I’m gonna start with an aside here. I like Ain’t It Cool News. Those guys be good and regularly display as much disregard for spelling and grammar checks as I do. There’s a kinship there, I feel. But man do they fall victim to hyperbole in their reviews. Whenever some big geekfest of a film, such as Pacific Rim, comes along they pretty much just write around 2,000 of filmic cock-sucking. They make bold claims about how amazing the film’s visuals are and how it’s totally not a dumb film cos there was that part where the guy looked a little sad about a thing. Rather than write critical reviews of a film they, mostly Harry to be fair, tend to write massive geek-gasms that bear more of a resemblance to the excited ramblings of a 6 year old that just got a NINTENDOOOOO SIXTY-FOOOOOURRRR!!!! Now I wouldn’t have it any other way with them. It’s part of Harry’s charm that he can still evoke the excitable child in himself when he writes a review of the latest blockbuster. That’s not what I tend to do. I might give glowing reviews but I like to think I remain objective. That said…. Pacific Rim is every single boyhood dream of your favourite comics, cartoons and monster movies of your youth realised on screen as one of the most incredible, colourful and spectacular visual treats that has ever been put on a cinema screen. Click the link for my clearly measured and critical review.
Honest to God I did not type that sentence with a hint of irony. I’m going to get my geeky side out of the way right here though. I grew up watching Transformers, Godzilla films and pretty much anything else filled with monsters and robots. Only in recent years, though, has it been possible to visually bring those shows and films to life in a way that goes beyond a man in a suit of a cartoon churned out to sell toys. There was always a part of Godzilla, Transformers, Battle of the Planets and the like that would fall short of the spectacle your brains would create when you dreamed of your own adventures. Even when the technology was there for the 1998 US Godzilla film we got a turgid, uninspired mess of a film that seemed scared to show its creature or any real destruction.
Pacific Rim looks amazing. Pacific Rim realizes the sort of action and moments you dreamed of. Pacific Rim isn’t scared to show you its monsters and destroy a few buildings. This is a robot vs monster action film and that is it. Guillermo Del Toro knows exactly what is required of a satisfying monster movie and he delivers that in spades. He works in subtle nods and winks to the films and anime that clearly inspired the film whilst being sure to forge his own lore for the film to live within. The film owes a debt, but it’s paying it off and making it’s own progress forward. I honestly don’t think I’ve grinned at a film this much since Scott Pilgrim Vs The World came out.
Right, fanboy love ups over and done with. Time to get critical and stuff. Pacific Rim has a very, very simple plot. One day big monsters came from beneath the sea via an inter-dimensional portal. They made stuff go boom. Then man made big things out of metal that go boom louder. Man wins for a while and is happy. But then man starts to lose and man is sad. People with ties decide giant robot boom machines too much money do cost so they make wall. Luthor has takes robots to Hong Kong and plans to stop monsters for good before money all gone. Some generic guy’s brother died 5 years ago and no he is back to pilot robot his Japanese chick and punch monsters with his robot rocket fists.
See, simple stuff. And that is the film’s beauty. It plays everything in a simple manner and never over complicates it’s proceedings to ensure to cardinal sins of modern summer films can never occur. 1) The plot is simple so there’s no need for constantly explaining everything, risking your audiences boredom with needless exposition. Dear God Man of Steel needed to learn from that. 2) It doesn’t have a million strands fighting for screentime which in turn means less stuff to fail to realise fully. No film should make you leave the cinema asking why something obvious wasn’t done because most of the time the reason you’re asking that was because elements were put in place that caused the conflict of logic to crop its head in the first place. For example, those Eagles in Lord of the Rings could have solved everything months in advance. Superman could have spent the 24 hours he had to give himself up asking his Dad how to defeat Zod. Who was cleaning up all the garbage in Gotham city in the 6 or so month it was in lockdown? None of that nonsense will crop up in Pacific Rim because it has a singular goal it pursues with tunnel vision.
That’s not to say there isn’t character arcs and whatnot, but they’re kept simple. They serve to give insight to the characters long enough for you to like and root for them. You’ll want Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) to be able to work together, because if they don’t the robot won’t make things go boom. Their Commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), is a strong and stern leader type that has protective feelings towards Mako, which we learn the source of and we want him to get other because if he doesn’t let Mako pilot big robot won’t make the boom. See, simple plot threads that serve to create the conflict that needs resolving to allow the story to play out to its conclusion.
No the script is nothing special at all. Even serviceable is being generous. But what it is is the correct tone for what this film needs. It has macho bullshit, it has hints of a love story, it has (in true anime tradition) a tale of friendship and trust running through it. It’s basic but not what I’d call bad. It gets its story for A to B to C effectively and, sometimes, that is all you need. The simplistic nature of the script actually helps give the film a little bit of a Saturday morning cartoon vibe.
For the most part the cast are selling the hell out of this script, which would have meant disaster if they hadn’t. The cast are all fully aware of what sort of film they’re in and they deliver their lines with exactly the level of devotion needed to keep everything fun without ever going full ham fisted. If I have any issues with the cast it’s Charlie Hunnam himself. Now I’m not massively familiar with his work as I am that one guy who has still never seen Sons of Anarchy. But I have seen Queer as Folk and Byker Grove and I can’t remember what he was like in those. Well, he was in one episode of Byker Grove. I just threw that in for a laugh really. Anyway, he’s very one note. I realise the role isn’t taxing but there’s something static and robotic about his line delivery that just didn’t sit well with me. He reminds me of Channing Tatum when he’s in films I couldn’t, and clearly he didn’t, give two shits about. So all Channing Tatum films.
The film’s score irked me a little also. It’s fine in it’s composition but swings wildly from one style to another. Early on it feels a lot like the sort of music you’d get on an extreme TV game show like Fear Factor. Actually it’s quite a lot like the music from Real Steel. Now I could feel a fit for that music in this film, sure, but then it changes, and changes again. We get a guitar led rock anthem theme from time to time that, as before, would work on its own. But then we get possibly the films strongest pieces of music in the form of orchestrated pieces that wouldn’t sound out of place in the early Godzilla films. Individually these differing styles are fine but they are flipped between so often that it messes with the films identity a little too much. None of these themes seemed to have been associated with specific characters or moments. They just exist to be interchanged at the whims of composer Ramin Djawadi.
What this film has that stops it being the wrong kind of stupid is honesty. Guillermo Del Toro has always been an honest director. He finds the films tone, hones in on it and keeps it there. He doesn’t complicate when it would not be necessary. He pays respect to the past of his various influences, which you can tick off many including videogames here, yet is sure to forge his own path to make sure that what he is producing cannot be labelled as rip off by anyone that actually bothers to watch. He uses colour and steady framing to not bullshit the audience into feeling a fake tone of realism. He’s happy to bring a comic book style to life on screen. Again, I’ll reference Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and throw in Watchmen as examples of films that get what power colour and clarity can have in a film.
Pacific Rim is good, clean, wholesome fun of the most arse kicking variety. It is up front and honest in its representation of itself. It remains enjoyable and is constantly providing imagery that’s only been hinted at in the classic monster movies of the past. This is Del Toro at his most geeky and flashy. This is the sort of amazing action we could have all the time if people just actually went to see Del Toro’s films. Don’t make this another Dredd situation where we’ll likely never get a sequel because people just didn’t give the film a shot. Pacific Rim deserves your attention because, if you are still capable of enjoying yourself, you will bust out a Kaiju sized grin before this film is over.