Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Pacific Rim is a film about giant mechs (‘Jaegers’) fighting equally giant monsters (‘kaiju’), and is directed by Guillermo del Toro, he of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and (almost) The Hobbit fame. From that description, some of you will instantly be sold, and some of you will be left cold. If you sneer at ‘low-brow’ action fare, well, go away. This is not for you.
It’s for del Toro. Pacific Rim is a glorious celebration of the mecha and kaiju genres, a paean to Japanese smash-em-ups infused with del Toro’s brilliant visual flair. People have called it ‘Godzilla meets Transformers’, but that’s unfair. Godzilla, yes, though Pacific Rim’s bioluminescent kaiju writhe with del Toro’s signature grotesquerie – but Transformers? That’s an insult. Michael Bay gives us formless, tedious chaos; del Toro conducts a symphony of destruction that blazes with colour on a scale dwarfing even Emmerichian excesses. Every aspect of the film is steeped in economical but effective characterisation; nothing and nobody is bland, and everything serves at least a basic purpose. There’s a competent, solid story underneath all the flash, which is really all there should be. Groundbreaking? No. Functional? Yes. Compare it to Patlabor, to Robot Jox, to Neon Genesis Evangelion – but it leaves Transformers flailing mechanically in the dust.
Charlie Hunnam is adequate as the male lead, but Rinko Kikuchi absolutely nails her part, winning the audience over with a single expression. You’ll know it when you hear it. The film is populated by sharply defined (if hardly complex) characters, from Idris Elba’s stern commander – though he seems to change his mind on whether he’s doing an American accent every other word – to the (also unconvincing) Australian tough-guys, to the neurotic scientists, to Ron Perlman’s scene-stealing kaiju-organ dealer. The film recognises the necessity of strong, simple emotions and characters to drive its plot, landing squarely in the safe zone between over-complexity and underdevelopment. The story isn’t the big attraction here, but it holds its own, and features some strong character interplay that holds the film together.
Who cares, though? You watch Pacific Rim for the massive mecha-monster battles, and it doesn’t disappoint. Oh no. It has, quite simply, never been done better on film. The superbly designed Jaegers and kaiju feel alive, the fights ooze with sublime absurdity and genuine weight (del Toro’s affinity for practical effects coming through, a sadly uncommon trait these days), and the colour pallet is wonderfully vivid even through 3D glasses. Nothing is perfunctory. Del Toro’s heart and soul went into every aspect of Pacific Rim, and in these grand, Wagnerian spectacles of huge-scale combat you can physically feel the creator’s love. No film has ever been worse for this kind of passion.
There are flaws, of course. The dynamite brawl in Hong Kong takes some of the wow factor out of the final showdown; the writing never rises above functionality; there are a whole host of logical problems (which is fine if I realise after the credits roll, but less so if I’m mentally screaming ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST DO THAT EARLIER’ throughout); and some of the Jaegers are under utilised. Nit-picks, mostly, but flaws nonetheless. Still, they don’t take away from Pacific Rim’s achievement, which is to walk straight into the pantheon of giant monster/robot greats, alongside films like Gojira and The Iron Giant. No small achievement, but there’s a reason del Toro was my pick for the Star Wars sequels. Now, how about that adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness…