Release date: 11th July 2013

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Burn Gorman

Review by Peter Gray

Say what you will about ‘Pacific Rim’ but there’s no denying that director Guillermo del Toro is nothing but 100% dedicated and connected to his material.  Clearly wearing his adolescence on his sleeve, his latest opus is a testament to his fan-boy mentality as this big, loud, cheesy action outing is the kind of thing you’d expect from a grown man who has the wonder of a child.  It’s a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters (there’s slightly more to it than that but you get the gist) and with $200 million dollars of someone else’s money, del Toro has sought out the biggest boys toys he could find and essentially crashed them together for the ultimate playtime experience.

But this is also where the problems arise for ‘Pacific Rim’ as, not unlike a zealous adolescent, its primary concern is of the superficial and as much fun as it is to view the spectacle of action carnage, there’s next to nothing in depth or intrigue in any of the material that book ends these sequences.  I’m aware that films like these aren’t made to be thought provoking, and I don’t even need three-dimensional characters to keep me on board, but the human drama element here was just plain lazy.  As I mentioned above there’s more to the story then just giant robots fighting giant monsters, so what we have is a legion of alien creatures from another dimension invading our world, destroying major cities at a rapid rate.  These creatures are known as Kaiju, and very little is explained of their origin apart from a fracture appearing at the bottom of the ocean which acted as a portal for them to come through to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting Earth.  After the destruction of countless cities, our own Sydney included, humanity’s resources are pooled together into a defence system known as Jaegars – the giant robots created to fight off the Kaiju.

It’s easier to look at it as giant robots fighting giant monsters but you have to expect something a little more thought out from del Toro, and one of the more original portions injected into the proceedings is the mechanics behind operating the Jaegars.  Achieving an act known as “The Drift”, two pilots work in tandem and meld their minds together, enabling them to know each other’s thoughts and memories, essentially culminating them as one component to operate the Jaegar.  With the attacks getting worse, and the Jaegars copping some harsh beatings, the government is looking to shut the program down and focus on building giant stockades to block out the creatures.  Not wanting to waste any time on the promise of big action, ‘Pacific Rim’ opens with a Jaegar vs. Kaiju sequence that certainly fills you with a sense of enthusiasm, and the possibilities of what will unfold seem endless and exciting.  Our hero of sorts, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), opens the film as an already established Jaegar pilot but following the death of his brother he retreats to working in construction.  It’s not exactly a shock when he is brought out of retirement by his former commander, the supremely stern Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), in a last ditch effort to prove the Jaegar potential on the eve of their closure.

Not wanting this to be completely dominated by masculinity, we have Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) on board as a budding partner for Raleigh.  A little shy but superbly intelligent, she has long wanted to be a pilot but is constantly held back by the over-protective Stacker who acts as a somewhat father figure to her, believing her emotions will get the better of her in the heat of a battle – something that is near fatal to a pilot as to successfully guide them you have to shut out your memories.  Naturally she has a fearsome experience she’s holding on to from her past but the outcome of her working alongside Raleigh is far from surprising.  And this is where ‘Pacific Rim’ really seems to fail, on a character level there’s nothing that is remotely surprising or original.  Sure there are archetypes when working with characters within this genre, but here they’re more akin to cardboard cut-outs.  Every goal, back-story and motivation a character has is exactly what you’d expect it to be, and for someone like del Toro who is usually so adept at creating grounded characters, it seems odd that such conventional creations are his handywork.

On the positive side, Elba manages to overcome his typically written commander by injecting a healthy dose of charm whilst Kikuchi is clearly loved by the camera, so her likeability shines through.  The same can’t be said for Hunnam who, as the main character, leaves little of an impression.  He’s a particularly dull hero, but sadly the actor, who I’m fully aware is a capable performer, lacks any real allure to bring Raleigh to life.  It doesn’t help he’s saddled with some terrible dialogue but that fundamental magnetism that is required from a lead is absent.  But as bland as Hunnam is, it’s Charlie Day and Burn Gorman who are the real sore spots.  As a duo of bickering scientists trying to figure out the Kaiju’s next moves, their sole purpose seems to be to function as comic relief but their flailing about and manic overacting (especially from Day who appears to be channelling Rick Moranis ala ‘Ghostbusters’) gets tiresome very quickly.

Once again I could be accused of expecting too much as this film seems to all be about delivering on its promise of giant monsters fighting giant robots and the action sequences pertaining to this criteria mostly deliver.  One thing del Toro gets right is that he doesn’t edit his scenes in an overly frenzied manner so we’re able to coherently take note of what’s unfolding in front of us, and there’s something undeniably exhilarating about watching a robot using a cargo ship to beat down a creature, it just would’ve been perhaps slightly more enticing if not every one of these scenes took place at night so we’d be able to revel in this nonsense a little more.

Whilst I didn’t flat out dislike ‘Pacific Rim’, I was left vastly underwhelmed and it’s not that I had any expectations upon entering the film, I think perhaps the name Guillermo del Toro lured me into a false sense of security as the man has directed some wonderfully effective films.  The first hour had me hooked but eventually it bogged itself down with cheap dialogue and uninspired acting, as well as a running time that far overstayed its welcome.  I can’t lay blame entirely on del Toro though as he has a vivid imagination that cinema deserves to see, and as much as a movie like ‘Pacific Rim’ is created to be a brainless experience, brainless doesn’t equal soulless and unfortunately that’s what I got here.

My rating 2.5/5 (Rim is grim)

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