Pacific Rim review

Co-writer and director Del Toro has, in the past, suggested that of the films he directs he almost alternates between making big budget studio productions (Blade II, Hellboy I&II) and smaller budget, more personal movies (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth). Pacific Rim certainly fits more into the former category, though as has been the case with his previous studio films, his hand is very much still at work. In some ways the opportunity to make Pacific Rim must have felt like a dream come true to the monster-obsessed Mexican. The film is largely a love letter to creature features of times gone by, from the Japanese Godzilla movies to the films of Ray Harryhausen, though at times feels a little like Warner Bros gave Del Toro $180 million to build his own toy box, then sat there telling him how to play with it.

Del Toro said he wanted Pacific Rim to have an “incredibly airy and light feel” unlike “super brooding, super-dark, cynical summer movies” and a byproduct of achieving this is plot is thin on the ground, more Top Gun or Independence Day than Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy or Inception. Dispensing with convoluted backstory, Del Toro and co-writer Beacham (Clash of the Titans) use little more than a title card to explain “Kaiju” (a word used in conjunction with Japanese movies since the '50s and '60s, like Mothra or King Kong vs Godzilla) are giant monsters rising from a portal beneath the Pacific Ocean. Specifically to combat the Kaiju onslaught, human armies build and pilot “Jaegers”, giant robots in the mecha tradition; however, the Kaiju are getting stronger and the Jaegers' effectiveness waning.

At a time when summer movies seem intent on one-upping each other in terms of scale, from Michael Bay’s Transformers movies to board game inspired dreck like Battleship to this years Superman movie, Man of Steel, it's become alarmingly common, almost expected, that towns and cities, even civilisations, are squashed in a matter of minutes, and in this sense, Pacific Rim breaks new ground. Made possible by CGI innovations – a technique which, in an unskilled or ill-disciplined hand, can result in a loss of tangible physicality or simply serve to bamboozle audiences – the robot vs giant beastie fight scenes aesthetically dazzle, and there are plenty of them. The mecha-monster combination makes for the ultimate mash-up movie. With Del Toro’s flair for strange creature design, purely as an addition to the creature feature tradition, Del Toro’s movie largely succeeds, but Pacific Rim isn’t just about giant brawling behemoths.

Headed by Brits Elba and Hunnam (doing a more convincing US accent than Green Street cockney) with some light relief provided by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Day and a gloriously OTT extended cameo from Del Toro stalwart Perlman and rounded off with a box-ticking international supporting cast, the human side of Pacific Rim reverts to broad action movie type and then some. Coming complete with a jock-with-a-heart, a fearless leader, fretting scientists, hotheaded army types and so on, the hokey dialogue, lack of attention to plot and unfortunate shortage of any real charisma means, similarly to 2009’s Avatar, that while aesthetically pleasing, even though the stakes couldn’t be any higher, there’s no reason to care about any of it.

Whether the studios influence, co-writer Beacham’s contribution or an intentional move on Del Toro’s part, the generic western action flick feel is largely humourless, unwinking and inescapable. Released at a similar time of year as Independence Day in 1996, Pacific Rim is a visually superior movie, but considering it’s a film in which Earth is invaded by giant monsters, could perhaps have learned a thing or two from Roland Emmerich’s similarly themed blockbuster. Elba’s Bill Pullman-esque speech ("We are CANCELLING THE APOCALYPSE"), for example, falls very flat and the charisma of someone like a young Will Smith would have helped immensely. Del Toro shows he can do spectacle as well, if not better than any other, though unlikely as it may be, would have perhaps been a more interesting affair had he not have had to work within studio and subsequently audience, expectations.

Pacific Rim at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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