Rooting for the Robots: Pacific Rim Is Another in a Long, Predictable Line of End-of-the-World Thrillers

Guillermo del Toro's latest is ready for the junk pile

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi in Pacific Rim

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi in Pacific Rim.

Everyone knows summer is a dumping ground for rubbish. This year, drifting around like bronchitis-laden pollen, between the awful (The Lone Ranger) and the truly, unspeakably awful (Grown Ups 2, The Heat), comes Pacific Rim, another in a long, predictable line of end-of-the-world fantasy, horror and supernatural thrillers that always fail to thrill. This time, when aliens invade the Earth to stamp out mankind, it’s not from the stars, but from a fissure under the Pacific Ocean. The result is being called, by people with intelligence and taste, Godzilla Meets Predator.

I suppose some effort should be made to extend at least a one-star rating for computer graphics, since that is all this incredible waste of time and money is about, but don’t look for anything that remotely resembles smart dialogue or inventive technology. Even the special effects are cheesy and stupid. I think the reason people pay actual money to see movies about death, destruction and hopelessness in an alternate universe is that it gives them comfort to know there’s a world out there more brutal, chaotic, noisy and pointless than the one they’re living in now. Maybe that explains why so many grown men no longer play poker. Now, in a grave, last-ditch effort to join the youth brigade, they sit around playing violent video games and discussing the merits of endless installments of Iron Man, The Avengers and The Wolverine. Bring back Ray Bradbury.

In Pacific Rim, millions of lives and cities that weren’t already destroyed by the zombies in World War Z have been wiped out by some kind of intergalactic holocaust, leaving what’s left of the human race hiding in peril from monsters called “Kaijus.” Kaijus look like a cross between anthropomorphic sea urchins and T. rexes. The only way to fight them is to invent monsters of our own called “Jaegers”—steel robots the size of the Chrysler Building with astronauts inside acting as pilots. Alas, the Jaegers are getting wiped out faster than man can manufacture new ones, and the Kaijus have adjusted to their Earth warriors faster than Disney can draw singing chickens. The last surviving pilot to operate inside a Jaeger is a man named Becket, played by impossibly camera-ready Charlie Hunnam, best known as the lovesick gay 15-year-old jailbait in the British TV series Queer as Folk. Joining forces with an untrained Japanese rookie (Rinko Kikuchi), Becket launches a 2,400-pound mega-nuclear
bomb against the remainder of the underwater Kaijus from inside an outdated, condemned Jaeger that is ready for the junk pile. Like the movie itself.

An hour and 20 minutes into this two-hour-and-11-minute endurance test, a hungry Kaiju attacks the city of Hong Kong and eats the neon signs of every Cantonese restaurant in Victoria Harbor. It’s sort of worth waiting around for. At one hour and 40 minutes, they discover that the captured Kaiju is pregnant (would I make this up?) and all hell breaks loose. There’s another half hour still to go. Charlie Hunnam can act, but he isn’t required to do any of it here. While the rest of the hapless actors mouth idiotic dialogue by screenwriter Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans), the noise of exploding robots and snapping fangs rises to an unbearable cacophony, and you could make another film for half the budget in the time it takes to roll the end credits for CGI imaging. There’s stuff to look at, but doesn’t anybody care that it doesn’t make a word of sense?

Pacific Rim was directed, more or less, by Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro. His debut film was a neat little horror called Kronos, but I have personally disliked everything he’s done since. I was not a fan of the labored, overrated Pan’s Labyrinth, and I hated the equally contrived and pretentious ghost story The Orphanage. The failure to impress is not reversed, I’m sorry to say, with the agonizingly juvenile Pacific Rim. Maybe Mr. del Toro didn’t know what a lunkheaded sci-fi comic book looks like on paper. It’s important in a mindless frolic like this to find someone to root for, but although the humans knock themselves out in Pacific Rim, they’re pure cardboard. Sometimes you’d much rather get to know the robots.

rreed@observer.com

PACIFIC RIM

Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi

Running time: 131 min.

Rating: 1/4 stars