Review: Pacific Rim (Making A Better Movie Might Be Rude)

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Pacific Rim is the newest by beloved director and monster-fan Guillermo Del Toro, but it doesn’t feel like his typical fare. Del Toro’s established himself as a visually ingenious director, a man with affection for his childhood monster makers and a penchant for doling out respect in the form of artfilms. But Pacific Rim doesn’t elegantly borrow Alice in Wonderland (as did Pan’s Labyrinth) or interrogate myths about the undead (like Cronos), instead it directly repurposes Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla, trading the roles of the villain and the hero with added bells and whistles aimed at luring violence hungry toy consumers.

My disappointment didn’t come from the apparent change in audience, because who’s to say the people who saw his previous films aren’t interested in Pacific Rim (I was). My sense of loss comes from the film’s vacancy—for all the love Del Toro has spilled on Hellboy and Blade, the affection he’s showing for his Kaiju (the giant monsters after which Japan named a film subgenre) seems underobserved. He spends more time on the soldiers inside the mecha than the 60s original films (though mecha anime spends more) and instead of giving us a stronger sense of the character’s emotional involvement, he buries the casualties of virtual reality (a la The Matrix) in between melodramatic back stories about lost family members. If society indeed suffered at the hands of gigantic crab monsters, shouldn’t it show some baggage? All I saw was a bomb shelter, an alien organ trade and a reference to the toys we’ll see at Target if the film is big enough. It isn't that the film isn't packing information in, the information is just more facile than you'd expect, given the literal gravity of these monster/machine battles. And with each battle, we lose touch with the war--is this really about preserving the human race on earth? Maybe I sound greedy asking but, is that all?

Del Toro dedicates Pacific Rim to Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) and Ishirō Honda (Godzilla), and despite the very sincere homage, I feel it suffers the same syndrome as Tim Burton’s Ed Wood: maybe it's disrespectful to make a probing movie homage to goofy source material. Anyway, the glee of watching monsters fight (in rain and the dark mostly) doesn’t need a reason—it barely even requires sense.

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