Pacific Rim states early that we always expected extra-terrestrial life to come from above, in reality it came from beneath our feet. Following the opening of a giant crevasse, deep under the Pacific Ocean, a series of monsters christened Kaiju began attacking costal cities, flattening them and killing tens of thousands. To halt the unexpected onslaught the world put aside its differences and initiated the Jaeger programme which constructed giant robots used as weapons to defend humanity from the alien invasion. The Jaegars are piloted by two individuals who have their minds interlocked, each controlling one hemisphere of the Jaegar’s brain. Slowly, we turned the tide of the battle.
When I first heard about Pacific Rim and more importantly who was directing it, I was filled with excitement. Vague but tantalising descriptions of giant monsters battling human built robots across the planet sounded like an epic idea for a blockbuster but it also sounded dangerously familiar. When I think of giant robots I think of Michael Bay and those two words aren’t the sort to get me excited about a film. Thankfully the director’s evident love of the monsters and genre and attention to detail in the huge fight scenes raise this movie above the normal smashy, smashy, what’s going on type of summer Blockbuster.
As the release date for Guillermo del Toro’s ‘operatic monster movie’ approached, I began to see trailers and my heart sank. The trailers did nothing to excite me about seeing the movie and in the end it was only a couple glances in the direction of four and even five star reviews, coupled with my girlfriend being away that drew me to the cinema to watch the film. Now I’ve seen it, I can’t say that I was hugely impressed overall but there were a few areas that really stood out above the usual summer fare. The first is that I really like the premise for the movie. Just when you think you’ve seen all of the world ending, alien attacking ideas out there, this one comes along and gives us something new. Although I say new, the idea has been explored in great abundance in Japanese cinema but in the West we’ve become accustomed to aliens heading for a major US city where they battle it out with a lone US hero.
Pacific Rim does take the fight to a global scale and there are battles in several cities all around the Pacific from Hong Kong to Sydney to Manila and many others. The problem is that although this is a global battle, it often feels as though it’s just a dozen or so people in it against the monsters. Only twice in the entire movie is there any sort of suggestion of outside interference or even interest in the giant battles as the film shows the events purely from those in the Jaeger project. While I applaud the lack of the over-used shot of people in different countries watching the events unfolding on the TV (Bedouins in tents, Frenchmen in berets with the Eifel Tower outside their window etc), the film seemed to forget the outside world as a whole. As such I found it difficult to connect with the movie. It also suffers from something which is rife in Hollywood at the moment and that is indifference to mass slaughter. In both Man of Steel and this movie, as well as several others in recent years, whole cities are flattened but there is never a thought for the millions who are losing their lives. We’ve become accustomed to witnessing huge CGI city-busting battles and barely batting an eyelid or considering what it means for those outside of the five or six principle characters.
The film also suffers from some terrible dialogue and exposition. Everything is explained for the audience and I expected a little more from a script which was co-written by de Toro. He strikes me as the sort of man who respects his audience’s intelligence but with the frequent explanation as well as some rather large plot holes and inconsistencies, we’re heading closer to Michael Bay territory than I’d like to be. There are several situations and instances which didn’t make sense and it took me out of the film. One really strange thing is that the Jaegar programme is being decommissioned by world Government’s in favour of building walls. This is a ridiculous idea as the Kaiju could obviously just climb or break through. This decision leaves just a few people working on the project which from a plot perspective helps to keep speaking parts to a minimum. Here though you have another problem. I just don’t believe that with the fate of humanity in the balance, our hopes would be left to two squabbling scientists, a washed up ex-pilot and a guy with a nosebleed. It’s just not logical. I also had a problem with the idea that in one scene our hero didn’t know who his co-pilot would be until seconds before departure and that the first time two minds are connected is on a live mission. It’s really silly and makes no sense.
There are plenty of cheesy lines peppered throughout the movie and some of the acting isn’t great either. Charlie Hunnam fails to convince in the lead role, suffering like Taylor Kitsch in John Carter with a lack of charisma. His accent though is excellent. I had no idea that he was English until looking him up after the film. Other actors serve up some terrible accents with the two Australian characters sounding like caricatures who don’t really know what an Australia is. Robert Kazinsky and Max Martini should be ashamed. Thankfully there are cast members who shine. Idris Elba puts in a trademark gruff and grounded performance which lacks emotion at all the right moments but pours it out when necessary. Rinko Kikuchi is also excellent as the woman out to prove herself. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman had a habit of both annoying me at times but both act their parts well and provide some often needed comic relief. Ron Pearlman is aptly cast and is one of the most enjoyable actors to watch. In addition to the central cast, there’s a welcome aural appearance from Ellen McLain whose voice will be familiar to those who’ve played the Portal games.
The film lays on the drama and emotion for the human element of the story and the various relationships are generally well handled for a blockbuster. I enjoyed the non-conventional love story but was often bored by the more dramatic moments. The film really suffers from some thinly written central characters. Where the film really excels is in its well choreographed fight scenes. The movie opens with a great battle and there are three other large scale fights throughout the film. Each differs in location and are very different in their look and feel. They reminded me of a well thought out boxing movie in that I cared about what was happening and was interested in how the moves were thought out as well as what was coming next. I was also impressed that I could usually tell what was going on despite the often dark and rainy (always raining?) settings. The camera movement is slower and seemingly better planned than in most modern action movies and the editing is less frantic. This allows you to really see what’s going on and take in the wonderful visuals much easier.
The CGI is nothing short of astounding and the Kaiju look incredible. I could have just watched the monsters move all day, never mind see them fight. I loved seeing them move through the water or walk through cities and they seemed to react in a realistic way when confronted with a Jaeger. They also adapt and learn which is something you rarely see in this type of movie. The design of the Jaegers is also very good with each nation’s machine being reminiscent of their country. The internal design of the Jaegers was also visually stunning and worked extremely well. My only problem is that I just couldn’t get Transformers out of my head when watching them. Even so, the visual effects are fantastic and a highlight of the film. The battles look terrific but the action in between them and their spread is formulaic, leading to an obvious ‘boss battle’.
In the end I’m on the fence when it comes to summing up Pacific Rim. While I applaud its individuality, style and look, I was bored by the human elements and feel like there are too many missed opportunities in the story. It also feels as though the audience is being talked down to at times and there are far too many illogical situations and ideas present. I’m really surprised that there are five star reviews out there for this movie because although it does a lot right and is massively entertaining at times, it gets bogged down with exposition, dull characters and poor acting, all of which hamper the final product.