Thursday, 18 July 2013

Pacific Rim Review

According to Stacker Pentecost, the giant robots of Pacific Rim aren’t just here to save the day, they’re cancelling the apocalypse. Whilst their success is basically assured for the goodwill of audiences everywhere, director Guillermo Del Toro’s isn’t. Putting one of contemporary cult cinemas biggest names at the helm of a smash-em-up monster movie was always going to raise a hope disguised as cynical intrigue amongst critics, at once apathetic to the post-Transformers blockbuster landscape and eager for someone to come along who just might shake things up. Yet whilst Del Toro, unlike all the other mini-Bays out there, clearly has a love of the material, it’s this unabashed admiration of tokusatsu cinema that is the man’s undoing; this film is a fanboy’s splurge with a multi-million dollar budget, and it rides the significant highs and lows accordingly.

Creatures are emerging from a fissure on the Earth’s sea bed, gigantic reptilian ‘Kaiju’ beasts pockmarked with neon, wreaking wanton destruction on our major cities. When traditional weaponry falls short, the Earth’s governments band together and push forward the ‘Jaeger’ program; giant mecha controlled by two pilots sharing an intense neural link. However, when the program is seen to be falling short in the face of an increase in Kaiju events, its leader, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), is forced to bring former star pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) out of retirement in a last ditch effort to stop the beasts.

If this sounds textbook, it is, and Pacific Rim truly suffers for it. Del Toro’s vision of giant robots battling monsters pays plenty of smart references to the films of the past (Godzilla’s iconic scream appears within the first five minutes), but that’s where the ingenuity in the script ends. Hunnam is likable enough with what he has to work with as our poor, broken lead, but the film’s attempts to shun the cynicism of recent cash-in features lends it an earnestness that betrays an outright slavishness toward the Saturday morning cartoons of yore – you saw this film twenty years ago, and it probably had a name like “Power Rangers: The Movie.” 

This cookie-cutter approach is given a foil in the form of Burn Gorman and Charlie Day as two bickering scientists with seemingly opposed views on the Kaiju threat, always at each other's throats in the backdrop while the “real men” fight it out in neon-soaked Hong Kong or day-glow bright Sidney. Their roles in their film, whilst attempting to add levity, instead act as further unnecessary padding to an over-long film, with Charlie Day only succeeding in becoming more annoying with each scene he appears in. Frustratingly, his character arc touches upon concepts in the plot that could have been developed much further – the neural link between pilots, so clearly intended as some thoughtful new take on the genre, is left to rot as a flashy gimmick.

But who am I to bemoan plot? People pay to see these films for total destruction, and in this area Pacific Rim rules. Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography excels where so many other tentpole action films currently fail – showing the heft and weight in each blow, lingering over the action obsessively rather than giddily hopping about and hoping the camera pan conveys the impact CGI often falls short of. There’s real attention to detail in the designs of the Kaiju and Jaeger, and for any fans of the genre it is in the moments of battle where the film really shines.

Unfortunately, even these scenes are marred by an awful choice of soundtrack, whilst the epic Hong Kong sequence is followed up by an attempt at humour so shockingly lame, you will believe you’re watching Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla. And I very much doubt Del Toro wants you to be thinking of that monster feature over this beast’s 2.5 hour run time, even if Pacific Rim does manage to muster up a little more charm than that ugly duckling can lay claim to.

Colour me apprehensive for Gareth Edwards’ turn at the genre next summer.