Being such a fan of directing, I often wonder if I'm unfairly judging movies because I'm comparing them to a director's own filmography. I've often thought that an "okay" Coen brothers movie is probably a really "good" movie for someone I feel is a lesser filmmaker.
Guillemo Del Toro is easily one of my favorite directors; he's at least in my Top 30 (thats how nerdy I am, I have my favorite directors in a grouping of thirty). He has a wild imagination that pop-culture mavens of today would enjoy and yet is still an avid appreciator of classic works (his favorites including Frankenstein, Shadow of a Doubt, Greed, Modern Times, Nosferatu, 8 1/2, The Spirit of the Beehive). He is someone who can talk about comic books just as much as he can about H.P. Lovecraft. He is also extremely versatile, despite criticism to the contrary. Yes he might be perceived as a "genre" filmmaker who works in horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, but there is a world of difference between his independent debut Cronos and the blockbuster Hellboy or his Spanish Civil War films such as the ghost story The Devil's Backbone or the Alice-in-Wonderland-style Pan's Labyrinth and this very film, Pacific Rim. He seems to pay just as much attention and care to each aspect of his work like I feel any masterclass filmmaker should.
The reason I'm going on about Del Toro is to (1) mention how high I regard his work and (2) to get to the point that the biggest issue I had with Pacific Rim is that my own personal expectations were set against such films of his as Hellboy II, Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth. This obviously isn't a problem with the film itself, but really just stating how I entered the theater with a specific mindset. That might explain how I interpreted the film.
To me, Pacific Rim seems to be about unity. It is far from a war picture. Del Toro spoke about decisions he made to avoid telling a war story and the most obvious example would be how Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) dresses. He wears something more of a suit-jacket and tie to work than camo pants. The movie features the world coming together to fight an outside force using these giant robots called Jaegers. To operate them, two pilots must have their minds melded together in an act called "the drift". The emotional through-line of the movie comes in here. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) lost his cousin when he was piloting a Jaeger years earlier and was still emotionally in tune with his cousin's mind when the loss occured. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) was a little girl when the monster invaders known as Kaiju killed her family during a devastating attack on Japan. These two individuals must overcome their own personal loss by working together.
This might seem like a simple conceipt and frankly the film doesn't go anywhere too deep with this idea, but perhaps that is the point- a point that this film showcases quite well. Not to sound dismissive, but perhaps I shouldn't have expected too much from the 'Monsters vs. Robots' movie and just sat back and enjoyed what was in front of me, which there is quite a lot to enjoy. Like films from last year such as Prometheus and Looper (and frankly this is present in any of the great "genre" films), Del Toro uses the structure of a sci-fi action-blockbuster to deliver a message he presumably cares about to a mass audience (which it's a shame that this movie didn't click with U.S. boxoffice, but it's doing impressively well overseas). I still wish the film took a leap deeper into its own machinations, found a way to dispense with some unecessarily expository dialogue, and spent more time oogling at the creations that Del Toro came up with instead of cutting in close during the fighting. If there's one thing Del Toro is good at, it's showing us monsters- both man and otherwise.