Grade: B-

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman

A victim of poor advertising, it wasn't until critics started reporting on Pacific Rim that we even knew the film was a monster flick, not a Transformers rip-off like the trailers made it seem. The large robotic machines fighting seems like a sight we've taken in too many times during the summer blockbuster months. But, Guillermo del Toro's action-packed tent-pole film is smarter than a Michael Bay film, spends its money wisely on effects, but falters due to a lame script and unimpressive performances.

Set in the 2020s, Pacific Rim displays an interesting world where Godzilla-like creatures known as Kaiju have steadily attacked large coastal cities all around the globe. While heavy military attacks do the job, these attacks are costly and not effective over the longterm. Enter a worldwide agreement between governments to create Jaegers, large robotic machines that can, somehow, withstand great force and defeat the Kaiju. As the attacks appear more frequent, the patience of the world leaders wears thin and eventually the Jeager program is closed, giving all involved only months before they are out of jobs.

Brit actor Idris Elba stars as the commander of the program, Stacker Pentecost. He's determined to find an answer to where these beasts come from and find a way to defeat them before the Jaegers are retired. The unique thing about the machines are the fact that they are only operable by two pilots whose minds are joined by a neural bridge. The concept seems a little unbelievable, but this is a monster movie, so it's okay. Charlie Hunnam, who I only recognize from the under-appreciated Green Street Hooligans, stars as the hero pilot of the film, Raleigh Becket. Like Elba, Hunnam is a Brit and one of the few faults of the film are distracting lapses in the actors' accents. Hunnam and Elba are both great actors, but I have a feeling that the focus in Pacific Rim isn't supposed to be on performances, but on the spectacle of the entire film. This is clear in the ridiculous Charlie Day scientist. What is built as a serious film is sidelined by an over-reaching comedic moment. Maybe it'll work for the kids in the crowd, but for me it was just distracting. And, I'm a Day fan, which makes it even worse.

The screenplay, by del Toro and Travis Beacham (writer of the Clash of the Titans reboot), is the biggest weakness of what could have been a brilliant film. Certain parts of the film feel like a throwback monster flick, giving praise to the Godzilla's before it. But, the lack of focus in the screenplay turned the "clever" one-liners into cliche action film fluff. If this were twenty years ago, audiences may have been inept enough to think past it, but it was almost insulting that we were supposed to ignore the cheese factor and keep cheering for the good guy.

Like most summer tent-pole films, Pacific Rim had a huge budget, somewhere in the $180-200 million range. Like Transformers, the bulk of that amount went towards the special effects. Unlike Transformers, del Toro made sure the effects funds were spent wisely. I found myself drooling like a ten year old at a few monster/robot fights. However, despite the accuracy and realistic look of everything (although, I guess you could argue about the monsters), Pacific Rim falls victim to over-doing its content. When a film feels like it's wrapping up at the hour and half mark and your audience feels okay with this, don't make us sit through another thirty minutes of the same thing we've just watched.

Built with an interesting concept and a pretty thorough followthrough, Pacific Rim is a much better entry to the monster film canon than recent offerings, like the horrendous 1998 Godzilla. As far as films go, though, it is being praised by fanboys when it really just deserves a slight pat on the back for offering a smarter summer film than most studios offer. I'm torn between whether I'd recommend spending theater money on it. The action scenes and effects are big-screen worthy. Just be prepared for mind-numbing words and performances.

Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 132 minutes

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