Review: 'Pacific Rim' Is a 10-Year-Old's Dream

Pacific Rim

The problems with Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim -- and there are a few -- are mostly ones of expectation. An idiosyncratic filmmaker with a strong sense of style and a heavily populist bent, he's had the misfortune of coming up during a time when Hollywood has grown progressively more afraid of spending money on anything that isn't a sequel, reboot, or ready-made franchise, so even though critics often love him and he's acquired a passionate fanbase that will turn out to see almost any movie that has his name attached, he's often been frustrated when it comes time to actually drum up the money it takes to get the cameras rolling.

Pacific Rim is, in essence, a compromise -- a sci-fi action thriller with enough low-IQ brawn to make it through the studio system, but swaddled with enough visual and storytelling panache to distinguish itself from your average "stuff go boom" blockbuster. But that works against it in a way, because anyone who goes to the movie expecting to see a Guillermo del Toro production is liable to come away a little frustrated -- just read some of the negative reviews for proof. Those critics have a point; Rim is demonstrably del Toro, but it's also obvious that his personality has been strongly watered down. It's kind of disconcerting, especially if you've watched enough noisy action movies to start feeling spectacle overload creeping in -- guys like Guillermo are supposed to be here to protect us from the bad stuff, right?

What they're not supposed to do is lower themselves to a Michael Bay-proportioned story about enormous aliens swarming the Earth through a dimensional breach on the surface of the ocean, and the military personnel who strap themselves into giant robots, link up via a mind-melding process called "the drift," and whoop extraterrestrial ass. Those robots have plenty of moving parts (lovingly rendered in whirring CGI), but the script really doesn't; the story has a lot of background, but it's mostly dispensed with via wordy narration in the first few minutes, so as to make more room for the rocking and socking. The actors, as often as not, are secondary.

So yes, depending on what you're looking for when you walk into Pacific Rim, your mileage may vary. Some recalibration may be required. But if you're the type of filmgoer who was once a 10-year-old boy at any point in time -- or the emotional equivalent thereof -- you may also find it difficult not be lured in, pumped up, and thrilled by what's essentially a savvy, enthusiastic homage to all the thinly written, action-heavy movies that have ever turned young dreamers into film fans for life.

Is it cheesy? Oh God, yes. But again, it's a question of expectations -- and intent. The narrative is kludgy, but you get the feeling that that's intentional -- that del Toro and co-screenwriter Travis Beacham were consciously trying to make room for lines that would make viewers laugh against their will, knee-slappingly broad musical cues, and especially action sequences that will leave you hooting and clapping before you even realize what you're doing. It's almost subversive in a way. By that measure, Pacific Rim is a resounding success -- and since it's difficult to imagine that del Toro was going for more, it's hard to think of it as a failure, no matter how much you might pine for smarter dialogue, more naturalistic acting, or (please, please, please) lower volume.

If, in the end, the movie doesn't quite thrill the way it feels like it should -- especially given the number of eye-popping set pieces and thrilling perspective shots (this is one flick that's worth the surcharge for IMAX 3D) -- that might ultimately be because films like Pacific Rim are the only ones we seem to get anymore. In the long run, the fact that a director like del Toro felt compelled to make it probably says deeply troubling things about the future of the studio system. But for at least two hours and 11 minutes, it's a heck of a lot of fun.

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Jeff is an entertainment writer and editor whose work currently appears at a variety of sites, including Rotten Tomatoes, Paste, American Songwriter, Popdose, Dadnabbit, Diffuser, and Ultimate Classic Rock.

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