The very notion of a movie featuring giant robots trading blows with Godzilla-esque monsters across the world’s major cities is likely to induce as many groans as it is cheers. However, those disillusioned by the premise may find themselves perked up at the prospect of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro bringing his signature flourish to Pacific Rim (2013), an ode to Japan’s monster cinema. Starring Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba as Earth’s defenders, the film plays out like a gargantuan summer blockbuster, but with a welcome comedic streak and moments that descend so far into cliché as to become pastiche.
Pacific Rim’s neat set-up explains that the first visit from alien life saw the enormous Kaiju (Japanese for ‘strange beast’) rise from an inter-dimensional rift deep in the Pacific Ocean and attack populous areas. As more arrived, humanity united to produce Jaegers; giant robots capable of combating the threat, that require two pilots to link their minds in a process called ‘drifting’. After years of war, the UN decides to change tack and puts an end to the programme, leaving its commander Marshall Pentecost (Elba) one last shot at closing the rift with his remaining four Jaegers. Low on numbers, he puts together a pilot partnership for the final robot; the inexperienced Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) and erratic retiree Raleigh (Hunnam).
Both of these pilots are damaged having seen loved ones killed by marauding Kaiju and their psychic union is fraught with predictable complications. Their struggle to let their minds accept – and come to depend – on another is central to del Toro’s primary theme of trust; for him, it’s humanity’s best hope. But of course, humanity’s best hope is actually giant robots bashing, crashing and smashing the Kaiju to kingdom come. Pacific Rim is always spectacular, but after a time CGI grudge-matches fail to take away much breath. In many instances, there may be calls for less crunching action and more character, but del Toro overloads the front-end of his film with some almost parodic personal moments that ring hollow as often as true.
Our very own Idris Elba is excellent as the Jaeger leader – delivering the bravura speeches and more tender moments with aplomb – but his underlings never quite match him for acting chops or action-hero cool. Luckily, the script’s humour keeps the plates spinning and just as a major plot-hole begins to rear its scaly head, a funny supporting turns from Charlie Day, Burn Gorman (as a scientific odd-couple) and Ron Perlman (as a black market dealer in Kaiju parts) distracts the attention. All in all, Pacific Rim is unlikely to get pulses racing or jaws dropping, but provides an enjoyable ride atop the shoulders of giants.