Like a lot of people who love intelligent spectacle on a grand scale -- you know, movies -- I've got more than a little emotional capital invested in Pacific Rim
being great. So it broke my heart when I tuned in this morning and saw the first wave of reviews, which, at least in my Twitter feed, seemed to agree that Guillermo del Toro's robots-vs-monsters tentpole was all explosions and no heart. Further research has revealed a slightly more complicated picture, one that at least leaves some hope going into the film’s opening weekend.
Whether pro or con, Pacific Rim
's critics seem to agree on a frame of reference: A young boy playing in the basement or the bathtub, devising ever more elaborate and catastrophic battles between action figures, with whom the movie's characters are sometimes unfavorably compared. For all its destruction, the movie’s point of view is essentially childlike, pre-ironic, or as Screen Daily's Tim Grierson puts it,
Director Guillermo del Toro has crafted a dopey, earnest and occasionally visionary sci-fi action film that keeps being dragged down by its drab characters and indifferent performances. Perhaps that's fitting for a movie in which humans take a backseat to effects in terms of generating visceral emotional responses....
As he's demonstrated in his comic-book films, del Toro wields a childlike innocence in Pacific Rim that makes the life-and-death stakes seem rather weightless. Resembling a kid happily smashing his toys together in the backyard while playing pretend, del Toro's film has an uncomplicated air about it....
And yet, Pacific Rim can be powerfully engaging once del Toro focuses on one of several full-scale battle scenes, any pretense of character depth or dramatic nuance stripped away so that really big robots and really scary monsters can duke it out. Unlike Michael Bay's Transformers movies, Pacific Rim manages to make the super-sized action sequences feel appreciably colossal and yet still understandable.
For HitFix's Drew McWeeny, del Toro brings back the sense of awe he felt when he first saw Star Wars
, a sensation he wonders
if today's action-saturated audiences are still able to connect with.
Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim is a movie that is loaded with images and ideas that are fantastic, in every sense of the word, and yet I worry that we've reached a point where audiences shrug at the promise of the new....
There is an earnest, straightforward voice to the storytelling, and it reminded me of the films that Hollywood churned out in the early '40s to convince America that the war effort was essential and heroic and we were on the side of right. If you look at Pacific Rim as propaganda made towards the end of the infamous Kaiju/Human war, it has this great adventure movie tone that I find really infectious.
More in that vein:
Guillermo del Toro has achieved a feat of world building unseen on movie screens since Star Wars. This is a rich, full, detailed universe that lives at the very corner of the frame.
At first, watching Pacific Rim feels like rediscovering a favourite childhood cartoon -- but del Toro has flooded the project with such affection and artistry that, rather than smiling nostalgically, you find yourself enchanted all over again.
Ultimately, all Pacific Rim really needed to be was a clear-eyed, proficient example of high-concept thrill-ride storytelling, whether or not its "original" premise was particularly original. But del Toro accomplishes that task and then some, making one of the most satisfying movies of the summer -- and one of the best of his career -- by creating not just a new world, but one whose mythology actually deserves a universe.