Guillermo del Toro's monsters-vs.-giant-robots opus "Pacific Rim" hits theaters Friday, and the early buzz is that it's a visually sumptuous fantasy from the Mexican moviemaker.
Critics have largely praised the film as an indulgent but nonetheless tasty piece of popcorn entertainment — although a few have groused that it is a soulless enterprise unworthy of the director behind such visionary and dark spectacles as "Pan's Labyrinth."
Many top reviewers have yet to weigh in, so it;s possible that the critical consensus could shift in the direction of either turkey or triumph over the next few days. However, thus far "Pacific Rim" commands a solid 72 percent "fresh" rating on critics-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
The film stars Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba and Charlie Day and centers on a collection of menacing sea creatures called kaiju that terrorize the earth. To combat the toothsome threat, mankind creates massive machines dubbed jaegers to fight the monsters and reclaim the planet. As expected, phrases like "life-like" and "gritty" did not grace many reviews.
In TheWrap, Alonso Duralde carped that the film is overly reliant on computer-generated wonders and faulted del Toro for staging too many set pieces in the rain-streaked night.
"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," Duralde wrote.
He added: "Part of the film's problem is the whole 'of the Night' thing: Whenever the jaegers and the kaiju throw down in 'Pacific Rim,' it's at night in the pouring rain — unless they're both at the bottom of the ocean. What's the point, exactly, of cutting-edge CG monsters filmed in a way where we can barely see them? Would 'Jurassic Park' have worked if our glimpses of the dinosaurs had been fleeting at best?"
Justin Chang of Variety also was enervated rather than energized by the epic battles, branding the film the "clunkiest" of del Toro's career. He questioned if the $200 million production will arrive in theaters with a strong-enough brand to compete with the superhero films and sequels currently jockeying for space at the local multiplex.
"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," Chang wrote. "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."
Those attributes that were considered deficits by Chang and Duralde were roundly praised by Film.com's Jordan Hoffman, who lauded "Pacific Rim" for tickling all his adolescent pleasure zones.
"They don’t let 14-year-old boys direct multi-million-dollar feature films, but somehow, perhaps through years of Ramtha-like training, Guillermo del Toro has channeled the interests, attitudes and fears from that mindset with a clarity that far surpasses contemporaries like Michael Bay … This is playtime and imagination drawn from a number of different sources and it is, when compared to its peer group, of extremely high caliber," Hoffman wrote.
Empire's Ian Nathan acknowledged that moviegoers hoping for character development should look elsewhere but praised the film for ably handling the on-screen battles and its director for providing a few flourishes.
"Del Toro is giving scope to a boyhood lust for mayhem, the multi-million-dollar equivalent of kicking over sandcastles and torturing insects," Nathan wrote. "There is something infectiously juvenile in that. Catch his Drift and you’ll have a brawl."
That's precisely the experience that Drew McWeeny chronicled in his rapturous review of the film on HitFix. McWeeny's prose practically pranced, be-bopped and ricocheted off the page as he described his bliss over del Toro's tribute to monster movies.
"You can practically hear Guillermo Del Toro sitting just out of camera range and cackling at this big, beautiful, weird-as-hell thrill ride," McWeeny wrote. "Whatever happens with the film when it opens, this is what Del Toro's heart looks like if you were to cut it open and lay it out for inspection."
IndieWire's Eric Kohn gave a tortured appraisal. It's better than the standard blockbuster fare, he wrote, but it still suffers from a certain soullessness.
"Compared to some of the more leaden spectacles this summer, 'White House Down' and the final hour of 'Man of Steel' chief among them, 'Pacific Rim' has the inventive, colorful textures of a fully realized world," Kohn wrote. "But that's only enough to make it a slightly different kind of dumb from the usual messy blockbuster routine."