A great B-Movie is lost under the mountain of cash thrown at this overblown blockbuster. We’ve rightly come to expect much more from director Guillermo del Toro…
The boom and bombast of the Pacific Rim trailer alongside the understanding that this was a Guillermo del Toro movie, the first directed by the Pan’s Labyrinth director for five years, was enough to get my anticipation levels bursting their banks. Yet, high expectation can be a dangerous thing. With Pacific Rim, a film that would hit most of the right notes if viewed purely as a cheap and cheerful b-movie, I found myself joylessly disengaged thanks to its very un-b-movie presentation. No, at $190 million, Pacific Rim is very much A-grade, blockbuster material. And while there’s nothing wrong with spending gazillions of dollars making simple monsters versus man action-adventures, for me, the film’s heart, as well as del Toro’s, is lost under that mountain of cash.
After a long-winded explanatory prologue we arrive at the year 2025. The governments around the Pacific Rim are battling huge creatures from the ocean known as Kaiju. When the Kaiju first surfaced and began attacking cities more than a decade previously, conventional weapons had little effect. The Jaeger programme saw the building of skyscraper-tall robotic machines, otherwise known as mecha, each capable of battling the sea monsters using two human pilots whose brains psychically link to control them. Although effective initially, government pressure following a series of Jaeger failures and the emergence of bigger, more powerful and seemingly more intelligent Kaiju, has seen the Jaeger programme lose its funding in favour of building a Pacific wall to protect land from attacks. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the commanding officer of the Jaegers, has other ideas, deciding to go forth with a plan to destroy the Kaiju at their core. His idea is to deliver a nuclear bomb into the inter-dimensional portal at the floor of the ocean from where the Kaiju emerge.
Does that sound complicated? Well, that’s the simple version. There’s no three-hour run time like a Peter Jackson film here, you have only a couple of hours to immerse yourself in this. But to be honest, that’s a good thing because Pacific Rim never feels like its outstaying its welcome. Amid its flaws you can’t criticise it for being pedestrian. You’ve also got to give the art department kudos for the truly exceptional Kaiju designs, while the Jaeger mecha are also lavishly detailed. On the performance front, Idris Elba is reliably efficient despite some decidedly cheese-tasting dialogue, while Rinko Kikuchi (who you may remember as the Academy Award nominated actress from 2006’s Babel) provides some texture to the otherwise cardboard cut-out “strong female character”.
Apart from del Toro regular Ron Perlman (who essentially plays himself in the film which, understandably and unsurprisingly, he’s really very good at), I wouldn’t want to highlight anyone else. Leading man Charlie Hunnam, who plays the pilot of the Jaeger known as Gipsy Danger, has everything you need from a male star taking his shirt off, but lacks charisma and grace. He is, admittedly, hampered by some stale dialogue and a long line of clichés that flirt with the line between homage and rip-off. However, his performance is far better than the completely out of place Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb. There’s a self-conscious artificiality about his uber-nerd whose over-the-top antics are the result of an actor playing desperately for laughs and attention yet failing miserably. It feels as alien to the movie as the Kaiju themselves.
Gorman’s performance, a sort of misplaced comedy sidekick, seems to example del Toro’s original desire to keeps things light and family friendly, the odd bits of humour dialling down the monster terror. But aside from Ron Perlman, and Gottlieb’s fellow scientist Newton Geisler (Charlie Day) whose performance and character is far more nuanced and rounded, there isn’t a lot of levity. When it does come, it feels forced and poorly developed. This isn’t helped by del Toro’s employment of Ramin Djawadi’s jaunty, up tempo score. For instance, amid the crashing waves of a moonlit Pacific ocean, Djawadi dilutes the grand introduction of the imposing Jaeger, the impending terror of the vicious Kaiju (with its double-decker bus-sized teeth), and the atmospheric staging of a stormy night, with a tip-tap-toe beat more akin to getting you on the dance floor than preparing you for a fight. It is at odds with material that feels like it should be presented with a darker, more sinister tone. Del Toro has said he wanted to appeal to a wide range of ages but in keeping the mood fairly light, he lessens the impact of the apocalyptic battles he invites us to watch.
This doesn’t aid the film in extracting itself from feeling like a computer game. The abundance of computer-generated imagery, although inspired in concept and beautifully detailed, ultimately feels like the work of ones and zeros as digital image technology parades itself in front of us. That said, as so many films over the last few years have shown, from The Dark Knight to Iron Man and Transformers, mainstream audiences love to see a city get annihilated. On that front, del Toro delivers.
Pacific Rim motors along like a Formula 1 race, has a great b-movie premise, and features some stylistically attention-grabbing action-adventure. But it feels under done, with a much darker, scarier proposition left in the shadows. The uneven, misplaced comedy, some limp performances and one truly bad one, and the computer game battles that lack a sense of scale and threat, means Pacific Rim fails to satisfy. Of course, your appreciation of the film may also sway depending on whether or not you see the abundance of movie references (blatant ones include Top Gun, Independence Day and Alien) as homage or uninspired, gratuitous rip-offs. For me, they were simple reminders of better work, and much more enjoyable cinema experiences.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Travis Beacham
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman
Released: 2013 / Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy / Country: USA / IMDB