Notoriously delayed from a summer 2012 release to spring 2013 before being moved once more to a prime summer 2013 release (raising the spectre of a “World War Z” style debachle), “Pacific Rim” comes as a breath of fresh air into a summer blockbuster season which while high in quality was conspicuously lacking in original ideas. It’s not “this generation’s Star Wars moment” as the hype would have it, but it is a genuinely thrilling popcorn blockbuster delivered with the visual flair of a true cinematic artist.
One thing you can always rely on Guillermo Del Toro to deliver is gorgeous visuals and stunningly realised worlds. From “Blade II” to his “Hellboy” films to “Pan’s Labyrinth”, he has proved time and again he can deliver the goods on screen. Often, this has been down to his meticulous attention to detail and preference for practical effects and sets over digital creations but when you’re setting out to make a film about giant robots (Jaegers) battling even bigger monsters (Kaiju), practical effects are a luxury you probably can’t afford, even with a budget reputed to be in the region of $200million.
Something of a personal passion project, keeping Del Toro out of the Director’s chair for about five years, he has succeeded in putting all of his personal passion and every cent of Warner Bros’ money on screen. The world of “Pacific Rim” feels real and lived in, every frame crammed with brilliant details and touches, grounding the more outlandish aspects of the story and giving everything credibility. The special effects themselves are the very best I have ever seen. The ingenuous work to make the physics as real as possible without compromising on the spectacle is a triumph, enhanced further by the eye for visual perfectionism Del Toro has brought to his other films.
The story is well crafted and rattles along at a good pace however the voiceover-driven exposition-heavy first fifteen minutes belie the fact that almost an hour’s worth of footage was cut from the film, mostly character development, I suspect. Fascinating aspects of the world we are presented with are glossed over or left unexplored; I would, for example, have liked to spend more time seeing and understanding the “drift” and how it affects the Jaeger pilots.
Of course with such a feast for the eyes on offer, something’s got to give and it’s in the ear department you’ll be short changed. No, not in the sound design where every earth-shattering, bone-crunching, gear-shredding sound effect is tuned to perfection over a propulsive, action oriented soundtrack. Where “Pacific Rim” doesn’t quite hit the mark is in the script department.
Much of the dialogue is sub-“Top Gun” bombastic nonsense but the cast deliver it with conviction and an earnestness which keeps it just this side of silly. The increasingly ubiquitous Idris Elba is a particular standout in this regard, barking his Quixotic speeches with pseudo-Shakespearian declamatory gusto.
The rest of the cast are pleasingly eclectic with fellow Brit (and friend of a friend of mine) Charlie Hunnam as a washed-up Jaeger pilot pressed back into service, Rinko Kikuchi as rookie Jaeger pilot Mako Mori and Robert Kazinsky (yeah, him from “Eastenders”) as the obligatory hotshot Jaeger pilot resentful and suspicious of the washout and the rookie. Even Torchwood’s, Burn Gorman pops up as a prissy English scientist who, with Charlie Day’s more laid-back scientist, becomes “Pacific Rim”’s version of C-3PO and R2D2.
For an end of the world epic, it’s pleasingly free from the “Independence Day” style U-S-A, U-S-A subliminal chanting and refreshingly, given Hollywood’s latest obsession over targeting eastern audiences, its Asia-centric nature is both organic and unobtrusive to the story. It’s a real shame “Pacific Rim” hasn’t opened to bigger numbers in the important USA market, but I suspect once it opens in China and Japan, the sequel will be green-lit quick enough.
“Pacific Rim” might be the best blockbuster this year, certainly the most original and pleasing to look at. It’s definitely the first to not be bogged down in darkness and grittiness, preferring instead a more hopeful and less bloodthirsty approach to giant battles. Indeed, pains are taken to show cities being evacuated prior to monster attacks. None of the near-genocidal body count of “Man Of Steel” here, “Pacific Rim” is a rollicking, heavy metal monster mash you can safely take your children to. Hooray for the return of the family blockbuster!
PS: “Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse” is still 2013’s worst line of dialogue, though.