For too long now Pacific Rim’s Guillermo del Toro has been absent from the director’s chair. Not since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army has his fantastical, childlike imagination graced us with far-off tales of magic, monsters and gooey stuff. It is his limitless imagination that makes del Toro one of cinemas’ most inspiring and visionary directors. At one point he was set to offer the mouthwatering prospect of his version of The Hobbit – before bowing out due to time constraints and issues over which studio owned the rights to the novel – but now he returns with Pacific Rim, a film with a concept straight out of a child’s ideas bank.
In the near future a portal to another dimension opens beneath the Pacific Ocean releasing giant monsters known as “Kaiju”. Humanity fights back by building massive robots known as “Jaegers” which require two pilots to form a neural bridge, wherein their two minds become one, in order to operate the machines. Having lost his brother when they piloted a Jaeger together, Raliegh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) leaves the program. But the Kaijus are getting bigger, stronger and emerging through the portal more regularly. With the joint world leaders on the brink of shutting down the Jaeger program, Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) will make one last throw of the dice; an all-out attack on the portal in an attempt to close it once and for all. But to do this he needs Raliegh who in turn needs a new co-pilot. Step forward Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a Kaiju attack survivor who is out for revenge against the creatures.
The premise of Pacific Rim is so outlandish it’s hard not to joyfully switch off the brain and buy into it. Del Toro has created a massive, crushing, block-smashing event film. From the first Kaiju attack to the multi-monster climax, Pacific Rim is a loud and brash assault on the senses.
Del Toro’s attention to detail is never anything less than breathtaking. The Kaiju have an intricate back-story, biology and world that evokes thoughts of James Cameron’s Avatar. The doctors of the film, played with great bickering fun by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, could easily have a film all of their own. Such is del Toro’s dedication to every tiny detail of his world that you often feel we’re only covering the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it becomes almost frustrating that by the third monster vs. robot fight, you’d rather be seeing more of the world outside the smack-downs than the fights themselves.
Make no mistake though, this is a summer movie and brings with it everything that suggests. The film is possibly the biggest thing to grace cinema in a long time, laced with endless scenes of CGI monsters hitting CGI robots. Although, crucially, still far more engaging than anything Michael Bay’s Transformers movies come close to mustering. But like a Bay film, the characters of Pacific Rim are painted with broad strokes and few, if any, have anything resembling a story arc, instead they’re there simply to be meat puppets to pilot their giant metal alter-egos.
Pacific Rim puts all its eggs in one basket and that is the idea, that for nearly two hours you’re going to be riveted by monster brawls that pay homage to legend of the stop-motion monster movies Ray Harryhausen. The problem is it feels like we’ve seen it all before. One moment you’re wondering if this was essentially inspired by ’90s kids show Might Morphin Power Rangers, with monsters that look remarkably like Cloverfield’s big beasty, the next you’re convinced that the ending has been lifted verbatim from Independence Day, right down to the rousing speech followed by sticking a big old bomb in the proverbial mother-ship. Which means that while it’s fun, Pacific Rim often drags. When you should be whooping with delight you’re left wondering if there is really much difference between one fight and the next other than a change in location. It isn’t helped by del Toro’s insistence to douse the whole film in torrential rain that makes Blade Runner look like a mild shower by comparison.
Like the robots of the film, the head is left a little hollow despite all the flashy gadgets inside the machines. That said, Pacific Rim is still a hugely fun and utterly stupid movie which could only possibly have been conjured by a child playing with toys. Strap in, turn off brain and prepare to witness city-levelling action of outrageous proportions.