Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

Having already been a little disappointed with the only other blockbuster I’ll probably see this year despite having respectable names attached to it, I was wary about getting too excited about Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering.  The Hellboy films and Blade 2 both demonstrated that del Toro was able to create intelligent mainstream films with a mostly believable yet fantastical plot and at the same time fill them with plenty of inventive and (crucially) understandable action.  So it was my hope that Pacific Rim would up the ante in terms of spectacle yet still retain the attention to detail and storytelling that typifies some of del Toro’s previous work.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The design of the film was tremendous, the level of detail in the Jaegers (Hunters; huge robots) and Kaiju (huge monsters) is incredible.  There was also plenty of design to create the world inhabited by these two creations; downtown Hong Kong was as detailed and as full of character as the Troll Market in Hellboy 2 and I really loved the fact that there was a healthy black market in Kaiju body parts.  I was surprised that two guys had to physically be in the Jaegers to control them, I thought it would have been far more sensible to control them by remote.  On the plus side for the movie, there is far more danger and threat given that the drivers are literally in the heart of the action.  This gives the film a far more human element, especially as the two drivers have to mentality "drift" together (some sort of shared thought/memory thingy to be able to control both "hemispheres" of their Jaeger), an idea without which the film wouldn't have the same impact .

The cast were fine, and did well in bringing this human element to life, where otherwise we may not have cared.  Idris Elba was certainly the standout performance, perfectly cast as Stacker, the military general running the Jaeger project who provided an immovable point in whom everyone else could depend.  The "hero" duo of Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi were OK but were fairly prefabricated and copy/pasted from any other action/adventure film.  Of course del Toro favourite Ron Perlman is in the mix, but his is a rather light-hearted role as Kingpin of the black market.  Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are the fairly irritating and cringeworthy stereotypical science nerds, but at least they’re fairly integral to the plot.

As well as introducing a very human story to the film, del Toro managed to create a lot of spectacular fight scenes that was still perfectly understandable.  The movie steered well clear of any Michael Bay-ish tendencies for fast over-editing and generally “fucking the frame”, so that we haven’t a clue what’s going on.  Though the whole premise of the film is rather over the top, the action never is; for example, even when a Jaeger takes out 2 Kaiju in Hong Kong, relatively little of the city gets destroyed, which seems to be a prerequisite for action movies these days (Superman destroyed far more of Metropolis killing far more bystanders in Man of Steel).  Throughout the action the CG was generally flawless, these massive beasts given a real presence, and the wind and the rain really lashes off the robots.

All in all I really enjoyed Pacific Rim.  Sure there were daft bits (Ron Perlman’s cameo), clunky bits (Idris Elba saying he’d die if he stepped into another Jaeger - simply for the payoff in the next scene), and cheesy bits (Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!); but the smart story, characters to relate to and care about, some tremendous action set pieces as well as del Toro’s eye for detail all combine to make a worthwhile robot/creature feature.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.