There's a monstrous battle going on in "Pacific Rim," and it has nothing to do with the giant robots (called Jaegers) and monsters (known as Kaiju) who trade blows throughout the film.
The clash of the titans is between the fantastic vision of director Guillermo del Toro and the cookie-cutter demands of a big summer blockbuster. It's like having Mozart perform a rap song or Andy Warhol create a painting of dogs playing cards. It's not a matter of talent because there's plenty, but rather it's about having the appropriate skills to produce the final product.
From the landmark "Pan's Labyrinth" to his assault on the comic book genre with the "Hellboy" films, del Toro loves to twist reality until it morphs into a fantasy. Some of that is present in this super-sized story of robots taller than the Golden Gate Bridge defending the world from a series of massive creatures entering our world through a rift at the bottom of the ocean.
You can see del Toro's touches from the unearthly design of the creatures to the obsession with water to accent scenes. These elements just don't fit with the giant robot story as it looks less like the work of a visionary director and more like what the gang behind "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" would have done if they had millions of dollars to make each TV show.
The beautiful filmmaking style of del Toro keeps getting beat down by the summer movie elements that come across as way too familiar. It's not just that giant battles in city streets have been going on since Godzilla stumbled into film history, but even having the robots powered by two people who are linked through a weird mind meld feels a lot like the Syfy Channel competition series, "Robot Combat League."
A lack of stomping new ground means the movie must depend on being the biggest battlers on the cinema block. But the director fell in love with using rain as an accent to the big fight scenes both for effect and to save a few animation bucks but it does little except to muddle the images. The rain combined with the movie's 3-D effect work against creating a sense of massive-sized robots and creatures.
Travis Beacham's script hits all the summer film notes, from two fiery competitors (Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi) who hate each other with great passion, to the quirky character (Charlie Day) who saves the day.
The story goes for big emotional payoffs in the final act, but it's so sentimental, you expect the robots to cry. A dad of a father/son robot pilot team laments that he never revealed his true feelings to his kid. Considering the son has been able to wander through his dad's brain because of the mind meld to run the robots, even things that weren't said should no longer be a secret.
"Pacific Rim" isn't bad. It's just that del Toro's attempt to go from a visionary weaver of fantasy to a merchant of summer schlock feels as mechanical as the giant Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.
"Pacific Rim," rated PG-13 for violence, language. Stars Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Rinko Kikuchi. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes. Grade: B-
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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.