The Review: Originality is becoming an increasingly rare asset in filmmaking these days. Maybe not at the indie end of the market, where new ideas can thrive – as long as they’re cheap – but this summer’s blockbusters have been sequels, prequels, reimaginings, frachise films based on comic books and even sequel to a reimagining that’s technically a prequel. So to launch a new franchise on the back of a nine figure spend with no prior baggage to prove its worth or sustainability should be applauded, and… what’s that? It’s just giant monsters fighting giant robots? Ah. But the monsters come from under the sea, instead of space! And the robots have two human pilots, who have to link their minds! In a giant robot! Fighting giant aliens! And let’s give them funky names like Kaijus and Jaegers to attempt to distract from the fact they’re just big things smacking each other! With Pacific Rim, director Guillermo Del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham have gone for the high concept, but attempted to justify it with new wrinkles which never feel fully integrated with the monster (and robot) mash that we’ve all paid for our tickets for.
Let’s focus on the positives for now: when Pacific Rim lets loose, it has some of the most fun of the summer. There’s three big face offs, and while the opening salvoes which set up the story and the finale are spectacular, it’s the middle showpiece of Pacific Rim, a Kaiju / Jaeger face-off that starts in the waters of Hong Kong and goes literally stratospheric by the end that proves the most whoop-inducing. CG advances give both sides suitable heft, and for all of the high speed knockabouts earlier in the summer, it’s these slower moving behemoths that have a more satisfying crunch to their clashes. The rainy neon setting may feel just a tad cliche, but these kind of backdrops have recurred in films for good reason: when massive machines and humongous beasts go toe to toe in them, it can’t help but be visually appealing. Del Toro shoots and frames the action sensibly, favouring the standard widescreen ratio of 1.85 to allow his creations to stand tall as well as to throw long (unlike, say, Transformers which has used the Cinemascope ratio for maximum blur width), and as far as the main attractions go, Pacific Rim doesn’t disappoint.
There, of course, is the elephant in the room; no, not a grey, trunked Kaiju but the spectre of the giant fighty robot franchise which thankfully doesn’t cast too much of a shadow over Pacific Rim. Before you get too excited though, it’s never come as a surprise that a man whose most significant career achievement is making one and a half decent Martin Lawrence films should struggle with actors and story, feeling more at home with action and explosions. It comes as a much greater surprise that the man behind two Hellboy films and Pan’s Labyrinth has exactly the same struggles, and it would be easy to blame Beacham – prior screen credits including the Clash Of The Titans remake – for making the humans so anodyne and their backstory so lacking in interest. I’m not going to do that: Del Toro is practically an auteur with a blank cheque, so it’s a frustration almost the size of a category 4 Kaiju that his male leads feel interchangeable and his female lead – in fact, the only female character with more than a line of dialogue that I can recall – still managing to feel short changed.
There’s some good performances, Idris Elba’s scenery chewing father figure being the unsurprising standout, but also a few disappointments: Burn Gorman and Charlie Day have zero chemistry as the bumbling scientists, working better independently than together, Rinko Kikuchi’s first English language role (she doesn’t speak English in The Brothers Bloom) lacks the charm and spikiness of her earlier work and most of the rest of the cast are cardboard cut-outs, Ron Perlman sadly included. There feels potential in the franchise, but this first dip in the ocean only half exploits it. On top of that, there’s a disconnect from reality, in some ways good (any film with characters called Stacker Pentecost and Hercules Hansen clearly isn’t taking itself too seriously) but in some less so: in this universe, we’re only three and a bit years from having giant robots controlled by mind powers. Really? (If that’s true, sign me up now, by the way.) It also feels a mite overextended, although at two hours ten it’s far from the longest you’ll have to suffer bum cramp this summer and it also does feel a touch churlish to complain when you’re getting value for money, the lack of A-list names in the cast a testament to the fact that you can see pretty much every cent of the $200 million budget up there on the screen. A middling outcome for this middle of summer release, but enough potential that the remaining oceans of the world ought to be checked for interdimensional fissures in the not too distant future.
Why see it at the cinema: Giant robots. Giant aliens. Giant screen. Not rocket science.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for scenes of moderate violence and one use of strong language. As bog standard a 12A film as you’ll see in this or any other summer, and while not one to take young children to, this is nowhere near the 15 borderline.
My cinema experience: Not being able to get to an IMAX or a massive screen myself to watch this, I attempted to adjust the balance by sitting as close to the front of the screen as possible when seeing it at Cineworld Bury St. Edmunds. This also allows one to take in the squeaking side curtains as they’re adjusted in all of their noisy glory. Other than that, no issues with the projection of the film, although the audience reaction seemed about as mixed as mine. I chose 2D over 3D, as I normally would these days, but on this occasion as it was the most convenient screening start time. However, I couldn’t foresee massive issues with the 3D if that’s your preferred viewing state.
The Score: 6/10