This may come out sounding like I don't like this film, but I did think it was enjoyable at times, and shows the strength of a good director behind one of these big budget, popcorn flick, summer blockbusters. In some ways I was reminded of the fun of summer blockbusters like Independence Day, and Ironman. Even if those aren't great movies, people know what they are heading into and enjoy them for what they are. I also want to note that I haven't seen a lot of Del Toro's work, but I did love Pan's Labyrinth. Having said all of this, I just wasn't that into this film.
Sidenote: Much of the film takes place in Hong Kong, or at least the last stand toward the end does. With these films that go to Hong Kong I always kinda wish we'll see an appearance from some recognizable Hong Kong actors, but sadly there are none. For a film about cooperation of all people from all around the world, and a large portion taking place in Hong Kong, it seems a massive oversight to not have a single person from Hong Kong ready to defend the place. Hong Kong serves only as a backdrop to big battle sequences.
For those wondering, yes, it is giant robots fighting giant dinosaurs, and yes that idea alone is enough for most of the target audience. It's essentially giant Ironman vs Godzilla's, if that helps you, except now that I think about it an army of Ironman suits may have been just as good, if not a more practical solution than what's used in this film.
To stop them humanity, from all corners of the earth, have banded together and thrown all their bread into one basket, the Jaeger program. The Jaegers (the aforementioned giant robots) require two pilots to link their minds in what they refer to as a "neural handshake" (I'm sure I'm not the only one to have thought of that as a decent band name, or at least a title of a rock album). This isn't like other war machines where they sit there driving, they stand and walk the machine and move their arms and the machine follows suit.
Right now you're undoubtedly pondering the practicality of giant robots the size of
|Are they larger than carriers or smaller?|
Secondly, they tend to always battle in the rain, and on the sea. But at the same time they never really sink. Have they found the shallowest sea available to fight in? How are they doing this? (From the Hong Kong backdrop used during the later fights, there should be land by the way) It becomes even more confusing when later in the film they do walk deep underwater. Did they have some sort of anti-sink feature before that?
The third problem is that our main team waits till pretty late in the film, after sustaining quite a bit of damage to realize that they have a giant sword, or blade attached to one arm. Why bother with the shot (from the trailer) where they use pick up a large ship and swing it like a baseball bat? I should stop before I get carried away, because clearly we're not supposed to have given it this much thought.
We are told that the Jaegers are beginning to be ineffective. They are being destroyed faster than they can reproduce them. The higher powers in the world want to abandon the project in favor of building large, protective walls around their city. Needless to say, it should be obvious why this won't work. But even if it had worked, it would only have temporarily masked the problem. There would still be giant angry dinosaurs lurking around making shipping and travel very dangerous. But before we have time to consider this problem the Kaiju of course break through the wall, because let's face it, they are giant monsters destroying every man made structure in our largest cities. Unless they created some type of material that couldn't be destroyed (which they didn't) building something else for them to destroy seems like a terrible waste of time and resources.
So we're back to the Jaegers. The main character is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who was once a Jaeger pilot working with his brother, because family members work best for neural handshakes. After losing his brother during a battle with a Kaiju, he is in need to a new partner. Enter Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), one of the top student/prospects of what's left of the Jaeger program, and someone who forms a connection with Raleigh. I won't get too into describing everything else that happens, but Mako and her adoptive father, the head of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are the most interesting characters in the film. I've yet to be impressed by Charlie Hunnam, and here he doesn't do anything to change that. He struts around with a ridiculously overdone swagger, while holding his hands on his belt like a cowboy, which looks more annoying than cool.
Then there is Charlie Day. I enjoy him in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as the humorously stupid Charlie Kelly, where he plays the stupidest among the stupid, yet unfortunately, that's why I had trouble accepting him as Dr. Newton Geiszler, humorously neurotic or not.
Acting aside, the film isn't without deeper ideas and greater issues, but these are buried and only scratch the surface. For instance, the Kaiju have evolved and adapted to better take on the Jaegers, they can spew acid, and use some sort of EMP to take out the Jaeger's controls and everything else controlled digitally. Fortunately, our hero's Raleigh and Mako's Jaeger is analog, not digital. So it's as if they want to warn of the danger of an all digital world, but nothing is really made of this point.
At some point it felt as though they just kept adding random ideas on top of random ideas. First, the Kaiju just roar, bite, and scratch, but toward the end they can spew acid although they only do it once. Then these monster find they can use some sort of EMP attack (which is also only used once). Why only once? We don't know, and it's never explained. It seems as though if the acid spewing monster used that as often as dragons breathed fire, the Jaegers (and everyone else) would be in serious trouble. Similarly (as previously mentioned) after many battle sequences, it isn't till the end that our heroes start using a sword. It's as if they kept trying to up the ante, but some of these elements they thought up for the monsters and robots were added on so late in the writing process that they feel very inconsistent.
Perhaps the bigger message Del Toro may be going for (if you care to find it) is of working together. All nations, putting differences aside to work together to accomplish common goals for the benefit of the world as a whole. Even more than that, opening our minds to other people, and knowing people that are different or from other places in the world and knowing them on a deeper level. It's understanding them, knowing where they come from. Notice it isn't another American Raleigh joins with, it's a woman from another country (Japan in this case). Sadly you can only hardly keep this in mind throughout the spectacle, not quite as much is made of it as possibly should have been.
Despite all of this, this film can be entertaining, but keep your expectations limited, and accept it for what it is, a popcorn flick about giant machines fighting giant alien monsters. It's not going to appeal to everyone, and some of these issues (among others) will be impossible to look past, while for others they'll hardly see them because of how much fun they are having. I recall siting in the theater and watching the trailer for this film and hearing the mixed reaction from people sitting around me. Some very enthusiastic about, others not so much. If you haven't seen it yet and you want to, you'll see it eventually one way or another, if you haven't and you are on the fence, this is NOT one I'll try to change your mind about.