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Pacific Rim
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Moves Like Jaeger or The Co-Hosts"
3 stars

Imagine taking every Godzilla movie ever made, jamming them all into a duck press and then bringing the results to life under the aegis of a 10-year-old boy with an exceptionally vivid imagination for devising scenes of unholy carnage and more than enough money to bring those visions to life on a scale so vast that they make Michael Bay look like a purveyor of mumble core. That, in a nutshell, is Guillermo del Toro's eagerly anticipated fantasy epic "Pacific Rim," a jumbo-sized love letter to every movie that ever featured a ginormous creature wreaking catastrophic havoc wherever it goes. Speaking as someone who eagerly devoured as many of those movies as possible as a wee lad and who still considers being quoted in the promotional materials for the "Godzilla 2000" DVD release to be one of the highlights of his professional career, such a premise sounded like a dream come true and I must confess to looking forward to it just a tad more than most of the other summer blockbuster wanna-bees. However, if ever there was a cinematic example of the concept of too much of a good thing, it is this movie. It starts off brilliantly and it does have some extraordinary action sequences to behold but it is just so relentless in its attempt to position itself as the ultimate monster movie that watching it eventually becomes kind of wearisome. By the end, giant robots and giant monsters are engaged in a climactic struggle with the fate of the world in the balance but not even that sort of spectacle could quite rouse me by that point.

In one of the more exposition-heavy prologues in recent memory (so heavy, if fact, that arriving late for the screening will prove to be an even worse mistake than usual), we learn that in 2020, a rift in undersea tectonic plates leads to the unleashing of the first of a number of massive monsters known as Kaiju that begin wreaking havoc on costal cities. After San Francisco, Manila and Cabo San Lucas are reduced to rubble, the nations of the world unite fight back by devising Jaegers, 25-story-tall robots piloted by two-person crews who work as one via a complicated and sometimes dangerous mind-melding technique know as drifting. Sounds complicated but for a while, the Jaegers are enough to defend humanity against the Kaiju. Eventually, the monsters learns how to fight back against the Jaegers and during a fierce battle off the coast of Alaska, superstar Jaeger co-pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) loses his beloved brother and co-pilot and just barely survives himself by somehow getting the robot back to the mainland single-handedly.

Five years later, the Kaiju attacks are becoming more frequent and deadly, the governments of the world have decided to phase out the Jaeger program as being ineffectual and Raleigh is working on the construction of one of the massive walls that are now meant to be mankind's last great hope when he is visited by the head of the Jaeger program, the perfectly named Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Realizing that the wall program is not going to work and that time is literally running out, Stacker has devised a plan to refurbish the last four Jaegers in working order and send them on a last-ditch mission to drop a massive nuclear bomb down the passageway connecting our world. Raleigh is eventually paired up with the quiet and unassuming Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) but even though they drift together amazingly well, it may not be enough to overcome the increasingly powerful Kaiju. Meanwhile, semi-mad scientist Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) theorizes that if he can figure out a way of drifting with a Kaiju, he might be able to read their thoughts. This requires a reasonably fresh Kaiju brain and leads Geiszler to Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), a man who, based on his wardrobe, spends his days dealing in Kaiju parts on the black market and his nights jamming with The Time.

There are two Guillermo del Toro's out there and whether or not you like his latest movie "Pacific Rim" will depend almost entirely on which one you prefer. Both of them work almost exclusively in the realms of science-fiction, fantasy and horror but while one has managed to transcend the trappings of those genres in films like "The Devil's Backbone" and "Pan's Labyrinth" by informing his narratives with an unusual degree of emotion, intelligence and subtlety, the other one has wallowed in their giddy pleasures with such elaborate sensation machines as "Blade II" and the two "Hellboy" movies. Right from the start, it is clear that "Pacific Rim" is from the second del Toro and if you are a fan of that one, you will almost certainly find yourself agog at the frequently jaw-dropping spectacle that he is offering up this time around, especially if you are able to catch the film in one of its IMAX 3-D presentations. The sight of these enormous behemoths--both the monstrous and the man-made--rising from the depths of the sea, looming over the rapidly decimating skylines and pounding the crap out of each other is genuinely stirring for a while. del Toro is clearly an enormous fan of these films and you really can feel his enthusiasm in every scene--unlike virtually every action epic of this summer, this is perhaps the only one that could be said to have something resembling a personal touch.

On the other hand, if you prefer del Toro when he is working in a more graceful and restrained mode--as I do--you are likely to find it a more dubious achievement in the way that it tries to blend a relentless string of large-scale action scenes with. . .well, with not much of anything else of notice. After the prologue setting up the film's premise, the rest of the movie consists of elongated battle scenes punctuated with just enough character development (one person has daddy issues, one is traumatized by the loss of his brother, one is traumatized by the loss of her family, one is dying, etc. . .) to keep things moving along until the next rumble. Of course, one could say the same about the old Godzilla movies but I cannot be alone in expecting that someone as talented as del Toro could put together a story and characters for his monster mash that were at least somewhat of an improvement of those found in the likes of "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster." As a result, these elements wind up getting overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the project with only Elba, Kinkuchi and Perlman managing to stand out amidst the chaos because of the undeniable force of their own personalities. After a while, even the fight scenes begin to drag--thanks to a combination of too many close-ups, a rapid-fire editing style and the decision to set nearly all of them either at night, underwater, in howling rainstorms or in some combination of the three, it is virtually impossible to discern exactly what is doing what to what most of the time.

What is exceptionally vexing about "Pacific Rim" is that it does contain just enough suggestions of the world that it is taking place in to make you wish that del Toro had made a few more narrative detours along the way. For example, I would have gladly sacrificed one of the big Kaiju-Jaeger slapfights in order to spend a little more time with Hannibal Chau and his Kaiju-related black-market dealings and see how even the most unimaginable of circumstances can become a profit center for those of suitable ambition. Coming from someone who has always put so much character and cultural detail into his other films, the thinness of the screenplay that he and co-writer Travis Beacham is a rude surprise. It has been several years since del Toro's last film--2008's "Hellboy II"--and in the interim, he saw two high-profile directing gigs, "The Hobbit" and the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation "At the Mountains of Madness," fall by the wayside. My guess is that he was so eager to get back behind the camera that he was willing to jump in without giving the screenplay another pass that might have helped flesh things out and make it into something more than it is.

"Pacific Rim" is undeniably ambitious and certainly delivers more bangs for the buck than any other sci-fi spectacular in recent memory--I would take any section of it over the "Transformers" saga in its entirety . The trouble is that even though it has been made with someone with an enormous fondness for the genre, del Toro is more content with replicating the nonsense of his youth with the aid of armies of special effects technicians instead of transforming it with his undeniable gifts as a storyteller. I cannot entirely recommend it because it ultimately doesn't work in the end but I would not necessarily dissuade those with a taste for films of this type from going to see it, especially, as noted, in a true IMAX theater. However, my guess is that after a while, even those hard-core buffs may find themselves checking not only their watches but the batteries within long before it comes to its end.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22649&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/11/13 16:40:24
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User Comments

5/10/19 PUMP UP THE JAM Toro brings together the dreams of many monster fans into the entire movie. 5 stars
11/09/13 mr.mike Much better than I expected. 4 stars
10/15/13 Carl A lot of fun left me wanting more. 4 stars
10/11/13 PAUL SHORTT SILLY BUT FUN 3 stars
8/01/13 Suzie Williams Great action movie! See it for the action and effects, not the story line. 4 stars
7/22/13 TalynofTexas Great chance to see giant monsters and robots, who'd miss that 5 stars
7/19/13 Man Out Six Bucks Balanced popcorn flick. Not quite 'Aliens' but has familiar elements 4 stars
7/17/13 KingNeutron Went in with high expectations, came out disappointed. Director should have done better. 2 stars
7/16/13 G A great and entertaining summer blockbuster! 5 stars
7/14/13 Erinne Clark Harryhausen and Honda would have had a blast watching this! A great new creature feature! 5 stars
7/14/13 Bob Dog A blockbuster done right (...and it even has an engaging story)!!! 5 stars
7/14/13 THOMAS LEE They spent $180 million on SFX...and 35 cents on the script. 2 stars
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  12-Jul-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 15-Oct-2013

  12-Jul-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 15-Oct-2013

Directed by
  Guillermo del Toro

Written by
  Travis Beacham

  Idris Elba
  Charlie Hunnam
  Charlie Day

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