead military muck-a-muck of the Jaeger program and Rinko Kikuchi as a designer and wanna-be Jaeger pilot, at it’s core, Pacific Rim is set up for success. While the rest of the cast are pretty bland filler – save for a very annoying Charlie Day (just playing a slightly more intelligent version of Charlie from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) and Ron Perlman –  the stand-out performance (and this is not a positive) goes to Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as lead character Raleigh Becket. It is so cringe-inducingly poor that it ruined most of this film for me. Zero range of emotion and a complete lack of chemistry with anyone around him made it extremely difficult for me to relate or like him as a character. His monotone, scratchy voice was way more destructive than any of the Kaiju and sucked all of the fun out of almost all of his scenes. Watching his performance immediately reminded me of Taylor Kitsch’s turn as John Carter.

At the same time, as a del Toro film … I don’t know … I just didn’t expect it to be as generic as it was. From Chronos (one of my favorite vampire films of all time) to Pan’s Labyrinth to his two Hellboy films, del Toro’s unique perspective on genres has always grabbed me as a consumer and made his films special experiences. Yet … not here. After a very interesting opening sequence that sets everything up, all the plot pieces begin to automatically fall into place and you start to just know what’s going to happen. Oh, this happened, well then this person will do this. Oh that blew up, then this will happen now.

And that leads me to the story. Man does it get in its own way. Sure, there is a lot to get through. The Kaiju, the Jaegers, even the “mental handshake” that the co-op team needs to do in order to control the giant machines – yes, you need a lot of exposition to set up everything up – I get it … I don’t even mind it. But, when the film starts repeating itself and smashing the audience over the head with unnecessary nonsense, you just have to say enough is enough. For example, a major plot point concerning the Kaiju is so silly and so unneeded that the film goes from awesome to becoming the sequel to Independence Day that nobody wants or needs. We know the set-up, stop wasting time with stuff that does not matter. For spoiler-sake I won’t go into detail but a lot of time is wasted in the film.

With all that being said, clearly this movie is going to be a hit. Despite everything I’ve written, I did enjoy the film for what it was – a nerdgasm of monsters fighting giant machines. Everything about the Jaegers is fun and while highly stereotyped, the different versions and their presentation is like watching a comic book come to life (Michael Bay, take note, this is what Transformers should have been). Along with that, the Kaiju are pure monster bliss in every savage way possible. However, an extremely lacking  lead actor and a cliché plot proves heavier than the weight of a Jaeger and nearly sinks this film for me.

3.5 out of 5 Swords … Just use the Freakin’ Swords

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