Monday, 8 July 2013

Pacific Rim, dir. Guillermo del Toro, scr. Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro, st. Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman

On the face of it, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim seems like the surefire hit of the Summer. Not since Hellboy II: The Golden Army has he directed, instead serving in the interim as producer and creative consultant on films like Splice, Julia's Eyes, Cowboys And Aliens, and most recently, the potholed Mama. But like several of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim - colossal robots built to engage the enemy - the Summer has already seen a seemingly indestructible behemoth crash and burn in the shape of Zach Snyder's Man Of Steel, what with its director famed for his visual aesthetic and built-in-audienced source material, should have been a critical no-brainer, and instead ended up earning the bruisingly direct Twitter trend hashtag #supermansucks. Ouch. So does Pacific Rim deliver? On the whole, yes, but golly gosh only be the skin of its teeth.

The film's premise concerns a massive crevasse in the middle of the ocean - the titular rim - inside which has formed a pan-dimensional portal from which large Godzilla-type monsters have periodically emerged and, as Lewis Caroll might say, galumphed all over the world's major cities and indeed their citizens. In a quickly glosssed-over bit of introductory newsreel-style exposition, we are told that global governments have put aside their differences to collaborate in constructing crazy-ass huge robots, piloted - as all the best ass-kicking craft are - by a pair of wingmen (to share and cohere the neural load). But the frequency of toothy sea-beasts has increased and the Jaegers are falling faster than they are being built. As far as narrative goes, that's pretty much it. The screenplay, uncreditingly finessed by Luther scribe Neil Cross, is as absurd and unwieldy as you might expect in a film about droids versus dragons, and there're some disappointingly tired old tropes like the Icemanish robo-jock Chuck Hansen (Kazinsky) who considers our hero Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) too reckless to be on active duty, an older avuncular CO who was once a pilot himself (Elba), and a pair of rent-a-geek scientists who go off on nerdy side-missions whilst the greater abbed pilots strap in and face-off, that are at once warmingly familiar and desperately dated.

That said, Pacific Rim never breaks the cardinal rule of ensuring levity, and (here's the rub) the predominant action sequences - the film's nuclear-fusioned core - are deftly orchestrated and coherently assembled, which is no mean feat given the majority of them take place at night or in the vast tidal swell of seawater. The creatures are imaginatively designed and impressively formidable, and the piston-crushing dance-off they perform with the Jaegers carries tangible weight and balanced physics that lend a persuasive sense of realism to proceedings. And again, like Man Of Steel, the performances are surprisingly fine given the wonky architecture the actors are forced to grapple with; Elba has a couple of great lines in amongst his character's gruff leader shtick and does his best to make his obligatory 'rousing the troops' speech sound listenable, something an American twang has always over-patriotised in similar scenes in movies before.

Thus Pacific Rim is quite enjoyable fun, if a little uninspired. That elusive middle-ground between adrenalined escapism and perceptive, cerebral content a la Cameron's Aliens is still a rare thing these days, and one wonders if Neil Blomkamp's Elysium, released later this year, might be that film - a movie that packs an emotional and spiritual punch the size of one of the Jaegers' house-sized fists.