I won’t be going deep and long with this roundup, but I do want to recommend Tom Russo‘s profile for the Boston Globe: “In his characteristically engaging way, director Guillermo del Toro is adamant that we understand something about his new movie, the $180 million monsters-versus-robots spectacle Pacific Rim: He’s not just here collecting a paycheck. This is a project as personal as any the genre-minded filmmaker has made to date, be they comic book adaptations such as his Hellboy movies, or dreamlike arthouse impression-makers such as Pan’s Labyrinth.” Del Toro: “The love I have for the pageantry of a monster movie is as genuine as the love I have for smaller fables or more unsettling, idea-driven material…. I was raised at different ages by different cinematic fathers. Yes, I was raised by Bergman. But I was also raised by Ray Harryhausen, and Robert Wise, and [Hammer Films horror director] Terence Fisher, and [Frankenstein director] James Whale. I honor the images they created at least as much as the ones created by Fellini, David Lynch, you name it.”
So, with that, a quick look at the first reviews. First off, Film.com‘s Jordan Hoffman finds Pacific Rim to be “adolescent glee writ large” and “one of the better dumbass sci-fi action movies to come down the pike in quite some time.” At Little White Lies, David Jenkins sees a “rousing response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster” and “easily del Toro’s most mainstream offering to date, but it may also be his most fully satisfying.” And for the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, it’s “both a numbing and pretty entertaining example of its movie species.”
The set-up, courtesy of the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver: “Godzilla-type creatures emerge from the sea at increasingly frequent intervals to ravage major cities; many millions die before the battered survivors devise a weapons program that revolves around the construction of equally enormous robots, piloted by a pair of humans using a sketchily envisioned type of mind-meld. Del Toro lovingly details the operation of these intricately-conceived mechanisms, and it’s a testament to his skill that—notwithstanding their entirely digital existence—we can feel every wallop, and flinch at every clank. The thunderous battle between one such robot (del Toro terms them ‘Jaegers,’ from the German for ‘hunter’) and the alien lizards (‘Kaiju’) is properly staggering in its scale and solidity. It’s an almost faultless realization of the brush-steel sheen of the special-effects studio.”
“With this gargantuan passion project, del Toro means to fashion a giddy throwback to the monster movies of yore and restore a sense of pure escapism to the summer movie landscape, an eminently worthy goal for a genre master of such inexhaustible imagination and knowledge of the B-movie canon,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “Yet while the director’s love for his material is at once sincere and self-evident, it’s the sort of devotion that winds up holding all but the most like-minded viewers at an uninvolving remove; although assembled with consummate care and obsessive attention to visual detail, Pacific Rim manages only fitful engagement and little in the way of real wonderment, suspense or terror. It may not reside in the same crass, soulless neighborhood as Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, but its sensory-overload aesthetics are at times no more than a junkyard or two away.”
Time Out‘s Tom Huddleston finds that “the warmth and idiosyncracy that characterizes Del Toro’s finest work, from Pan’s Labyrinth to Hellboy 2, is absent. The Avengers proved that a slightly left-of-center director like Joss Whedon could find a home in the heart of Hollywood without losing the personal touch. With Pacific Rim, Del Toro doesn’t even seem to be trying.”
The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin disagrees: “At first, watching Pacific Rim feels like rediscovering a favorite 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…. The weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft, the monster movies of Toho studios, the mecha-anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even Ted Hughes’s The Iron Giant are all tangled in its DNA.”
“The transmedia-savvy del Toro has laid the groundwork for [an] entire universe of near future events,” notes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “starting with a prequel comic book written by Pacific Rim screenwriter Travis Beacham (who shares credit with del Toro on the movie’s script) and further enhanced by mobile games…. [B]ut unlike his gloriously eccentric Hellboy movies—the director’s only other comparable works—the riotous premise feels oddly souless.”
At Screen, Tim Grierson agrees: “Especially near the end, when humanity’s very last Jaeger pilots are mounting their do-or-die assault on this underwater interplanetary breach, Pacific Rim never stirs the soul, but it does create a sense of awe thanks to the sheer audacity of del Toro’s vision.”
Updates: “This may be the closest del Toro will ever come to realizing At the Mountains of Madness on screen,” writes Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez, “and there’s a strong sense throughout that the filmmaker is most interested in the aspects of the story concerning science’s struggle to defeat the monstrous kaijus, quasi Cthulhus quickly decimating our world, one big city at a time… In the end, victory against this alien-orchestrated assault is sealed by humankind’s military might, though it’s impossible without the gumption of one Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day)… It’s impossible to not to see this geek… as a stand-in for del Toro, a connoisseur of all things creepy-crawly who will die, or at least travel to the ends of the Earth, to prove that his hermetic interests are crucial to our cultural survival.”
And HitFix‘s Drew McWeeney gives the film an A.
“Pacific Rim is summer entertainment with a pulse,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek.
Unlike Transformers, “the epic action on display here is gorgeous and riveting and cheer worthy,” argues Erik Davis at Movies.com. “You can actually see what’s happening, and feel its biggest moments pulsating through your wild, childlike imagination. You’ll feed off its adrenaline, and damn will it feel good.”
But for Alonso Duralde at TheWrap, “One guy in one rubber Godzilla suit stepping on a balsa-wood scale model of Tokyo provides lots more thrills than del Toro’s Monster Armies of the Night.”
Updates, 7/9: “It’s not subtle, and despite setting some of the action at the bottom of an ocean, it’s not even particularly deep,” writes Jason Gorber at Twitch. “Pacific Rim is, however, deeply cathartic, free from winking cheekiness or overt irony. This isn’t a metaphor for global warming or the cold war, it’s not a call for racial harmony or some subtle nod to world events. These are humans in giant robot devices forced to combat a series of escalating beasties intent on our complete destruction. And because of this simplicity of purpose and elegance of execution, it’s all kind of marvelous.”
“Every monster-movie archetype is here, from nerdy scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) to hard-stare leaders (Idris Elba) with a penchant for 11th-hour inspirational speeches,” writes Time Out New York‘s Keith Uhlich. “Even the victims on the ground make a palpably personal impression and, in the case of Becket’s [Charlie Hunnam] callow copilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), are as mythically moving as anything in the mecha anime, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, that the director emulates with expert aplomb.”
Update, 7/30: “For all its high-tech contraptions and CGI geekery, Pacific Rim remains firmly rooted in a primitive, resemblance-based, analog world, honoring the iterative sameness of the embodied form, rather than the numerical abstraction of the digital universe,” writes Wai Chee Dimock for the Los Angeles Review of Books.