When I first saw the trailer for Pacific Rim, I thought it looked like a horrid cross between Godzilla and Transformers. It had that "big CGI objects smash against each other while a city is obliterated" look that I've become so bored of. But I decided to see the movie out of my fondness for Guillermo del Toro. I adored Pan's Labyrinth and wondered if he could bring the emotion and imagination of that film to this spectacle. While I wanted more from the characters, Pacific Rim’s cool monsters, machines, cybernetics, and teamwork made it an entertaining experience.
Let me get this out of the way—the story is ridiculous. Giant monsters invade Earth through an inter-dimensional crack in the ocean floor and humanity unites behind a global force of massive mech battlebots. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to embrace the story, there's a good chance you'll enjoy this film. Like Oblivion, every frame in Pacific Rim is beautifully shot (particularly on the expansive IMAX format). Unlike Transformers, the action is easy to follow and the special effects blend in with live action elements. Del Toro also creates some interesting environments, like a Hong Kong community built out of the carcass of a slain monster.
There are also some fun psychological threads. Pacific Rim highlights what first contact with aliens might be like—humanity uniting behind a superordinate goal of eliminating a common threat. I also like the cybernetic interface between humans and mechs. While we can't yet create a hive mind between two humans like Pacific Rim's "drift", we keep getting better at controlling machines with our thoughts. Breakthroughs have made brain-controlled mechanical arms nearly as good as organic limbs and nonintrusive mind control interfaces are already exist. By the time we reach the 2020s (the film's setting), it's not hard to imagine cybernetic interfaces being as common as touch interfaces are now.
Speaking of societal trends, why have so many scifi movies this summer featured traumatized characters? This movie has not one, but two characters re-experiencing traumatic events from their pasts. I like psychological complexity and appreciate any film that destigmatizes mental illness, but Pacific Rim didn’t do justice to PTSD—it just evoked trauma. More humor could have helped balance the seriousness of the main characters (yes, the film’s scientists are funny, but everyone else is SO stoic). And while we're on the subject of characters, Pacific Rim did a much better job fleshing out a female lead than other scifi films this summer, but the film still felt like a boy's club. One more random criticism - dinosaurs never had secondary "butt brains" (I know I'm nitpicking, but I hate it when Hollywood perpetuates myths about psychology).
The ultimate message of Pacific Rim is we have a lot to gain when we work together (like defeating giant inter-dimensional monsters). Given all the crap going on in the world, that’s a nice message to see on the big screen. It's not the most complex movie of the summer, but it does offer a lot more fun than we've come to expect from "big CGI smashing" films. As long as you can stomach the premise, you'll have a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim.