Pacific Rim feels like a breath of fresh air. Not that you’d notice from the trailers, which depict the robots vs monsters pitch more akin to a Transformers film than that of the final product. In fact, Guillmero Del Toro’s latest effort feels less like the modern, Western blockbuster than it does a live action love letter to Japanese anime, something sorely missed in Hollywood today. While it certainly draws on the best parts of the large scale kaiju-inspired films, providing some awe-inspiring action set pieces, it manages to also find itself beholden to some of the more negative aspects of the genre in as well.
Pacific Rim is set in the far future, where through a portal in the ocean known as “the Rift”, a race of giant creatures known (not so subtly) as kaiju have begun to assault our shores. In response, humanity creates a legion of massive piloted robots known as Jaegers to counter this threat. The Jaeger’s only caveat – they require two pilots to sync their minds together to work, because the mental strain is too much for one mind. One such pilot Raleigh Becket (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam) finds himself grounded after a tragic loss, only to be brought back in by his old superior officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and the mysterious Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to make one last effort to destroy the kaiju threat once and for all.
This is where Pacific Rim both stumbles and succeeds. On the one hand, Del Toro has crafted a narrative that doesn’t worry itself with the same trappings of a post Christopher Nolan blockbuster space – no hero brooding on his loss, no dark and gritty take on a genre, just a good old fashioned tale of humanity overcoming the odds to succeed – instead it’s interested on how the film can put the characters through the paces against an army of monstrous kaiju. On the other hand, the story just feels like that is all it’s doing: moving pieces around the board so they can show us many ways of punching monsters, rather than any extended period focused on the main cast of characters out of their robotic suits.
The film also has no unique characterisations to speak of – both Hunman and Kikuchi’s characters feel very one note and the rest of the cast seem more intent on fulfilling a stereotype than making them feel unique. Charlie Day and Ron Perlman both seem to be having fun in their sub-story (which I won’t spoil here), and Idris Elba serves well as the inspiring leader, but aside from that the characters and their dialogue remain very stilted and dull. One can not help but feel like that may very well be the point – why bother making these characters anything more than the basics, when what you’re really paying to see are beautiful action set pieces with stunning special effects. However, the interactions between cast members are prominent, so it becomes hard to ignore.
Where the story falters, the action soars, as film makes the most of both its size and scope for the fight scenes. Aside from a brief disappointment with the beginning of a set-piece in the film’s second act, Pacific Rim boasts some of the most beautiful and exciting fight scenes in recent memory. The film seems to top itself with how much more amazing it can be with each consecutive scene, all the while remaining both colourful and easy to follow.
The Jaeger and Kaiju designs are fantastic and fun to watch – as is expected by any film by Del Toro these days. Taking cues from famous anime like Gundam and a number of Japanese monster movies, the designs are bold, colourful and easy to distinguish. Were I a ten-year-old again, Pacific Rim would remain my go-to toy franchise for years to come.
Speaking on the use of 3D, it holds up remarkably well. In fact, I recommend watching this film on the biggest possible screen, with the best possible sound and in 3D. Despite a lot of water and rain effects obscuring the scene at times, the special effects look stunning, and the 3D adds to the experience rather than detract. This is a film made to be watched in a cinema.
Pacific Rim is something unique in the film space so far this year – a new film wanting to instil a sense of awe and excitement without being dragged down by the dark aesthetic of the modern blockbuster. Guillmero Del Toro has begun a franchise that reminds the viewer that they don’t need a dark hero or a twisted story. It reminds them to have fun.