Review: Pacific Rim / Cert: 12A / Director: Guillermo del Toro / Screenplay: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro / Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Chalie Day, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinsky / Release Date: November 11th
He’s known for his affection for horror and fantasy, but Guillermo del Toro’s latest film took inspiration from a particular branch of sci-fi – the Japanese Kaiju movie. Pacific Rim is set in a near future in which enormous monsters, the Godzilla-like Kaiju, have emerged from a breach in the Pacific Ocean to wreak terror on humanity. To fight back, humans have built giant mecha known as Jaegers. With the Jaeger program under threat of closure, former operator Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) is pulled back into action for one final mission: to close the breach once and for all.
As this story suggests, Pacific Rim is a formidable assault on the senses. Coming from a summer in which every second film featured a massive city-destroying punch-up, it’s one of the most visually powerful of the lot. Del Toro’s love for the genre shows in the painstaking care put into designing both Kaiju and Jaeger, which, combined with the vibrant colours of neon-drenched Hong Kong, makes the battle scenes a joy to watch. And it doesn’t stick to the city – the fast-paced action takes the Jaegers up into the atmosphere and down below the sea.
But exciting visuals alone don’t make a good story, and problems emerge with the characterisation. Roguish Becket reluctantly returns to action, having retired after his brother’s tragic death. His commander, Stacker Pentecost (Elba), is a gruff, strict authority figure devoted to his cause. Novice pilot Mako Mori (Kikuchi) is motivated to avenge her parents’ death, while Chuck Hansen (Kazinsky) is the egotistical pilot with father issues. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Pacific Rim relies heavily on character clichés, with too much going on to explore anyone in-depth. Hunnam never makes Becket at all engaging, and even the more talented supporting actors like Elba struggle to do anything interesting with the shallow roles they’re given. At least Day and Gorman have fun as a thoroughly entertaining comic relief double act, both finding unique and disparate ways to inhabit the ‘mad professor’ trope, while Perlman is joyously hammy as black market dealer Hannibal Chau.
The underdeveloped characters really let Pacific Rim down. Yes, it’s enjoyable blockbuster fun, but del Toro is capable of much better. With Pan’s Labyrinth, he created a poignant and mystical masterpiece using the fantasy genre; Pacific Rim shows his passion for a different genre, but barely approaches those heights. If you do feel up for dumb monster-vs-mecha fun, though, you won’t be going wrong. The visual splendor and sheer enormity of Pacific Rim make it an experience best enjoyed in the cinema, but if you missed your chance, do pick up the DVD.
Extras: Four short deleted scenes, one of which adds a little depth to Hansen / A blooper reel / Audio commentary from the always fascinating del Toro