13 July 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim


Pacific Rim
2013, 130mins, 12
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Writer (S): Guillermo Del Toro, Travis Beacham 
Cast includes: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Max Martini 
UK Release Date: 12th July 2013

It’s been five long years since Guillermo Del Toro last wove his cinematic spell over the world, his previous two pictures 2006’s magnificent “Pan’s Labyrinth” and 2008’s solid franchise extension “Hellboy 2”officially stamping him as a bountiful talent. Stalled projects (he was long mooted to helm the current “Hobbit” saga) were the principal reason for his temporary disappearance, the vanishing act leaving fantasy fans with a distinctive unscratched itch. With a budget reportedly just shy of $200 million, “Pacific Rim” is an epically sized return for the film-maker, lathering mammoth scope and hefty CGI requirements into Del Toro’s usually more modestly scaled style, the marketing drawing unquestionable parallels to Michael Bay’s equally colossal “Transformers” projects. However unlike those dubious actioners, “Pacific Rim” is an original idea being shepherded by a peerlessly imaginative mainstream director, the result a heartening and bombastic 130 minute joyride. In the spirit of summer cinema much of the dialogue in “Pacific Rim” is ridiculously tin-eared, but elsewhere the picture is a delightful combination of B-movie monster flick goodness, accessible emotional fundamentals and deliberately cartoony thespian contributions. “Pacific Rim” is a film that harbours a tangible affection for cheesy genre cinema, and with its gargantuan budget, is able to honour and expand upon predecessors in that arena like few before it.  

Earth is under assault from the Kaiju, a giant race of monsters erupting from an alien portal at the base of the Pacific Ocean. In response to the wanton destruction induced by Kaiju attacks, the military have devised the Jaeger program, a strategy that deploys mighty mechanical humanoids piloted by two trained operatives to directly combat the beasts. The Jaeger pilots have to sync up their minds and memories using “the drift” – an ethereal telekinetic connective tissue – and initially the results are promising. The large robots clobber the first wave of marauding critters, but as the monsters get bigger, rise more frequently and begin to appear in twos, the game changes. In a final bid to halt impending doom the department’s leader Stacker (Idris Elba) recruits reclusive Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), the latter having lost a sibling during a fateful Kaiju skirmish. He’s teamed with Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) who boasts secretive reasons of her own for desiring revenge on the encroaching predatory menace. Also on hand to help is Dr. Newton (Charlie Day), a biologist specialising in Kaiju science, who suspects a bond can be formed between beast and man using drift technology. Together the team must bind together, as a creature induced apocalypse threatens.

Del Toro is in no two minds concerning the central hook for “Pacific Rim”, the feature is all about the smackdowns. Envisaging battles that take place all across the globe, at land, sea and air, the film-maker delivers several stunningly executed set-pieces. Of course with such a monumental production cost the film looks incredible, seamless CGI and atmospheric neon-dappled cityscapes infusing the picture with a noteworthy genre identity, but at no point does “Pacific Rim” reduce itself to computer effects hitting each other. The frighteningly cool creature designs and attention to human life in “Pacific Rim” both govern nearly every battle the film offers; pilots are always in emotional or physical jeopardy against scaly opponents with variable organic weaponry. The film’s prologue contextualises the dangers of Jaeger combat memorably, with every subsequent beat finding points of tension within the structure of any given episode. Lives are always at stake and the monsters are capable of lethal and unpredictable manoeuvres, granting “Pacific Rim” a phenomenally tense aura. Spectacle is present, but ultimately it’s Del Toro’s ability to meld it effectively with Spielbergian threat and momentum which gifts the picture a beating and vulnerable heart upon which to layer its thrills.

Some of the performances exceed expectation (Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Day are the nicest surprises) but whilst most are merely adequate, each possesses a necessary energy that compliments the material. Hunnam is ludicrously aloof as the muscle-laden lead, whilst Idris Elba barks with broad and suitable authority in the role of commander. These turns and indeed the over-arching stabs at characterization feel ripped from classic fantasy serials and sci-fi cinema, Del Toro wielding a selection of entertaining stereotypes to stellar effect. It helps that that film-maker never forgets to inject the movie with a sense of dread and soulful expectancy, individual scenes really tapping into the childlike horror monsters can instill. One sequence in particular allows a character to be slowly stalked up an empty Japanese street, the monster slowly gaining before cornering them in a nightmarish fit of ferocity. These are the circumstances that fuel ancient fears, Del Toro accessing a base and inherent phobia familiar to us all, being rendered helpless by a merciless, mysterious and otherworldly menace. It might not connect as tangibly with contemporary global issues, but aesthetically “Pacific Rim” does recall 1954’s “Godzilla” in the way it channels primal unease.

Lightness of touch is skilfully explored through comic subplots; Ron Perlman (as a sleazy specialist in dealing alien tissue) and Charlie Day bounce off each other vibrantly throughout the middle act, Del Toro saving the grandstanding bombast for his reverently assembled bouts of metal on flesh. Kids of all ages should get a massive kick out of “Pacific Rim” and parents should champion it as a largely appropriate viewing experience. There are instances of violence and intensity, but Del Toro has designed the feature as a time-machine, removing these palpable concepts from the darkness of current affairs. “Pacific Rim” celebrates the majesty of fantasy, the nobility of heroism and the possibilities provided by hulking, fictional villains with unstoppable euphoria, reducing every audience member into a gasping, buzzing embodiment of pre-pubescent glee. Even the romantic angles are pleasingly desexualised and earnest. This is a call-back to the B-Movies that elated Del Toro as a kid, and with “Pacific Rim” he’s continued the bravado tradition for a lucky next generation.

Some of the scripting is brutal, which proves particularly hard to digest when the more limited actors (I’m looking at you Hunnam) are tasked with making it sound credible. But tonally, visually and structurally “Pacific Rim” is a knock-out, a vast success designed to join that specialist league of blockbusters (“Star Wars”, “Jaws”, “Jurassic Park”, “Avatar”) that influence and enliven audiences into a sugar-addled frenzy. It’s an experience satisfactorily arranged to deliver laughs, spills and shrieks of mirth, and from where I was sitting at least, it evoked a staggeringly positive reaction from my bedazzled film-going companions. Please don’t leave it so long next time Guillermo. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


Dan O. said...

It's obvious that del Toro is trying to make a Godzilla-ish movie, but it's still fun for that matter. Good review Dan.

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