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Pacific Rim review

Monday 08 Jul 2013 7:00p.m.

David Farrier on Pacific Rim

Fanboys have been waiting eagerly for Pacific Rim since it was announced.

Giant man-made mechs, driven by humans, fighting giant monsters. To be crass, it’s a nerd’s wet dream, and hype from Comic-Con drove this thing through the roof (letting out a small cloud of B.O. in the process).

But it wasn’t just the mechs (Jaegers) and monsters (Kaiju) getting the hype. If Michael Bay were at the helm, the same fanbase wouldn’t have swallowed it all up. It’s down to filmmaker Guillermo del Toro being in charge, a man who’s proven time and time again that he can bring creatures to life in ways others can’t.

Whether it’s Hellboy or Pan’s Labyrinth, there was a reason they wanted him for The Hobbit. And yet he left New Zealand to pursue other things – including this. Good.

In a nutshell, Pacific Rim delivers on its promise of giant-sized action. And no, despite what Twitter is saying, this is not Transformers: let’s make that very clear. This is not, as someone said, “Jurassic Park dinosaurs fighting Transformers”.

Pacific Rim feels like an entirely fresh beast – and that’s because it is. This is a new story with characters directly from del Toro’s head. That’s what del Toro does – he writes stories. Hell, when he’s not directing he actually writes novels... and they’re quite good.

The premise is this: Someone or something is sending monsters through a portal that emerges at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. As is told in an incredibly quick and dense prologue, these monsters trash the planet.

Humans respond by building giant mechs to fight them, after planes, tanks and rocket launchers simply weren’t doing the trick. There are a bunch of these mechs and they’re all as tall as an office block (Again: these are huge mechs, not robots. This isn’t Transformers).

They’re driven by two human pilots, in a similar fashion to Ripley driving around the power-loader in Aliens. There’s some technical gobbledygook involved (two humans must drive, their minds “drift” together to share the load of driving such a big beast). But at the end of the day, it’s mechs vs monsters.

As you can probably guess from the “Jaeger” and “Kaiju” talk, this movie is also big in its geographical scope. America, Australia, Japan - we’re flitted around the globe as the world tries to cope with the onslaught.

What makes this film work is that each Kaiju sent through the portal is totally unique, with its own look and fighting style. While they’re essentially all reptilian, one looks like a big ape. Another is more like a shark. They’re directly out of del Toro’s head and each one is a unique spectacle (as Kaiju should be: it’s about time we had some more Godzillas).

The same goes for the jaegers: Russia’s jaeger is different to Australia’s jaeger. Because of this, when these things clash, it actually feels important. Each fight feels interesting.

This is the opposite of Transformers, where the action was like a close-up of a dishwasher rolling down a hill. Each battle in Pacific Rim is clear, and takes place in distinct environments. My favourite battles took place at the bottom of the ocean… and in space. Yep.

The one disadvantage of having such cool “giants” is that they make the humans look bad. While I love that the cast isn’t made up of distracting A-listers -Guillermo opting for a wonderfully diverse range of ethnicities and accents instead - their performances are inconsistent and varied. While everyone’s more than passable, some are far from perfect.

Accents shift and change – I found myself wondering if the guy playing an Australian is British or American. Or is the American actually British? It’s a distracting game to play.

English actor Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) goes a little too American at times – but he’s likable as star Jaeger pilot Raleigh, so gets away with it. Idris Elba (The Wire) essentially reprises his commander character from Prometheus, but with more shouting and Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is the comic relief as Dr Newton Geizler. His 'comedy' is sometimes not all that relieving, however, more just mad-cap shouting.

His sidekick, played by Burn Gorman, is equally distracting as the pair’s dialogue is used to explain the films vague “science”. The three actors who are faultless are Japanese jaeger pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi, of Babel fame), the young actress who plays Mako’s younger self in some flashbacks and del Toro’s long-time collaborator Ron Perlman. Not restricted by Hellboy-prosthetics, he’s free to move that big beautiful face, and steals every scene (speaking of which, stay after the credits roll).

Apart from Perlman, there isn’t a great deal of humor to be found in the characters (unless you like the shouty scientists) – the humor is revealed subtly in other ways: a giant jaeger arm rips through an entire level of an office building, only to start a Newton's cradle toy off. A pigeon lazily flies away after being nearly crushed by a jaeger foot. Classic del Toro fun.

There are another two big characters worth pointing out. First up: the ocean. Many of the battles take place in the water and whether the H2O being displaced by a giant Kaiji or simply dripping off an equally giant jaeger, wetness a huge part of the film’s look. Industrial Light and Magic nail it.

Secondly, the score. It’s big and hulking, largely composed by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones), with additional guitar riffage from Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) for the main theme. It’s a theme that’s oft-repeated throughout the film to great affect.

But where this movie really triumphs is in the way it has created a fresh, dynamic world you’ve never seen before. Seeing how the jaegers are driven feels incredibly realistic, partly because the set was built for real and placed on a giant, moving gimbal. The result is when the humans move around to operate the jaegers, it feels as though they’re operating in a very real world. This is nice counterpoint to the incredibly CG-driven world the big scale action takes place in.

This isn’t a sci-fi film adapted from a book. It’s not an action film based on a board game. Or a comic. It’s not a reboot. It’s fresh, and that’s what makes it awesome.

It won’t be for everyone – there will be people who hate it just for the fact it’s so bloody big. They’ll hate Tom Morello’s giant riff in the score as much as they’ll hate giant monsters fighting giant machines. But it’s that bigness that’s the film's true success and will have many gagging for more.

Pacific Rim is the big budget monster film del Toro has wanted to make for ages. He’s like a kid in a candy-store with it, and you will be too.

Additional thoughts (SPOILERS):

  • The world of the Kaiji looks a little aesthetically similar to Tool’s 'Vicarious' video. The “black” sun in the sky, the murky-edged CG alien “creators” with their black eyes…
  • All throughout the film I couldn’t wait to glimpse the other side of that portal (and I got what I wanted)
  • Del Toro turned up to our screening in San Francisco just to check the volume was cranked up to 11. He wanted the press to see it as loud as possible, and I’m glad he did
  • I think seeing the Opera House destroyed in news-style footage looked even better than the opening set piece of the San Fran bridge being desecrated, right? Or is that just because it’s Australia?
  • I’m sure the scale at points is altered so certain things can happen. Idris Elba couldn’t have hopped up on that jaeger’s foot to make “that” speech without a ladder, surely?!
  • So Pacific Rim 2: Do we learn more about how the Kaiji are formed by their creators? We saw flashes of it in the human-Kaiji bridge – but it was pretty unclear without having a “pause” button ready on the blu-ray remote…
  • “Where’s my f**king shoe!!!”

3 News

     Pacific Rim
:: Director: Guillermo del Toro
:: Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman, Clifton Collins Jr 
:: Running Time: 131 mins
:: Rating: M - Violence
:: Release Date: July 11, 2013
:: Trailer: Watch here