Review: Pacific Rim

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Transformers versus Godzilla with a bit of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers thrown in is how Pacific Rim first struck me. And I wasn’t far wrong. The premise of this film is that monsters, called Kaiju (Japanese for strange creature), have been appearing from a chasm at the bottom of the Pacific ocean and have wrecked havoc across countries around the Pacific Rim. The seemingly unstoppable Kaiju have forced mankind to forget their differences and pull together their resources to build giant robots, dubbed Jaegers (German for hunter). Thus ensues huge, loud fights in the sea between gigantic… things!

But to say that this is anything like the Power Rangers movie (probably the closest live action film to Pacific Rim that comes to mind) is like comparing an ant to an anteater. Because of the subject matter of the film initial thoughts turned directly to Michael Bay type films like the recent Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Battleship, but as soon as Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct ears started to prick up.

Del Toro’s work is varied, but always visually stunning from fantasy films that border on horror like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone to out-and-out action films like Hellboy and Blade II. So for him to take on a film of such scale was a challenge, but not one that was insurmountable for him. Heck, he was even supposed to have been directing the Hobbit films. Thank god he didn’t because this film is an absolute joy!

Not for a very, very long time has a film transported my back to the age of 12, but this one certainly did. The first scene where the Jaeger pilots are being fitted into their machine just makes you smile from ear to ear as this giant mechanoid jolts into life and wades into the ocean to take on a giant shark-like humanoid while trying to save a tiny fishing boat.

The scale of this movie is truly befitting of the overused term, epic. You frequently see 300 foot monsters take on 250 foot robots in battles that are both tense, comic and unbelievable… except you totally let yourself get swept along with it. For example a robot piloted by two people would never be a reality. The monsters? Forget it. But when they go toe to toe in a harbour and are knocking seven shades out of each other with cargo containers, cranes and even a cargo ship you believe this could actually happen.

This is mainly down to the flawless special effects that are seamless, except for one scene where the hero Jaeger is stalking a Kaiju through the streets of Hong Kong which does look a bit like a computer game. But then that only made  me want to own the game, which is rare for a game of a film. The second part of the reason for this suspension of disbelief is the cast and the way in which del Toro manages to tread the line between the enormity of the action sequences and the drama between the human cast.

In any other hands *cough* Michael Bay! *cough* this could have been just another by the numbers action blockbusters where death tolls are insignificant and the characters are completely overshadowed by the banging and crashing of the giant constructs. But del Toro is a better director than most and somehow manages to make you care about the characters piloting the machines and even the supporting cast by making them fully rounded characters with complex back stories which make you sympathise with them, even though they are all basically playing stereotypical roles.

The lead actors in this are relatively unknown, except for the leader of the Jaeger forces, played by the incomparable Idris Elba, who gets to be British for once! The pilots of the hero Jaeger are played with rather naïve sexual tension by Charlie Hunnum and Rinko Kikuchi. What is great about this relationship is that you know how they feel for each other and that they also know it, but they never even kiss or even embrace, there are no leering shots of her straddling a motorbike or not wearing any clothes. This is so refreshing.

The scientists who are working on theorising  and predicting the Kaiju’s appearances are the perfect comedic relief and stick very close to the standard formula in so many anime and manga cartoons where one is uptight and math based (Burn Gorman) and the other a hot-headed, sharp-talker (Charlie Day) who prefers physical experiments. There is also a cameo from a certain Ron Pearlman to look forward to.

This movie really does need to be seen in the cinema to appreciate the size and sound of these titanic beings beating each other up. It’s also worth a look to see how Michael Bay dropped the ball with the Transformers franchise or even how Zak Snyder could have injected some humour into Man of Steel so that it wasn’t so dull. But mainly, you should go to let your inner child resurface, if just for a little over 2 hours.

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