You know what makes summer movies so memorable? Great characters, great stories, and great writing. Think of your favorite summer movie, and you’ll find a memory about it that’s so strong that it’s almost physically tangible. It doesn’t even need to be an action movie; Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t teeming with action, as it only had a few brief but extremely well-constructed action scenes. Special effects and computer graphics only matter to me if it helps tell the story effectively and usefully. Of late, summer movies have started to feel like college all over again; you’re stuck at a party watching other people play video games, and that’s how I felt watching Pacific Rim. It’s a 2-hour 11-minute exercise in watching machine vs. monster beat-’em-ups, with only the bare minimum of story and character development to make the next action sequence try to mean something.
Even before this film’s release, the hype machine was building up; a big splash at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International, flashy trailers and TV spots, and press releases started the fanboys salivating. How could anything be more awesome than watching robots mix it up with alien monsters? True enough, Pacific Rim is a gargantuan spectacle, and there’s no doubt that the film itself is quite a technical achievement. But there’s only so much that computer-generated whizbangery can carry before the bottom falls out from under your feet and you realize that a movie like this is merely an excuse to wreak mass devastation and destruction upon large cities and buildings. And quite frankly, I’m right tired of the overly-loud, wanton decimation.
Pacific Rim *does* show bits of brilliance, though. The tandem pilot-driven Jaegers (German for “hunter”) are fairly wondrous machines, capable of defending Earth and her citizens from large, lethal monstrosities that are using a dimensional breach to attack our world. And the monsters themselves, known as Kaiju, are pretty vicious, too; all of them display different characteristics and abilities, such as shooting acid, using their tails as gigantic whips, and being structurally equipped to handle almost any onslaught. They’re fierce, scary creatures that run through large walls, skyscrapers, and bridges as quickly as Usain Bolt running an Olympic sprint. When the Jaegers and the Kaiju meet, the theater subwoofers will give you a deep-tissue massage with how much they’re rumbling; they fight using every weapon at their disposal, with a couple of surprise weapons on both sides.
When it comes to the human element, however, it’s not as wondrous. Charlie Hunnam feels extremely miscast as our big hero, Raleigh Becket, who gets brought back into service after the pre-title sequence shows him losing his co-pilot (and brother) to what should have been a routine Kaiju battle. With limited facial expressions and an overly cocky swagger, we never quite feel that the danger is ever appreciated by him; instead, he walks through every situation with the same “I’ve got this” look on his face. However, as his commanding officer Stacker Pentecost, Idris Elba manages to give a relatively meaningful performance by being in control of every scene he’s in. It’s a shame that Pentecost wasn’t the lead character in this movie, and I think I would have enjoyed it more had that been the case; as it stands, he’s relegated to second fiddle while we watch Becket’s redemption story play out.
For all the death and destruction happening in this movie, I can’t help but feel that it’s largely glossed over and not dealt with appropriately. This, I think, is telling of the mindset of the people in this world: they’re witnessing the end of life on Earth as they know it, and there’s not much they can do but stand by and hope for the best as these behemoth machines do their best to defend what’s left of the populace. Likewise, there’s not much we can do but sit back and watch twisted metal and shards of glass fly by while someone pushes up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start on their Nintendo controller. Pacific Rim is a terrific-looking spectacle, with lots of fun to be had – well, if you’re into oppressively loud WWE-style bouts between Goliaths of the alien and robot kind. However, when all is said and done, it’s just another empty vessel ramming eye candy into your brain. And if you manage to stick it out, stay for a small scene after the first part of the closing credits.