IF YOU feel that this summer lacks the kind of noisy 3D bombast that could loosen fillings, fret not: Pacific Rim has arrived to save your day, with an apocalypse directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, where giant robots piloted by humans have to fight alien monsters that rise up from a hole in the ocean.
Pacific Rim (12A)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running time: 132 minutes
The robots are called jaegars and the monsters are “kaiju” but for review purposes, let’s ignore this attempt to homage Japanese pop culture, and stick to the basics. These monsters are as aggressive as a tankful of sharks’ private parts, and come in all shapes and sizes. The robots also come in different models, although at no point has an engineer thought that a flying robot would be more effective at defeating these earthbound critters than a slow-moving titan requiring two people to form a telepathic linkup in order to punch and pummel the monsters in the manner of Giant Haystacks trying to get to the front of a buffet queue.
The rest of Pacific Rim also feels like a behemoth which has taken a few too many blows to the head. Del Toro’s visual sensibilities have survived his transfer from the arthouse of Pan’s Labyrinth, but his interest in plot quirk or character originality has not. Lead hero Charlie Hunnam starts the picture as a portrait of such familiar Top Gun cockiness that when he and his brother are hailed as top co-pilots, you just know that the hotshot brother won’t even make it to the opening credit title, leaving his sibling so traumatised that he drops out of robot pilot work and becomes a welder for five years. When he’s brought back, the roboprogram is on its last legs, and set to be replaced by a giant indestructible wall, guaranteed to keep ravening beasties out. Presumably these engineers never got a chance to catch World War Z.
For comic relief, there are two scientists; one (Burn Gorman) a control freak and a bit effeminate, so he’s British; the other a nerd (Charlie Day) who seems to have come off his meds. For romance there is Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), an enigmatic new recruit and ace fighter, who in her scenes with Hunnam generates all the heat of rubbing two robots together. And in a role that Tom Cruise abandoned is Idris Elba, as the commander of the robot task force, who is suffering from a terminal disease that occasionally inflicts a nose bleed, but otherwise leaves him looking well-rested and fed.
At least the special effects are spectacular, and the creatures are primal and striking, even if their destructive orgies grow repetitious. Lit by phosphorescent blood, despite water, nightfall and general murk they always appear sharp, yet the script is not. If you are going to write Idris Elba a St Crispin’s Day rallying speech, it really needs to be a lot more rousing than: “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse.”
Maybe if you are 14, you might be prepared to settle for Pacific Rim’s generic B-movie thrills but older audiences could feel stiffed by a derivative creature feature that steals from the likes of Godzilla, Independence Day and Transformers without offering much of an upgrade. At best, it’s summer fodder, made more stylish by Del Toro, and more bearable by the charismatic Elba, but still a silk purse that says oink. n
On general release