With a tag line that simply states ‘Go big or go extinct’ you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pacific Rim is the latest in a long line of hoo-rah America saves the world flicks from Michael Bay. But strangely, you’d be wrong.
All the signs are there especially in the first three minutes of the film as it delivers more explosive exposition than a closing Columbo monologue. Mankind is balls-deep in a war with alien lizards (nicknamed Kaiju) who have crawled through a deep-sea intergalactic portal. Initially, the military responds with a largely ineffective tank and fighter plane-led onslaught but as this becomes more and more pointless and the Kaiju become bigger, the world joins forces to build powerful, giant robotic warriors, the Jaegers.
Piloted by two mind-melded human pilots, these massive mechs do a good job of seeing off the toothy titans and make their pilots as famous as rock stars, until they eventually prove too ineffective against the relentless threat to mankind. Turning to massive sea defences rather than the offensive but costly Jaeger programme, the world prepares to dig in; that is until one man decides there’s one last mission left in the towering tin cans yet.
Let’s not beat around the bush, this film is essentially Godzilla’s extended family versus a team of armoured-up Power Rangers in a desperate battle for the planet, so what is it that makes this one stand out from your usual apocalyptic summer blockbuster?
First and foremost (and most intriguingly) it’s the choice of Guillermo del Toro as director. The auteur more renowned for taking on terrifying nightmarish art house horror like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone does brilliantly well combining story with spectacle, and the film is surprisingly pacy for such a considered director.
The cast is also pretty low key for a major studio release and punches well above its weight. Leads Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, once of Byker Grove!) and Rinko Kikuchi (The Brothers Bloom) have only notched up 60-odd screen appearances between them and nothing of this scale, so it’s brave to have them piloting the movie. Of course, they’re more than ably assisted by Idris Elba’s spectacularly monikered Stacker Pentecost who adds humour alongside an upper lip so stiff you could rest your cutlery on it.
Sadly, numerous cliches do appear during the film. Burn Gorman’s nervy, stuttering scientist Gottlieb is the usual lazy blockbuster English stereotype whilst Charlie Day as Dr Newton Geiszler plays the kind of role that Rick Moranis was doing in his sleep 25 years ago, but the pair are still likeable enough to bring some decent comic relief to proceedings, especially during the latter’s interactions with a suitably madcap (long-time Del Toro collaborator) Ron ‘Hellboy‘ Perlman.
A couple of plot holes threaten to derail the movie, mainly when it comes to believing mankind’s been doing so well for years without using the most basic of tactics, and despite the vague ‘the aliens have been evolving’ excuse you can just about forgive the shaky logic long enough because THERE ARE GIANT ALIEN LIZARDS AND ROBOTS FIGHTING EACH OTHER.
Now, giant robots, that rings a bell…Pacific Rim will no doubt be compared to Transformers but whereas the latter drags out its kiddie-friendly scene setting and annoying moralising into three hours, Pacific Rim is all about the spectacle. The effects are dazzling, especially in 3D and on an IMAX screen and this is one film that uses the extra dimension subtly enough to truly immerse the viewer during a breathtaking 130 minutes. You’ll be rooted to your seat wondering if a tumbling tyrannosaur is going to fall into your lap.
The size and scale (ho ho) of this film is pretty much unmatched, and the dialogue is tongue in cheek enough to poke fun at itself without taking anything away from the seriousness of the situation the characters find themselves in.
Strangely, there’s an odd shoe/foot fetish throughout the film without a single toe appearing in the flesh. Whether it’s the numerous shots of the Jaeger pilot’s metal stormtrooper boots, Ron Perlman’s gold leaf brogues or the lost shoe of a young Kikuchi, Del Toro lobs the lost and found metaphor in there frequently to give the movie real sole.
Is this film predictable? Of course it is. Does the macho factor ramp up to at least 179? Damn right, soldier! But beneath all the bluster and ridiculousness, Pacific Rim does what few summer blockbusters can; chuck their all into being a dino-sized lump of epic filmmaking, that any audience from 12 to 120 is going to love for sheer spectacle and ambition.