Heading into the summer, there was perhaps no Hollywood blockbuster that appeared to have as low a floor and as high a ceiling as Pacific Rim. On the one hand, the cast is notably second-tier and the plot--giant, human-operated robots fighting giant, alien sea monsters off the coast of Hong Kong--seems like a cross between Battleship and the Transformers movies. On the other hand, the movie is directed by Guillermo del Toro, whose prior achievements--both pop-cultural (Hellboy) and high-cultural (Pan's Labyrinth)--are beyond reproach. Adding weight on the negative side of the scale were a series of underwhelming trailers. But on the positive side, again: The movie is directed by Guillermo del Toro.
So now that Pacific Rim has landed ashore, which is it? A feebly written special-effects-fest explicitly engineered for the international market? Or a work of next-generation visual imagination? The answer, I fear, is both--though the balance tilts somewhat toward the former.
The story begins in the near-future, when an interstellar portal opens up deep in the Pacific Ocean and belches forth a lumbering monstrosity that lays waste to San Francisco. Though this "Kaiju"--the term is a genial nod to the Japanese giant-monster movies of the 1950s and '60s--is ultimately defeated by the military, another materializes six months later, and then another, and another. Humankind quickly comes to the conclusion that (tagline alert) to fight monsters, we must create monsters of our own--specifically, towering mechanical men called "Jaegers." (The word is German for "hunter.")