Friday, 12 July 2013


Roadshow Films

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Giant robots fighting giant monsters! What's not to like? Well, plenty if you're no longer in touch with your inner 10-year-old, the one who once delighted in playing with his dinosaurs and Transformer toys, pitching them against each other in titanic battles to the death.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is obviously very much in touch with his inner child, but the key to your enjoying his blockbuster, Pacific Rim (penned by Travis Beacham), is just how much you are. A good litmus test: if when you saw the trailer for the film -- which does indeed have giant robots (Jaegers) fighting giant monsters (Kaiju) -- you're reaction was, "Cooool!", then Pacific Rim is probably for you. Conversely, if your reaction was "WTF!" (or just mere indifference), then I'd suggest you go with that instinct and give the film a miss.

The Kaiju are reptile-like creatures which have found their way to Earth through a trans-dimensional fissure in the floor of the Pacific Ocean, sporadically emerging from the sea to wreak havoc on the mainland. To combat this threat, the world's superpowers developed the Jaeger program: giant robots designed to kick the Godzilla-like beasts' asses, and operated by two human co-pilots in some mind-melding virtual reality-esque system known as 'Drifitng'.

But even as the Kaiju attacks begin to occur more frequently, the powers-that-be have decided to wind down the Jaeger program and put their faith in building giant walls along the world's major coastlines. In one last hurrah, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), head of the Jaeger program, plans to use his remaining Jaegers (from China and Russia (whose pilots would appear to be mutes), Australia (whose pilots, sadly, are not) and the U.S.) to take the fight to the Kaiju and nuke the shit out that fissure.

Key to this mission is recalled Jaeger pilot, Raleigh (Charlie Dunnam), who abandoned the program following the death of his co-pilot and brother five years earlier. Raleigh is eventually teamed with Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), a protege/ward of Pentecost, whose eagerness to fight the Kaiju stems from a childhood trauma (revealed in flashback and easily the film's best moments).

There's no denying the spectacle of Pacific Rim when Jaeger and Kaiju go mano a mano off the coast of Alaska or Hong Kong (though the underwater battle sequences in the third act render the protagonists somewhat indistinguishable), but exhilarating it is not. For the most part I was bored, not helped by the spectacle coming at the expense of the human element.

None of the characters succeed beyond being mere cardboard cut-outs and the actors (which include Clifton Collins Jr., Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and a cameo-for-cameo's-sake Ron Perlman) aren't required to do much more with them than that description entails. Hunnam, star of TV's Sons of Anarchy, and who looks a lot like Channing Tatum grew his hair out, provides the beef cake and little else; Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for Babel (2006), manages to fair better (i.e. she actually emotes).

But Idris Elba fares the worst, in turns grumbling and speechifying to little effect (it takes a special director to elicit a sub par performance from Elba so kudos for that, del Toro.) And the less said about the American (Max Martini) and the Brit (Robert Kazinsky) actors playing the Australian father-and-son Jaeger team the better (they're Ocker accents enough to make Alf Stewart cringe).

But I won't deny there's fun to be had with Pacific Rim, if indeed you remain in close contact with your 10-year-old self; all the better if you happen to be a 10-year-old. While the trailer gave off a Transformers versus Godzilla vibe, it's by no means as dumbed-down as Michael Bay's sledgehammer-of-stupid-to-your-face franchise nor as silly as the 1998 Roland Emmerich version of the Japanese monster (and if anything, del Toro has lowered the bar for Gareth Edwards' take on Godzilla, releasing in 2014).

Those who were amped for the latest by the director of the Hellboy films should be well pleased with Pacific Rim. For those who prefer the del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth (2006), I simply wouldn't bother. Trying to get my inner critic to 'drift' with my inner child was a battle I just could not win.