There's an admirable formula goofiness to Guillermo del Toro's new monsters vs. robots action flick Pacific Rim. He's taken various parts of other films — of course Godzilla's Asian city destruction, but also some of Independence Day's odd mix of kookiness and rabble rousing, and Top Gun's dudes-in-training swagger — and mashed them into an omnibus of tropes and familiar plotlines. The movie is entirely predictable — you know exactly who is going to die and when (and even how) — but there's something cozy about that. Pacific Rim is comfortable in its cheese, its genre trappings, its basic and inelegant structure. Which is respectable! But unfortunately it makes the movie kinda boring, too.
[Caution: Contains spoilers.]
It shouldn't be boring. I mean, the movie is about giant monsters crawling out of an inter-dimensional fissure at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and the enormous robot suits that humans use to fight them. That's the dream of any child smashing two toys together, imagining a battle on a gargantuan, epic scale. And yet, after the first such clash of the titans, everything else feels pretty repetitive. Turns out, once you've seen one fight between impossibly large monsters and robots, you've seen 'em all. There's also a long, way too long, stretch in the middle of the film when no battles are happening, it's all a bunch of hokey scientific discovery and muddled character development. Though the robot thrashing does eventually get dull, by that point we've really only seen one such battle. But we're made to sit and wait for what feels like an hour before we get another, the movie instead trying to immerse us in its world of mind-melds — two people control each big robot, cerebrally linked to move as one — and monster bone dealers and various intra-soldier social tensions. But the movie is too disjointed to be immersive — del Toro's olio of different movie parts is a detriment here. And so Pacific Rim lurches on awkwardly, with some juddering moments of excitement but the total picture feeling increasingly leaden.
At this point in the review, I could talk about Charlie Hunnam's terrible American accent. Or the fact that Idris Elba deserves far better material than this. I could say that the film displays a good deal of invention in terms of creating its world. That last one wouldn't be true, though. Because while there are elements of Pacific Rim that feel original and thoroughly thought-out, a lot of it just doesn't make any damn sense. Pacific Rim is yet another big action movie that breaks its own rules or creates new ones whenever it's convenient. To that end, I'm going to, Mama-style, pose some questions for the filmmakers, or anyone else who's seen the film. Maybe you can help me figure things out.
1. So, these giant robot suits. They're cool and all, but are they really the most practical weapon? They load the robots with missiles that seem to work pretty well, so why not just shoot the monsters with the missiles? Like, from the ground. I know, I know, that's a fussy question to ask — they're big freaking robots, who cares why they're there! — but given that the entire film hinges on the existence of these robots, it doesn't seem unfair exactly to point out that they're not necessarily, well, necessary.
2. That said, the robots do exist. Given that, a question about how they are used: Toward the end of one of the big monster fights, I believe it's the second, our lead robot, piloted by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, suddenly produces a sword that rips right through the big monster thing (that's flying, by the way — it's never mentioned again that these things can freaking fly). So why not use the sword always? It seems pretty effective! I ask because, as is, it seems that maybe the sword was invented just for that moment? Granted, it is used again, but prior to that there is no evidence that there is a really useful sword component to the gigantic robot suit. Seems funny to me.
3. Charlie Day plays a scientist in the movie, a nerdy guy who's obsessed with the terrible monsters to the point of having some strange respect for them. He eventually comes to discover something crucially important about the monsters and where they come from, essentially helping to save the day. So, wait. You're telling me that monsters have been ravaging the planet for decades now but the only guy who thought to do this one experiment was some crackpot who nobody likes using homemade equipment? Seems awfully convenient, doesn't it?
4. The movie spends a number of scenes telling us that the bond between robot co-pilots — excuse me, Jaeger copilots — is extremely important. You have to be compatible to "drift" with someone, that's why so many siblings do it. There's a whole thing about Charlie Hunnam finding a copilot that involves fighting with sticks and stuff. And yet! Toward the end of the movie one guy is without a copilot and so Idris Elba is like "Oh I'll do it" and everything's fine! Granted the guy says something along the lines of "Wait, but what about being compatible and stuff?" but Idris Elba just brushes it away like it's nothing. So what's the deal here? Surely it can't be a bunch of plot-filler hokum that's casually tossed away so Idris Elba can get in on the action. That couldn't be.
5. Was it necessary to give a certain character cancer when he was clearly going to die fighting monsters anyway? I'm not sure it was.
Those are my big Pacific Rim questions. There are many others, but those are the ones that have stuck in my head all week. Which isn't to say that the film is memorable. It clunks along gamely for a bit — pretty much everything before the opening credits — but it quickly loses itself to its own outsized dimensions. It got too big, and, well, it failed.