Amid a summer in which Earth has been decimated by an alien intelligence, abandoned by humanity, overrun by zombies and beset by demons, "Pacific Rim" introduces yet another threat: kaiju -- giant, city-smashing monsters from the deep. Mankind's only hope lies in massive humanoid robots operated by mind-linked pilots.
In contrast with Earth itself, "Pacific Rim" is faring rather well — at least with film critics, who largely agree that the movie is big and booming but also smart and entertaining, thanks to the imaginative direction of Guillermo del Toro.
Times film critic Kenneth Turan calls Del Toro "a fantasy visionary" whose "particular gifts and passions are on display in the long-awaited 'Pacific Rim' and the results are spectacular." Although the film "very much lives in comic book/pulp science-fiction territory," Turan continues, "a number of factors combine to make it a deeper movie experience."
The film's futuristic setting and monsters are skillfully rendered, the 3-D conversion is subtle, and perhaps most important, "the flesh-and-blood people who inhabit this world have not been neglected."
Ty Burr of the Boston Globe finds the film "pretty impressive" and says, "'Pacific Rim' is, hands down, the blockbuster event of the summer — a titanic sci-fi action fantasy that has been invested, against all expectations, with a heart, a brain, and something approximating a soul." Highlights include a script by Del Toro and Travis Beacham that "keeps ducking down bizarre, delightful alleyways" and a "majestic performance" by Idris Elba, who plays the leader of the mech pilots.
The New York Times' A.O. Scott says that although "'Pacific Rim' looks a lot like other movies of its type" (i.e., noisy and outsized, with familiar tropes), it "is also a reminder — either just in time or much too late — that this kind of movie can and should be fun." And if it is perhaps not as memorable as some of Del Toro's previous efforts ("Hellboy," "Pan's Labyrinth"), Scott says, "with its carefree blend of silliness and solemnity, ['Pacific Rim'] is clearly the product of an ingenious and playful pop sensibility."
Stephanie Zacharek of the Village Voice similarly describes "Pacific Rim" as "summer entertainment with a pulse" and "big and dumb in a smart way." Although "Everything you think is going to happen in 'Pacific Rim' eventually happens," Zacharek says, "Del Toro shapes the movie so it's not just one booming attack after another," and his deft touch elevates the film "above your typical noisy summer bonecrusher extravaganza."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips says, "It's noisy, overscaled fun, this picture, and now and then a little poetry sneaks in to tantalize." Though the pilots played by Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and others aren't especially compelling, there are welcome turns by Clifton Collins Jr., Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as nerdy scientists; Ron Perlman as a black-market dealer of kaiju parts; and the aforementioned Elba. All in all, "the weirdness around the edges saves it from impersonality."
Among the dissenting voices is USA Today's Claudia Puig, who says "Pacific Rim" starts strong but becomes "surprisingly repetitive and tedious." Del Toro, she says, "checks all nuance and character development at the door," and "while fanboys may be delighted, it will not hold the average spectator's attention."
Whether that's the case may be answered by one last battle: the one at the box office.