A rare del Toro disappointment.
There is a twelve year-old child in many of us who, regardless of the development of our critical faculties, likes nothing more than imagining giant robots beating several shades of crap out of huge monsters. What excitement there was, then, when Guillermo del Toro announced in the wake of his The Hobbit departure that he would be forging ahead instead with one of his passion projects Pacific Rim, in which giant robots would beat several shades of crap out of huge monsters. Superficial as that conceit may sound, this is the man who has a proven track record of effectively handling summer blockbuster fantasy fare, with the Hellboy movies and Blade 2 proving more than enetertaining enough to justify their ticket prices. So, just to be clear, we are in safe hands. Right?
Pacific Rim wastes no time in setting up it's ludicrous premise; that some time in the immediate future a portal opens up in the sea bed beneath the Pacific Ocean, bridging our world with that of a race of ginormous mutant creatures several hundred feet in height (called Kaiju) and hell bent on destroying mankind. Presumably we spilled their pint or something. Fighter jets prove an ineffective defense, and so world governments move to the next logical mode of attack, which is to say they build massive, piloted robots called "Jaegers", themselves several hundred feet tall, nuclear powered and capable of putting a couple of thousand tons behind a punch. This, one might add, is in spite of the fact that at one point in the movie it is demonstrated that nuclear weapons are more than up to the task, and our early warning systems sufficient to allow their deployment. But I digress.
To pick fault with a movie which sets it's stall out so honestly seems remiss however daft the conceit, and indeed for all of the bizarre plot holes, many of them comfortably big enough to pilot a Jaeger through, there is surely much to be enjoyed in the spectacle of big, f**k-off robots throwing massive reptilian brutes through tower blocks (and vice versa). Unfortunately where Pacific Rim falls flat is in it's incredibly ham-fisted script and risible acting, the quality of both falling firmly into the "so bad it's bad" category.
Not for screenwriter Travis Beacham the kind of self-aware humour that has served numerous bonkers-but-enjoyable summer movies well in the past. Rather than embrace the absurdity of his own story and furnish his characters with wit and deference Beacham has instead apparently drawn inspiration from early Western dubs of popular Japanese anime, which is to say Pacific Rim comes across as though the script of an episode of Evangelion had been run through Google Translate by an over-enthusiastic eight year-old. Couple some horribly hackneyed dialogue with genuinely bizarre casting choices (apparently Australia has a shortage of male actors at the moment) and del Toro's attempt at engaging his audience tips from being daft but enjoyable into downright insulting.
Perhaps in fairness I should say that amongst the casualties it is lead actor Charlie Hunnam and his co-pilot Rinko Kikuchi who come away with reputations most intact, but surprisingly the usually dependable Idris Elba disappoints the most as the Jaeger program's commander in chief. Tasked with the kind of "rousing" speeches that Bill Pullman would have struggled with were this Independence Day Elba struggles to elevate his character beyond the two dimensional, which is a shame considering we're expected to believe he's the kind of bloke for whom grown men will go happily to their deaths.
More mis-steps are perpetrated in the form of two "zany" scientists who are supposed to provide comic relief but end up simply irritating. It all begins to raise questions as to whom this movie is targeted at, with an age certificate that effectively excludes those who might otherwise be amused by such trivialities. Fortunately things nip along at a brisk pace, with little time between titanic clashes to worry too much about who is having macho arguments with who, and who is lusting after so-and-so. Indeed with so little effort expended on dialogue it's almost a surprise that Beacham thought to include such nuggets as romantic entanglement and national rivalries.
By the time the whole noisy affair reaches the suitably cacophonous climax there is a familiar feeling of destruction fatigue, much as we experienced just weeks previously thanks to Man of Steel. Although del Toro orchestrates the mayhem efficiently there is a disappointing lack of flair here and little to elevate Pacific Rim above some of the trashy roots of it's inspiration. Were we not living in a post-Inception world one might be tempted to be more forgiving, but since that movie burdened original concept mega-budget summer blockbusters with a responsibility to stretch the mind as much as the retinas it is hard to argue Pacific Rim as anything other than a quick fix.
Rinko Kiikuchi (Mako Mori)
Idris Elba (Stacker Pentecost)