Pacific Rim – Guillermo Del Toro – Big monsters hit big robots – the very definition of ‘heavy-handed’: it is a simple and gleefully boyish formula which Del Toro invests with affectionate energy. However, while clearly presenting a step up from Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise, it still suffers from being grounded with insistently anonymous action man type characters. It was this rugged lack of soul that, for me, prevented Avatar from ever being anything more than visually appealing. Granted, being ‘visually appealing’ is the drive of these films, but would it really be too much of a stretch to extend some of the imagination (poured with such abandon into the CGI monster creations) into depicting male characters that go beyond a bicep-centric heroism and devastatingly chiselled features. The exception in Pacific Rim is Idris Elba’s character, despite a fairly stock steely eyed solemnity with a buried heart of gold type - Elba alleviates the template with his undeniable gravitas and natural charisma.
The basic premise of Pacific Rim, aliens born from a tectonic breach in the earth’s crust, deep underwater as opposed to from outer space, is an enticing and relatively original concept. The monsters themselves, although often partially obscured by oceanic spray, darkness, pummeling robotic arms, or falling debris, are all portrayed with Del Toro’s familiar and detailed excitement in such creations. Somewhere between Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla, hammerhead sharks and vast marauding crustaceans (all lovingly customized with the standard Alien jaws within jaws feature), my only complaint is that we don’t have more time with these creations – outside of the quick edit frenzy of combat and its murky, splashing obscurity. To do battle with these apocalyptic beasts, man has naturally created huge, man shaped robots ( a la Matrix Revolutions, Avatar, Transformers and, ticking jubilant nerd boxes everywhere: Warhammer 40k). This leads to an interesting dimension of the narrative in which, in order to control such lumbering machines, a telepathic link is made between co-pilots/controllers – drawing upon a shared neurological connection. Cue: montage of bleached out memories, whizzing past to suggest ‘plugging into’ the unconscious intuition of our dearly beloved warriors. It has a Minority Report-lite vibe, seasoned with Tron flourishes of neon. All fairly fun, underdeveloped possibilities abound. Del Toro knows his terrain, that of loud, popcorn crunching adrenalin, and thus here is not the time or space to bother with such ponderous implications. So, instead we have a comedy scientist duo. Depending on your mood, this comic relief could either seem mind numbingly abrasive or, kinda charming – in an amdram kinda way. I found them closer to the former – the scientist adopting a painfully ridiculous over-English accent and wielding a cane, in my eyes, took it too far! Overall, for what it aims for, and knows itself to be, Pacific Rim is a successful, loud and entertaining spectacle. With Del Toro behind the camera, the main complaint I am left with is that neither the intelligence nor originality of Pan’s Labyrinth surfaces with any influence. In that respect, it remains as standardized as its stock dialogue and the muscled mannequins of masculinity it sports in leading roles. 6.5/10