The most attention-grabbing thing about Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim isn’t its big-name director, its ridiculously ambitious plot or its mind-blowing special effects. No, the most attention-grabbing thing about the film is the fact that, for the first time in years, a massive mid-July Summer blockbuster is an original film- not adapted from a book or comic, or a sequel/prequel/reboot to another film- a completely original idea from the minds of its makers! Not since Inception has something so astoundingly shocking been attempted! This is, after all, the first Summer since 2006 (that’s 7 years) that neither a Harry Potter nor a Chris Nolan film has been around in the month of July to keep Warner Brothers going. Sure, Man of Steel was a big hit, but Superman is too old-fashioned and too American to fill that mid-July gap that needs a big, loud adventure for all the family in it. So, Del Toro came along to rescue Warner. He had an idea, coming off The Hobbit, for a massively loud spectacle movie that, shockingly, he could make for a surprisingly small budget, by filming very early and fast, and giving the CGI wizards loads of time to do their work, therefore making that work cost less. Genius! Unless your film is marketed so poorly that no-one goes to see it and that medium-sized budget can’t even be made back! Well, we haven’t come to that part yet, but it’s unlikely that the repercussions of Pacific Rim‘s marketing (Read more here) will have much effect if word gets around about how bloody enjoyable this film is! Whilst Michael Bay’s Transformers films got their audience in by whoring out its female protagonists and shooting its robots in a leery, cinematographically horrific manner, Rim uses stunning colour schemes and beautiful settings for the staging of its short and few epic robot-vs-monster battles. The robots are ‘jaegers’, built by the Earth’s newly elected central government to defeat the destructive ‘kaiju’ beasts who have risen from a crack in the Pacific ocean. These beasts and their names are not at all original, but are taken from the traditional Japanese monster movies, of which Del Toro is a self-professed die-hard fan. The kaiju don’t look as boring or as clichéd as other movie monsters we’ve seen in recent years, but resemble sophisticated (and 100-feet-tall) versions of the claymation figures used in the 1930s King Kong and Godzilla films. They are awe-inspiring to look at, more so than the jaegers, and their short appearances on screen are the highlights of the film.
Although the names of the film’s creatures may not be original, pretty much everything else in Pacific Rim is entirely original- for better or worse. When you have characters called Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba’s jaeger-meister) and Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman’s Hong Kong-based billionaire)in your film, it might be a good time to call in a comic-book writer for some advice. Nevertheless, Del Toro clearly knows what he’s doing, opening the film with an excellently explanatory montage and closing it with an unexpected twist (and some post-credits fun). The central fight in Hong Kong is Godzilla-meets-Blade Runner and is a neon-tinged feast for the eyes. Rinko Kikuchi gives a standout performance as Mako Mori, Pentecost’s adopted daughter and the jaeger-pilot-partner of Charlie Hunnam’s leading man Raleigh. The film would be much improved if Del Toro had chosen to make Mori the lead, but clearly Warner knew that, incredibly unfortunately, US audiences may be less inclined to see an action film with a Japanese female in the lead role. She is a far more interesting character than Raleigh, whose back-story is underdeveloped, and who is only given human and sympathetic qualities through ‘memory-connecting’ with Mori. Another problem is that all of Pacific Rim‘s character and story development comes in one 45-minute block between action scenes, leaving the film feeling like the first chapter of a larger plot. However, the dialogue is impressive, some of the acting quite enjoyable, and the fighting absolutely superb.
Pacific Rim is not as well-paced as White House Down, and it doesn’t have the wonderful characters of Star Trek or Iron Man, but it will entertain everyone, and isn’t that what we want it to do?