Review: Pacific Rim

20130710-121954.jpgFrom the depths of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s fevered imagination comes this monsters versus robots mash up, culled from influences near and far from the directors own childhood. It’s probably the most flawed of Del Toro’s filmography and it’s certainly the dumbest, but there is fun to be had within.

The jist of the story is this; in the near future monsters, or Kaiju, have arrived from another dimension via a rift in the sea and begin attacking cities on the titular pacific rim. The humans build massive robots, called Jaegers, to fight back, with two neurally-connected pilots behind the wheel. After suffering a tragedy during a battle with one of these monsters, Raleigh (Charlie Hunham) gives up on the Jaeger programme, only to be brought back in years later when bigger and badder Kaiju arrive and he’s the best man for the job.

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The first act of the movie really sells you on this world and the dire situation it finds itself in. The world building on display here is amongst the finest I’ve seen; presenting a world where everything that’s happened since the Jaegers arrived seems entirely plausible and realistic. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise seeing as this is a Del Toro movie, the director having proven himself as a master when it comes to creating worlds that feel at once familiar and alien, dwelling not on the hows and whys but rather the simple fact this is how things are, and it challenges the viewer to get on board with it. Aside from the monsters and robots aspect, the film makes the notion of The Drift – the ‘neural handshake’ required between the two Jaeger co-pilots – seem as normal as putting in a login password. The film soars during these early expository world building scenes, but the problems start to arise when characters actually begin talking to each other.

Lumbered with lines that come from the Big Book of Action Movie Clichés, nothing any character says feels imbued with anything resembling a genuine human emotion, just a series of pronouncements and trailer friendly dialogue. Yes, it’s great when Idris Elba’s gruff general Stacker Pentecost (no, really. That’s his name) bellows about ‘cancelling the apocalypse’ but whenever all the characters talk like this all the time, you can’t help but feel you watching a series of propaganda posters brought to life, Your Country Needs You style. The fact that the films most emotional scene is wordless flashback speaks volumes. This extends to the plot as well. Early on, the monsters somehow knock out the power source of all of the Jaegers, rendering all of them useless except for the conveniently differently powered Jaeger Gipsy Danger, which just happens to be piloted by Raleigh who has just been deemed unfit for duty. What an entirely unforeseen set of circumstances. I guess he’ll have to step up to the plate to save the day then? This sort of thing happens so often that you can’t help but feel that it’s intentional, an homage to a simpler era of storytelling, but considering how earnest everything else is there’s a clash of tones that stops it from being tongue in cheek enjoyable and causes it to stick out like a massive robotic sore thumb.

However, once the fighting does begin in earnest the film really earns its stripes, pitting the Jaegers against a wide variety of different beautifully ugly creatures in various different locations; on land, in the water, underwater, in the air, the battles are fantastic to watch, with several punch-the-air moments even if sometimes you can’t completely make out what’s happening. (Perhaps a 2D viewing would make it easier to make out). The Kaiju themselves are absolute triumphs in monster design, each one notably different than the previous one, even if they’re not injected with the usual pathos that Del Toro has given his monsters previously (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2), and are just massive punching bags. Filled with dozens of spectacular money shots, the action is worth the price of admission alone.

Verdict:
Essentially an episode of Power Rangers writ large, with all the positives and negatives that comparison invites; when it dares to have a little fun, it’s thrilling, and you’ll not find a blockbuster with more ambition this summer, but when it tries to tell a human story in between all the fighting it falls horribly flat.

3 stars

Review by Jonathan Cardwell.

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