‘Pacific Rim’ offers braindead robot-on-monster smackdowns

A mighty colossus prepares to smack a giant alien up in "Pacific Rim." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
A mighty colossus prepares to smack a giant alien up in “Pacific Rim.”
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Pacific Rim’
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

There are many jobs at which Guillermo del Toro would excel: As a creature designer, as a creator of sheer mood, as a star group writer — the guy who sits in the corner, throwing out crazy, brilliant ideas for others to pound into some kind of shape. He’s not really a leader, as a leader needs discipline and exactitude. Del Toro has neither. His films, even his best ones, are sloppy, with maddening bursts of unbridled creativity boasting little organization. Even his serious films (“The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”), are weakly structured and short on ideas — but, like the “Hellboy”s and “Blade II” (his masterpiece) have cool creatures and atypically gorgeous digital effects.

This is to say that, in theory, the ideal movie for del Toro should is one where giant battle bots battle giant aliens. This is “Pacific Rim,” a noisy, mostly delightful monstrosity that embraces the notion that its director can’t tell a story, can’t see through intriguing ideas but has a knack for filmmaking that’s by turns (and sometimes simultaneously) visceral and elegant.

The plot is (thankfully) simple: In the near future, monsters from another universe have risen from the sea. The world’s nations have met this threat by joining together and erecting towering rock-‘em-sock-‘em robots. The characters are equal parts cliched and reliably stock: There’s a bland taciturn hero (Charlie Hunnam), a hot brainiac nursing vengeance (Rinko Kikuchi), a St. Crispin’s Day-style speech-spouting leader amusingly named Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and wacky scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), because nerds are fun.

“To fight monsters we created monsters,” goes one of the taglines. Don’t worry about the Frankensteinian implications. This has no interest in addressing philosophical concerns, or thinking about much of anything. This has its drabacks: An hour is wasted wondering who will pilot the big robots. When the battles belatedly come, they’re pummeling if not always discernible. Dinosaur-like behemoths of varying builds and features smash with clangy, rusty mega-automoton, always at night time. One tussle threatens to take place in daylight, but quickly heads to darker environs. (Don’t see this in post-converted 3-D, which renders everything even darker and murkier than it is already.)

Might wins over sense, but the battles still hurt, and del Toro is smart/calculating enough to slowly parcel out certain weaponry (a sword!). Once a bot uses a giant boat as a bat, the brain shuts down and most is forgiven. It’s hard to love a movie that teases some intriguing nonsense about mind-melds, only to drop it once it becomes too complicated. Then again, it’s easy to (hesitantly) love a film so in awe of grease and gears and rust — where digital technology at one point fails, and analogue gadgets have to come in to save the day. Swoon.


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