Guillermo del Toro’s latest directorial effort, Pacific Rim, is the feat of an individual—backed by a clever and capable team—who clearly loves what he does and who, once he has an idea, goes after it wholeheartedly. The result is an exceptionally fun idea that is beautifully realized but does not result in an outstanding film overall.
So much of the film succeeds, but it does so based solely upon spectacle. Pacific Rim exists in order to allow us to witness the might of someone’s ability to imagine something melded with the technical prowess to make the idea exist on film (or whatever we call the digital equivalent). What Pacific Rim lacks is the rest of what makes movies enjoyable – things like character and story.
The film is a tale of massive machines created by humanity in order to save the world from equally massive aliens which appear from a portal between dimensions in the Pacific Ocean. That is where it begins and ends. There are people who pilot these machines for humanity, but Pacific Rim is only interested with them on a cursory level – the characters exist so that the audience can watch the battles, not so that we are in any way drawn into the film.
What we are given is the most feeble attempts at a basic story, and it is one which feels cribbed from any number of massive action films. We are offered up several wounded heroes, people who have undergone something so terrible and/or terribly personal that they will never be whole again, that they will never be able to fight again. That is, they won’t until the world calls upon them to do their duty one last time (or allows them to do it for the first time), to press back the demons that exist within their souls in order to save the lives of billions.The main character offered up is Raleigh Beckett, played by Charlie Hunnam. After losing someone in the war against the Kaijus, monsters from another dimension who appear in the middle of the Pacific to destroy the world, Raleigh walks away from the war but is eventually called upon by Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to fight again. For his part, the Marshall is battling something mysterious that causes nose bleeds. He also won’t let potential pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) fight, even if she is the most well-equipped to do so. Why? Well, I won’t spoil it, but you’ll work it out well before the film offers it up, and you’ll do so because you’ve seen it all before. You have also already seen the exact sort of wacky scientist Charlie Day gives us, so even if his performance is rather infectious, knowing what he is going to do—and what the result is going to be—before he ever does it, lets the wind out of his sails.
What is new in Pacific Rim are the massive machines, called Jaegers, that the heroes have to pilot to fight the huge Kaijus. The Jaegers are so large that no one person can control them, they have to be controlled by two folks doing something of a Vulcan mind-meld—called a “drift” here—so that they can work in concert with one another.
It is an incomplete idea. We know that people have to do these drifts in order to drive a Jaeger and we are given an explanation of why the Jaegers are important, and why the program is in trouble, but we are only given enough of one to set the action in motion. The serious questions the introduction calls up about the way the world operates are never explored. Nor are some of the other nagging issues discussed. For instance, if the two drivers know exactly what the other is thinking (and they do), why they have to talk to one another when driving the Jaegers?
At this point I ponder how much I should go into the details of the plot that simply don’t work, that lack any sort of internal logic. I don’t really want to go too far down that rabbit hole. Whether or not reasons were created by del Toro and those with whom he worked, I can’t say. What is clear is that if there are reasons and explanations, they are notably absent from the more than two hour runtime of the film.
Some will say that the entire movie exists, in part, to honor the work of Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda (and it does, there’s a credit at the end of the film which states as much) and that those two individuals worked on some (but only some) films which didn’t always follow internal logic or care desperately about character. Consequently, the argument would go, del Toro does the same. That is a poor excuse. Del Toro has, as he has shown before, the ability to do not only spectacle but craft a great tale at the same time.
What I don’t want to do is take anything away from that spectacle – Pacific Rim is a stunning movie. It is a movie which succeeds more often than it fails, and does so based solely on the spectacle which it offers. On Blu-ray, the film is astounding. It looks utterly incredible, with levels of detail present on both Kaiju and Jaeger that impresses greatly. Many of the films battles occur in the dark (whether at night or underwater) and despite that, everything that happens on screen is completely visible, there are no darkened corners in which something crucial disappears. Del Toro has put a fully realized and beautifully rendered world onto film (or, again, its digital equivalent) even if he hasn’t given us a story to go with it. The sound, too, is exceptional. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack pounds away at the viewer just as Kaiju and Jaeger pound away at one another. Directional effects abound and environments, whether they exist in reality or not, feel distinct and complete.
The Blu-ray release is a three-disc affair – one DVD and two Blu-rays. The DVD and one of the Blu-rays contain the main film and some special features (there is also an Ultraviolet copy), and the second Blu-ray has oodles more bonus features. It is the sort of release where it feels as though they have included everything they could have imagined but have done so with little thought as to where they were putting it or how it would be found. Some of the behind-the-scenes pieces are exceptionally interesting and well put together, others aren’t, and it is a slog to get through most of it (and the behind the scenes videos in the “director’s notebook” cannot be paused). There will be many out there who will want to see all the in and outs of how the movie was put together, but the more casual viewer—and those who are mildly disappointed with the film—very likely will not bother to attempt to parse the bonus disc and get at those extras which interest them.
In the end, the main disappointment of Pacific Rim isn’t the fact that the story and characters are utterly flat The main disappointment is that Guillermo del Toro is an incredibly talented filmmaker who can handle things like character and story brilliantly. He has, in the past, put together brilliant kernels of an idea with compelling characters and fleshed-out stories. Pacific Rim doesn’t do that, giving us only the spectacle and none of the heart.
Perhaps it is most apt to describe the movie as a Jaeger which lacks pilots. It is a brilliant bit of machinery and the work of some very, very talented people, but lacks the humans required to bring it to life.