Guillermo del Toro has had a rough few years. After scoring a major critical and commercial success in 2006 with Pan’s Labyrinth, which took home a few Oscars, and scoring again with Hellboy II in 2008, he seemed destined to become a Hollywood titan. Fellow monster-loving auteur Peter Jackson tapped him to direct The Hobbit. But in 2010, Del Toro left the Hobbit, facing delays and disagreements with Jackson. In 2011, he enthused about his dream project, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s monster tale At the Mountains of Madness in an admiring 10,000-word profile in The New Yorker. With James Cameron on board to produce, it seemed like it might finally happen, but his dreams for that, too, were dashed, after Universal balked at its planned R rating.
Now comes Del Toro’s first movie in years, his “beautiful poem to giant monsters,” Pacific Rim. After teasing its monsters vs. robots action in a couple coy viral teasers, this trailer finally does what Del Toro is famous for: showing the monsters. So does this creature feature look like a monster hit?
The trailer looks encouraging—with one giant reservation. After setting the scene in Asia (a possible homage to the Japanese kaiju movies the film is based on), it wastes little time in getting to what Del Toro promisingly described as “25-story-high robots beating the crap out of 25-story-high monsters.” Some slightly lumbering narration explains that the massive kaiju are aliens from a portal planted beneath the Earth, and so us Earthlings created massive battle bots called Jaegers to rise up against them.
Piloting those iron giants via remote control (a touch straight out of Real Steel) are thus far pretty interchangeable pilots played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunman, Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi, and rising star Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther). We also hear the familiar voice work of Ellen McLain, whom Portal fans will recognize as the voice of that game’s GLaDOS—though she sounds so much like that character that it’s at least a little distracting. And while Pacific Rim will reportedly feature Del Toro favorite Ron Perlman (Cronos, Blade II, the Hellboy movies), I didn’t spot him among the somewhat scant human faces here.
While the creatures do not disappoint, what the trailer doesn’t show is much in the way of a recognizable story arc or compelling characters. Those components, which Del Toro presumably knows are key to delivering any thrills, seem to be squished by the heels of the behemoths around them. As long as Del Toro can deliver something human among all these beasts—as he has many times before—then he’ll be able to count me once again as a huge fan. We won’t find out until June.