Guillermo del Toro is a director who normally makes films of great fluidity and fluency.
However in Pacific Rim he exhibits a clunkiness and lack of sophistication which is surprising, and yet in places oddly appropriate and almost endearing.
Although this looks and feels as if it is a story taken straight from a comic book (giant monsters battling giant machines) it’s actually an original script by del Toro and Travis Beacham. However, the movie never manages to shed that air of having come from an anime (there are many nods to Japan and the Japanese here).
Out in the ocean on the Pacific Rim something stirs; a portal has opened deep within the ocean bed allowing huge creatures – known as Kaiju – to cross through into our world. As they attack coastal cities millions die, the destruction is on a colossal scale and absolutely nothing seems to stop them. But by pooling their resources a league of nations comes up with the Jaegers, equally massive robotic machines steered by two human pilots locked together by a mind meld known as ‘the drift’.
One such pilot is Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who pilots one of the original analogue Jaegers, but as the Kaiju keeping coming and growing bigger and more awesome, more sophisticated digital Jaegers are produced and Raleigh becomes redundant. When he is called back into action by Commander Stacker (Idris Elba) of the Pan Pacific Defence Corp he finds himself back in control of his old Jaeger but with a new drift partner – the inexperienced Mako (Rinko Kikuchi). So bring on the monsters, bring on the Jaegers, and let the mother of all battles commence.
In truth, there’s absolutely no real reason this film should be in 3D because it would still look and sound awesome in 2D – the monsters clash, the auditorium shudders and you can feel your teeth chatter against each other. In a way this sheer, basic physicality perfectly mirrors the lack of sophistication in the script, which is linear in the extreme. However, interestingly, the one deviation from the chronological story-telling, when we see Mako reliving (or more correctly ‘re-experiencing’) a terrifying episode in her youth, proves to be the most thrilling and moving section of the whole film. Mana Ashida as the young Mako is truly astonishing; fear and panic exploding from her in shards of almost palpable energy. Had del Toro decided to pursue this branch of his story the final product would have been far more intriguing (and thrilling) than the film he has actually produced.
That said, the fight scenes really are epic (and beautifully designed), Idris Alba gets to give a ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ style rousing speech to his troops, there are comedy asides of sorts in the shape of two scientists who provide much of the exposition, and Ron Perlman has a cameo where his personality is almost as big as it is in Hellboy.
But still you come away feeling that buried within this so-so big budget, thunderous action movie is a far better, far more involving and far more interesting film.