Pacific Rim – Movie review

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Guillermo Del Toro “gets it.”

That may seem like an absurdly vague way to start this review, but somehow it might be all that needs to be said. His previous few films were instant classics in their respective genres: the Hellboy films; Pan’s Labyrinth; Blade 2. What they all had in common was that these were films with comparatively limited budget and yet the scope of what was seen on-screen was positively epic: world building and visual storytelling at it’s very finest. Inevitably, the prospect of Del Toro wielding a “proper” blockbuster budget has led to some very high expectations from certain quarters.

Some might argue that the “Summer Blockbuster” is in poor health or need of resuscitation these days, admittedly the box office is still record-breaking year upon year, but with sequels prequels, reboots and spin-offs, fresh ideas appear to be in short supply. Step forward Pacific Rim to remedy this issue. Filtered through a lifelong obsession with disparate strands of geek culture, most notably the Godzilla and Kaiju films of Japanese cinema, Del Toro has birthed a whole new cinematic universe that is refreshingly tangible and unique. Giant robots or monsters may not be the most original of icons, but they have been deployed here in a new sandbox with a new set of rules.

A prolonged opening sequence hits the ground running, perhaps overwhelming the audience somewhat with a solid twenty minutes of exposition laying down the events that have led us to this particular point in the story, and it does so with aplomb, showcasing vast scenes of action & destruction before zeroing in on our hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam). What may come as a surprise to many is the intensely personal journey that the audience follows Raleigh on for the next hour. A crafty narrative quirk means that the two unified mecha pilots have to form a deep personal bond before the skyscraper sized robots will correctly operate, and Del Toro uses this to great effect, weaving a story not out of crass destruction and countdown timers, but of a journey of personal faith, redemption, and trust. A B-plot concerns two comedy bickering scientists’ quest to get deeper inside the brains of the Kaiju to understand what drives these horrific Lovecraftian terrors from beneath the sea, and these two primary storylines drive the narrative in perfect complement to each other. Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) hamming it up to delicious effect whenever they are onscreen.

Of course, personal or actual journeys are all well and good, but what people have paid to see is the monster smackdowns, and boy do they deliver. No jittery blurs of extraneous detailing and shaky camerawork here, the smackdowns are delivered as brutal wrestling matches between man-machine and beast that leave no structure untarnished. The mechs move with a slightly ponderous weight that befits their stature, and the fight sequences are hugely satisfying (not least of all because you can follow what’s going on). For the naysayers who listlessly dribble “It just looks like Transformers!” No, this gets right everything that Transformers got wrong – the stakes are established, the players are introduced in turn, and the battle commences.

The film is violent but is not explicit and overall has a family friendly tone. There are positive role models for both sexes in here: Rinko Kikuchi is particularly edifying as a conflicted but headstrong young woman trying to forge her destiny in this near-apocalyptic world – you can practically imagine the Comic-Con homages already. In combat, the city-wide carnage is punctuated with shots of refugees running to the shelters, so rest assured, unlike Man of Steel, we know the public are largely safe.

The question then is how is this film sufficiently different or interesting to warrant £10 and 2 hours of your life? Del Toro is never one to scrimp on the details, and there is a completeness and tangibility to this world that is both fantastical and believable. He has created new heroes for a new generation and equipped them with the best looking, most exciting and wish-fulfilling adventure that a modern movie can offer. This film recaptures a seemingly lost alchemical balance of what exactly constitutes a “Good Blockbuster” – the sense of adventure from ’80s Amblin movies; the confidence to take its fun very seriously; and pin-sharp special effects that look spectacular on any screen (but no doubt better in 3D at the IMAX). Admittedly, the cast is largely comprised of British television actors, but one can’t help feel that this film will raise their profiles no end. Did anybody know of Harrison Ford before 1977? Well, there you go.

This may seem like damning with faint praise, but there are more than a couple of moments that call to mind Independence Day – that sense of scale: that the whole world is in legitimate jeopardy and only our heroes can save the day via rousing speeches and alien-busting maguffins. Yes, the film is not afraid to have the odd cheesy moment, but given the context it works extremely well, and if it doesn’t, well, you can just chuckle & groan along with the rest of the audience.

Brushing the ID4 albatross to one side, what this film really feels like is the original trilogy of Star Wars. There are larger than life ideas and characters, a detailed and nuanced universe which they inhabit, and most importantly, there is scope for a whole new realm of adventures to be explored in the future. Dare I say it out loud? Pacific Rim: This generation’s Star Wars. Perhaps you should go and see what the fuss is all about.

Pacific Rim “vault” content can be found here.

 

This review was originally written for Lost In The Multiplex.

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