If you saw the adverts for Pacific Rim and then shuddered as you read the tagline “GO BIG OR GO EXTINCT” then breathe a sigh of relief now, because I can assure you that this epic kaiju movie (a kaiju movie is one that involves a massive, strange creature or two) from director Guillermo Del Toro is everything that you want it to be, and maybe even a little bit more. I was always hopeful, but even I’ll admit that I kept thinking of a certain movie promoted by reminding us all that “size DOES matter.”
Pacific Rim is not a perfect film, let me note that just now before I forget to maintain some perspective as I praise everything I loved about it. It suffers from a weak cast, with a couple of notable exceptions, and some exceptionally cheesy dialogue. But those failings are easy to forget when the spectacle takes centre stage. And, boy, is there some spectacle.
A bunch of creatures start appearing from a rift in the depths of the ocean and destroying our planet. These creatures are called kaiju and they may not attack en masse, but they do enough damage whenever they appear. The fact that all signs point towards more frequent attacks, and an eventual “double event”, isn’t comforting. It’s also worth noting that the creatures seem to be getting stronger, starting at a level 1 rating and building up to a level 4 or 5. In order to effectively fight them off, the human race has pooled many resources to create giant, robotic fighting suits. These HUGE weapons are controlled by two people, working in synch (after making a strong mental connection and sharing the neural strain). The situation just keeps getting worse and worse, the weapons are becoming less and less effective and are therefore decommissioned and it all ends up boiling down to a handful of hardy survivors steeling themselves to make one last stand.
If you cross Independence Day (the good AND bad aspects of it) with Robot Jox then mix in some big monsters you get Pacific Rim. It’s that simple. You can’t really walk into this movie without realising what you’re about to see.
Director Guillermo Del Toro (who also wrote the script with Travis Beacham, but we won’t dwell on that) brings his usual eye for detail and interesting design to the proceedings. And to be fair, the script may be full of bad dialogue, but it does a good enough job of sketching out the situation and keeping the audience aware of the few plot developments. But it’s in the creature design, the realised world onscreen and the sheer scale of everything that Pacific Rim proves to be a real winner. This is shabby grandiosity from beginning to end, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible for that very reason. Despite what we have seen in modern cinema in recent years, I watched many scenes in Pacific Rim with my mouth agape, trying to accept that what I was seeing in front of my eyes was all taking place in a live-action film. It’s vast, it’s fun, it’s a reminder of what cinema can do when everyone tries their hardest to make something that they’re truly passionate about. Critics will easily dismiss this as nothing more than yet another big-budget, FX extravaganza with no heart. I disagree.
And to those who have spent so much time criticising the acting on display, I . . . . . . I . . . . . . . . well, I have to agree there, actually. It’s not a complete wipeout, but it’s close. Thankfully, Idris Elba is his usual greatness in the role of the man in charge of the defensive missions and Ron Perlman steals the few scenes that he’s in, but the leading “hero” characters are pretty bad. Charlie Hunnam is especially poor in the central role, unable to rise above the cliched material or even make himself someone that audiences REALLY want to root for, and he’s matched by Rinko Kikuchi, Robert Kazinsky (asked to put on an Australian accent, for reasons beyond me) and Max Martini. Charlie Day isn’t too bad as a scientist and kaiju “fan”, though many will also disagree with my opinion there, while Burn Gorman, playing another scientist and sparring partner/foil to Day, seems to be channelling the spirits of Jeffrey Combs and John Mills.
Pacific Rim is not going to be a film that you will quote further down the line. It’s not one that will win over those who enjoy a diet of Haneke, Godard, Malick and other, more intellectual, film-makers. It’s a simple pleasure for those who enjoy seeing HUGE robots fighting HUGE monsters, at one point demolishing Tokyo in the process, and it’s an absolute eyegasm for anyone heading along to the biggest screen in their local area.
DIRECTOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORO
WRITER: TRAVIS BEACHAM, GUILLERMO DEL TORO
STARS: CHARLIE HUNNAM, IDRIS ELBA, RINKO KIKUCHI, CHARLIE DAY, BURN GORMAN, ROBERT KAZINSKY, MAX MARTINI
RUNTIME: 132 MINS APPROX