The story's appeal is lost in all the fights between the monsters and robots.
For those who like their alien-invasion movies to bludgeon the senses, Pacific Rim fits the bill.
This is Godzilla meets Transformers, with elements of the lesser Star Wars movies, all awash in thunderously loud, non-stop demolition.
While there is some eye-popping production design that occasionally is reminiscent of Blade Runner, this sci-fi adventure (* ½ out of four; rated PG-13; opens Thursday in select theaters and Friday nationwide) descends into mind-numbing mash-ups, with the simplest of stories buried under overbearing special effects.
Legions of gargantuan alien creatures, called Kaiju, emerge from the Pacific Ocean and wreak havoc on coastal areas from Alaska to Australia. Countries bordering the Pacific band together and devise a method of fighting by arming massive robots, called Jaegers, whose movements are controlled by pairs of closely synced pilots.
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For the first half-hour or so, the film is exuberant, then spectacle settles into tedium. Following an exceedingly predictable playbook, Pacific gets points for a diverse cast, though no one is allowed to exercise much in the way of acting skills or human appeal. It's essentially all combat all the time, and it's hardly a mystery which side will win.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the mastermind behind the hauntingly wonderful Pan's Labyrinth and the rousing Hellboy series, Pacific is surprisingly repetitive and tedious. Clearly influenced by classic Japanese monster movies, del Toro checks all nuance and character development at the door. His focus is solely on creature mayhem. The alien invaders can appear sharklike or, at other times, like dinosaur variations, sometimes sporting octopus tentacles or giant wings.
While fanboys may be delighted, it will not hold the average spectator's attention. Sequences sometimes feel akin to watching people play an intricate video game.
There's a bland romance between Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), a pilot down on his luck, and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), a mysterious aspiring flier. They drive an early-model Jaeger in Earth's last hope for survival. In charge of the operation is blustery Jaeger Comm. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).
The mind-meld between the two pilots operating the robots is a process known as "drift." But if a pilot gets too caught up in memories, it can throw off strategic maneuvers, as it does with both Mako and Raleigh, who have suffered familial losses at the mammoth paws, claws and jaws of the Kaiju. A recurring flashback to Mako's childhood after a particularly shattering attack is the movie's only compelling aspect, recalling some of the emotional horrors of Pan's Labyrinth.
Ordinarily a nuanced actor, Elba spends most of his time bellowing. Hunnam and Kikuchi have no chemistry. Humor is in short supply, arriving only sporadically via Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), a wacky scientist initially dismissed as a "Kaiju groupie" by the cringingly unfunny mathematician Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Ron Perlman shows up and does little as Hannibal Chau, a guy who traffics in black-market Kaiju parts.
For those not fascinated by two hours of unabated robot vs. alien smackdowns, the movie holds little appeal.