Monsters from the deep fighting giant robots: it’s the stuff that our wildest dreams are made of. We just don’t remember them having this much terrible dialogue.
To say Pacific Rim had been a long time coming would be an understatement as big as Guillermo del Toro‘s robotic toys. Having last sat in the director’s chair all the way back in 2008 with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, various fits and starts on aborted versions of The Hobbit and At the Mountains of Madness kept him behind the scenes on dozens of other productions in the meantime. Finally arriving amidst a plethora of dark apocalyptic nightmares that have peppered the cinematic landscape this year, del Toro wears his mostly Japanese influences on his sleeve in a familiar mecha story. Yet with super-robots this big, we don’t want to be the ones to tell them they aren’t very smart.
Del Toro and Travis Beacham’s (Clash of the Titans) screenplay cobbles together the larger motifs of giant robot fiction and Japanese giant monster (kaiju) films in laying down the back-story for their monster mash-up. Indeed, they generically name their monsters this universe Kaiju, creatures that mysteriously appeared out of a portal in space time deep beneath the titular Pacific Rim. The beasts rampaged through cities until humans built the giant robotic Jaegers (“Hunters”) to push them back. However, as humanity’s final days approach, former Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is called out of retirement by commanding officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to pilot the machines for one last-ditch effort. Yet first he and fellow wannabe pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) must overcome their inner demons before they can fight the very literal outer kind.
Pacific Rim comes crashing through the narrative landscape like the giant beasts it depicts, readily shattering similarly sized goliaths but paying scant attention to the finer details around it. On the big end of the scale, Pacific Rim is unsurpassed, eliciting cheers of joy from inner and outer geeks who have wanted to see a live action Macross or Evangelion since childhood. In design and form, the creature and robot fights are unparalleled, dwarfing even the similarly large-scale Transformers series in sheer action scope. What separates this film from the Michael Bay series is a constant connection to the humans around them. With humans inside the robots, the stakes are instantly higher and there is genuinely someone rather than something to cheer for.
Yet like many of its kin, Pacific Rim mistakes slapstick and cliché dialogue for human interest. To dismiss the need for character development on the basis that it’s “just a robot movie” is too easy, because there really wasn’t any need for the film to be this dumb. Case in point are the supporting characters of Dr. Newton Geizle (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman), a pair of bumbling scientists who mirror Jeff Goldblum’s archetype from Independence Day, providing misguided comic relief in the pursuit of the “magic bullet” that will save the day. Heavyweight Elba is saddled with one clunker of a line after the next, culminating in a flight-deck speech that will inspire you to have a quick nap before the final battle. Also, in a $180 million budget, would it have been too hard to find two actual Australians to not murder the accent between fights?
Cherry picking tropes from Top Gun, ID4 and countless Japanese monster movies, Pacific Rim may be the ultimate Western take on the kaiju genre, but it sadly lacks in any originality. Visually stunning, it’s sure to please pure adrenaline fans. It’s not simply that the film is derivative of the giant robot films it loves dearly, it just doesn’t match them in any way. From a director that has endeared us to monsters in Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s a shame that he can’t infuse his humans with anything other than cookie-cutter emotion.
Pacific Rim is released in Australia on 11 July 2013 from Roadshow Films.
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