It isn’t enough that the Pacific Rim is a volcanic zone famously reshaping the earth, and spawning Tsunamis. In this new monster film, we learn that the Pacific Rim is also the stomping ground of very nasty beasties. They are born deep inside the mantle. Once grown, they swim through a breach in the earth’s crust to wreak havoc upon our cities.
The creatures, known as Kaiju, not only indicate writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s fascination with Japanese monster flicks, they are rated by size according to the tornado scale, here ranging from category three (half the size of the Empire State Building) to category five (able to look down upon that same edifice).
The story, a hilarious blend of dog-pile science and comic book heroics, casts a ragtag band of daredevil humans as the saviors of mankind. In order to fight the critters, humans invent the Jaeger, a gigantic robot capable of going toe-to-toe with these aliens of the deep.
The emotional crux of the story erupts from within a Hong Kong facility housing the four remaining Jaegers. The enormous hangar is populated by scientists, Jaeger support crews and the intrepid pilots who operate the robots. The formulaic story treats us to a chaste romance between returning Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and a talented young newbie named Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), who is the assistant of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) — the man running the Jaeger program.
Mako yearns to become a pilot and exact her revenge against the Kaiju, but for reasons we will later learn, Pentecost rejects her off-the-charts pilot test scores. Mako finally gets her break because operating the Jaeger requires two neurally-connected pilots able to perform as one unit, and as it turns out, Mako and Raleigh are a suitable neural match.
Some of the film’s battles are rousing, but none rise to the level of exciting. Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh is bland, but Kikuchi’s Mako does all she can — within her character’s limited scope — to pull us in, as does Elba in the role of Jaeger program coordinator and surrogate father figure Pentecost. Ron Perlman only needs to show up and smirk for his turn as an underground entrepreneur and profiteer. A pair of mismatched scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) provide the key to defeating the monsters and supply the film’s all-too-brief comic relief.
Murky special effects inhabit the creature battles. These largely occur at night, frequently in and around dark waters. What we can see sometimes impresses, but all too often low visibility and heavy editing compromise these scenes.
The film wasn’t sufficiently entertaining to overcome a flawed premise that insists the fist-pounding, hard-punching Jaeger robots constitute our most effective means of defeating the Kaiju. Monster flicks provide a welcome escape when they don’t take themselves too seriously, but del Toro allowed himself to become too serious about this very silly movie.