Pacific Rim is a horribly flawed film. It’s big, noisy and stupid, features only the thinnest of characterisation and has almost no emotional or intellectual substance. You could pick holes in it for days – why does everyone alternate between Japanese and English on a whim, why are they just building a wall to stop giant hell monsters who destroy cities, how can the combined research teams of every major nation not know how to preserve dead kaiju but Ron Perlman does, why are we meant to give a crap about the walking brick of a protagonist, etc – but, once you shed your initial cynicism and let it touch your inner child(ew), you realise that actually it’s just too goddamn awesome to care.
If you don’t spend most of the latter half of the film (it’s sort of a slow starter) gawping at the screen and screaming ‘YEAH HIT THAT GODDAMN ALIEN WITH YOUR GODDAMN ROBOT FISTS!!! YES!! EXPLOSIONS!! PUNCHING!! MONSTERS!! FIGHTING!!’ in your head, then there is something profoundly wrong with you. It’s like the Transformers film we all dreamed of before we saw Michael Bay was directing. It’s pure, giddy joy and taps into everything that made your favourite kids shows so awesome: a simple story, lots of cool robots (albeit blatantly racially stereotyped – big, clumsy, ugly Russian one who likes to hit things hard with fist and agile, sorta weird Japanese one that’s all cool spinning shit), even cooler monsters (think Godzilla but more colourful and Lovecraftian), and those two things colliding in dramatic looking locales.
Every fight is in some raging sea or neon-lit city and they’re all absolutely spectacular looking. The colour and imagination you expect from del Toro is injected with force, impact and colossal scale. The punches are shudderingly massive, the robo-swords (YES) clean and satisfying, and the throws are, well, sort of pointless and ineffective but yet ridiculously frequent considering how limp they are. Except one. One of the throws is genuinely awesome and possibly the single best shot of the film.
The flaws are hard to ignore however. The plot is as simplistic as they come – alien monsters are pouring out of a fissure in the earth and robots operated by mind-melded pilots (a neat idea with one great flashback sequence that pays tribute to Schindler’s List and its girl in the red coat) must fight them together. Elsewhere, small-scale human melodrama and obstacles must be overcome, revelations about monsters must be uncovered and clichés must abound. You expect nothing more from a film like this, but you perhaps do from a director like del Toro who so often masterfully weaves the human and the fantastical.
Despite clocking in at over two hours and starting relatively slowly (some incredible scenes of worldwide destruction aside), the film gathers momentum quickly and after an hour or so it really gets into its stride before a suitably epic finale. Albeit one that ties things up perhaps a little too neatly.
Every character has something going on, but it’s usually the same sort of tired action movie cliché that just washes over you. Charlie Hunnam is fine as lead Raleigh Beckett, if a bit leaden, but really has very little required of him. He’s your standard causasian action hero – all brawn and no brains, save for the usual one liners, and really just a pivot for everyone else to work around. Everyone in the film seems to hold him in disproportionately high esteem, but it’s hard for a viewer to care about the maverick pilot who lost his brother and went off the rails because you’ve already seen that about a thousand times before.
Idris Elba is more than serviceable as Commander Pentecost, although his accent is often confusing (is he English, is he American? Is he combining the two?), but again he really has very little to work with. His relationship with Rinko Kikuchi’s character Mori possesses something close to emotional engagement but it isn’t really developed. Again, her character is about as clichéd as they come but she works well with it regardless. As a Japanese character in an action film however she naturally has some line about ‘For my family’s honour’ or something and it’s face-palm inducingly clichéd. Much like everything else.
Rounding out the cast are an assemblage of other action movie archetypes, Ron Perlman (as usual in a Del Toro film, and as usual a highlight), and Charlie Day playing Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Like, seriously, exactly the same. That’s by no means cause for complaint.
Ultimately the sheer sense of wonder and childish fun that Pacific Rim instills is enough to outweigh its numerous limitations. The imagery and imagination on show is some of the best you’ll see all year, and the simplistic robots vs kaiju premise delivers all the brainless excitement you hoped for. Del Toro’s human element may not be what is usually is, but you can see his influence has shaped this film into something that transcends its competitors and becomes truly invigorating and inspiring, if only for the scale of its ambition and how nearly it pulls it all off. Del Toro went all guns blazing on his mech-kaiju fantasy and the result is a film that’s wonderful in the fullest sense of the word and a benchmark for summer blockbusters to come.