[See previous post: "Pacific Rim Review: Dumb Movie, Smart Director."] After losing his brother to the Kaiju, Raleigh went off the grid for five years only to be called back into service by his commanding officer, the improbably-named Stacker Pentecost (an imposing, riveting Idris Elba). After Raleigh disappeared, the Jaeger program was cancelled in favor of a new strategy that has proven ineffective. So Pentecost needs Raleigh to co-pilot one of four remaining Jaegers (one each from Russia, China, Australia, and America) in a last-ditch effort to save the world. His co-pilot might be a rookie who has her own history with the Kaiju, the reserved yet capable, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).
In focusing almost entirely on lumbering, clanging, roaring fight sequences, Guillermo del Toro knows what he's sacrificing and, in his quest to bring childhood favorites like Godzilla and War of the Gargantuas to big-budget life, he obviously doesn't care. In other words, no one will be mistaking Pacific Rim for a character piece. The Drift could have been a compelling way to reveal dark secrets and buried trauma, but it's an opportunity del Toro and co-screenwriter Travis Beacham thoroughly waste, except for a striking flashback that reveals a key event in Mori's childhood.
As for the handsome, adequate Charlie Hunnam, he's given an uninteresting part to play and he's surrounded by an equally uninteresting group of macho flyboys, including a father-son team from Australia (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky). Two scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) charged with assessing the enemy's weaknesses are played so over the top, you wonder if del Toro wasn't trying to capture some of the overemphatic acting that added a charming layer of cheese to the Kaiju films he loved as a boy in Mexico. The Pacific Rim performance that pops the best is provided by del Toro regular Ron Perlman, who plays an underground trafficker of black-market Kaiju body parts (turns out the smallest amount of Kaiju feces has enough phosphorus to fertilize a field).
The key to Pacific Rim's satisfying spectacle: Guillermo del Toro
The first question audiences may ask upon the conclusion of Pacific Rim – once their ears stop ringing – is “Why does this empty, noisy summer spectacle work, while others are just empty and noisy?” The answer is both obvious and surprising: Guillermo del Toro is the key, even if Pacific Rim lacks the magical, fantastical, and political elements that deepened previous triumphs like Pan's Labyrinth. That said, his eye for tone and detail remains undiminished and the film has such heavy momentum you're compelled to get caught up in it. Most importantly, you can sense del Toro's glee as he breathes tremendous life into the sights and sounds of his monster movie-filled youth.
Yes, Pacific Rim is an assault on the senses. And the nocturnal battle scenes are often unnecessarily murky. But as you watch a 250-foot Jaeger tussle with a colossal, acid-spouting Kaiju, don't be surprised if you find yourself ever-so slightly dodging and weaving in your seat with every punch.
Pacific Rim (2013). Dir.: Guillermo del Toro. Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham. Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Diego Klattenhoff, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr, Ron Perlman, Brad William Henke, Larry Joe Campbell, Mana Ashida, Santiago Segura.
Pacific Rim Kaiju attack image: Warner Bros.