Pacific Rim (2013)
Another weekend, another gleaming vision of hellish catastrophe and destruction. After the comedic carnage of This Is The End, the leveling of Metropolis and Smallville in Man Of Steel, the crashing starships and terrorists strikes of Star Trek: Into Darkness and I’m told the nuking of London in G.I Joe: Retaliation this summer has been one terrifying orgy of pixellated havoc, and one longs for the quiet desolation of Oblivion, the smooth search for identity amongst the lethal drone strikes and technological oppression. You might think that someone was trying to tell us something, that the cultural manifest was expressing some submerged fear of ecological or social devastation, and the permeation of these global dreads into kids movies is a rather worrying development for which we can conclude that the worlds global Armageddon clock has ticked one minute closer to the apocalypse. OK, OK, maybe its the heat stroke ’cause I’m exaggerating of course, but with the arrival of Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro’s clanking, braying CGI tour-de-force which pits gargantuan para-dimensional Kaiju monsters – think Godjira or King Kong or Mothra – against building sized robotic juggernauts I am curious to see the younger generations response to this dazzling conflagration of extinction threatening violence, as make no mistake this is a film very much aimed at the younger cinema-goers of the ten to fourteen age range, rather than the slightly older teenage demographic which dominates the lucrative summer season. In terms of full disclosure I must admit that I was in a somewhat fragile, self-inflicted hungover state when enduring this berserk blend of movie genres, my expectations weren’t stratospherically high other than potentially enjoying some destructive eye candy and a couple of hours of throwaway popcorn attuned fun with perhaps a buttery smattering of Del Toro’s empathic monster-mash-ups, what I witnessed instead was a rather frustrating combination of broad clichés and juvenile plot contrivances bolted on to his otaku obsessions, a three star movie housed in the shell of cavernous cinematic promise.
The near future, and some barnacle encrusted boffins have made a slightly worrying discovery – a para-dimensional portal rift has seared through the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, and this tear in the space-time continuum rather irritatingly appears to be coughing out mega-behemoth monsters to rampage through the shrieking populations of the Oriental plate and the western seaboard of North America. This humongous plague brings the world community together to launch a mechanical counterstrike which is christened as the Jaeger program, the ambitious construction of similarly sized robotic guardians piloted by two psychically linked souls due to the neural operative pressures being too much for a single pilot to handle alone, a hilariously implausible and unwieldy concept called “Drifting”. This international force achieves some early victories in fending off the devastating attacks, but a sinister intelligence behind the onslaught is revealed as the rate and size of the invasion exponentially grows, causing the worlds government to seek alternative methods of a hopeless defence. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) a one man charisma vacuum and sole survivor of one of the initial alien sorties is lured back to the programme through the barking persuasion of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba and no, I’m not making that name up), teamed up with tear-stained newbie Mako Mori (Rinko Kicuchi) this new couple must find their courage and forge a mutual trust as two deeply irritating scientists conduct some desperate R&D in an effort to build a strategy to counter the threat, played by the sneering suit Stryver from the The Dark Knight Rises (Burn Gorman) and
J.J.Abrams Charlie Day a final desperate mission is hatched to assault the rift and close the breach, and as the trailer so cringeworthy instructs us to ‘cancel the Apocalypse’….
I was musing over the potential reaction to this film from the numerous trailers that have escaped into international digital waters over the past year or so, with a quiet mental prediction that many of Del Toro’s local acolytes would be crushed by disappointment by a diluted directorial force following the severe setbacks he suffered with his exit from The Hobbit project, so I find myself in the rather unenviable position of siding with the annoying crowd as any sense of Del Toro as a filmmaker of the calibre of Pans Labyrinth or more crucially the rewarding Hellboy pictures which of course gleam closer to the spirit, size and sensibilities of this species of colossal blockbuster – any sense of an ‘authorial’ film has been completely obliterated from this film, apart from his trademark sense of creature design and dimensions which I’ll come to shortly. Now I know I have frequently expressed the view that you should review the film that was made rather than the one which you wanted to see, but unfortunately Pacific Rim’s numerous failures and long stretches of tedious, bland characterisations interfere with would could and should have been an entertaining, titanic rollercoaster of a movie, rather than a waterlogged wreck which springs more narrative leaks and clichéd asides than a swiss cheese schooner. It’s a film for twelve years olds and has clearly been developed with a whole series of toy franchises, duvet covers and comic book tie-ins which is to be expected (what marketing dolt thought up the tagline ‘Go Big Or Go Extinct’ though? Idiot) and I’m certainly not criticising it for that, but as a singular entity, as a film alone and adrift from the associated revenue streams it cuts rather a forlorn figure, occasionally punctuated with a few set pieces which certainly raise the temperature and the heart-rate, but all the fun of a fantastical, SF, comic book ensemble that he has brought to his previous big-budget excursions is singularly silent. He never plays with the concepts of ‘drifting’ and how this could gel with concepts of a shared heroism, there is no tacit tackling of a world united against one great threat and a shared humanity, instead Pacific Rim posits a very black and white, good/evil dichotomy with blandly sketched character longueurs which rot at the films tsunami damaged thermonuclear core, and that is simply just as faintly insulting to kids of whatever age as it is to adults.
That said there is some earthy elements to enjoy, unlike most current fare the 3D is expertly arranged and avoiding a mild spoiler I’ll just say that Del Toro’s skills at wading into world building waters are fully on display with an alloy of a society which would adapt to the presence of super Kajiru in both a physical and environmental fashion (genre hero Wayne Barlow was involved in much of the creature design and organic work), the battle scenes unlike its metamorphical stablemates are clearly defined and bellowingly brutal, through robust editing and compositions you instinctively grasp a firm sense of the space and the definitions of the melee maelstroms which are clearly designed to embrace the z axis format, and the Hong Kong set-piece is the films indiscriminate climax which may serve as the best single combat sequence of the year. Del Toro’s favourite actor Ron Perlman is fitfully amusing as a gold brocaded, sleazy Kaijun artefact black marketeer and you have to applaud the directors steadfast conviction of placing a woman in a central action and narrative role, not objectifying her to some crop topped wearing, hot pants sporting sex vixen that the camera drools over as she sweatingly conducts some ‘super hot’ repairs – thankfully despite its similarities to the Transformers pictures this ain’t no Michael Bay atrocity to celluloid equality – but by the same token Mako is the single, solitary speaking-role female character in the entire movie, so why were there no other vaginas deployed among the scientific support team or military brass? Well, OK there is a Russian pilot but she is barely seen and doesn’t hang around for very long, I guess unlike the hulking strides of the Jaeger colossus these things have to change in incremental baby steps.
Writing this review to the soundtrack of Man Of Steel certainly makes this review feel more epic than it sounds, I know you’re probably thinking I’m being far too serious for a $250+ million film of this ilk but I think you’ll appreciate my concerns when you get round to seeing it, if you have kids of an appropriate age then do take them to it as you will be the greatest father/mother in the world, and your brood will probably be of the opinion that the movie is the greatest achievement of human civilisation thus far – if I was that age I’d agree. The best news is I’m writing this on my lovely new iPad, given the desolate plateau of depression that was my so-called birthday last month I figure that you have to treat yourself sometimes, as it appears that no-one in my social or genetic circle is fucking prepared to do so, it’s a wise acquisition to prepare for Toronto as I needed a tablet of some description to power out the imminent – fingers crossed for the press accreditation – reviews. Anyway I digress as I’m already being diverted into alternate waters, I do hope Pacific Rim is a hit so Del Toro gets to resurrect his Cthulhu dormant Lovecraft project, if that fails then we can only hope he gets back to the smaller films and musters another minor masterpiece, until then I guess we should start quietly praying for the imminent screen return of the outer dimension ancient ones……