-Review by Paul Ewbank-
Movies about monsters the size of skyscrapers are pretty rare these days. Whether due to the fact that it’s been done too many times before or the current obsession with gritty realism in action movies, there seems to be a pretty severe height restriction imposed within most film studios of the 21st century. The only exception I can think of was cloverfield, which anyway was a more down-to-earth, modern day interpretation of the old idea. But aside from that lousy Godzilla remake we had a while back, I can’t think of a single decent monster flick made in the last ten years. As someone who really struggles to appreciate older films and retro TV shows I have found myself rather at a loss- enjoying the concept of giant robots and monsters and stuff but never finding a film that does it justice. I began to wonder if such a movie even existed- or were those black and white Godzilla B movies really the best we could do? Well either way, wipe the slate clean. Pacific Rim is a monster movie in every sense of the word. And it’s amazing.
Twenty four hours ago I wasn’t planning on seeing this film at all. I’d seen the ads on the sides of busses and the like and instantly dismissed it being just another boring, hyperactive, underplotted piece of CGI overkill along the lines of Transformers or Battleship. Had I known it was being helmed by Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth and master of the awesome-looking-monster, I may have opted to see it sooner, but as it was it took an online review claiming Pacific Rim to be the most insanely entertaining summer blockbuster since Independence Day to convince me to make the treck to my nearest Vue and check it out. My time and money was well spent. Not only does Pacific Rim more or less live up to these lofty expectations, it’s the kind of film that simply has to be seen in the cinema. It’s a film all about jaw-dropping, eye exploding spectacle and letting the sheer exhilaration of the sights and sounds wash over you like a tidal wave. The Avengers blew us all away last year, wiping the floor with the remaining summer films, and Pacific Rim has done it again this year.
Like Avengers, the plot to Pacific Rim is brilliant in its simplicity. Giant alien monsters (Kaiju) invade earth through a dimensional rift at the bottom of the pacific. Giant robots (Jaegers) are constructed to battle them. And that’s it. That’s the entire plot. No horribly tacked on teen-romance, no brooding anti-heroes questioning the morality of their actions, just good old fashioned, get-to-the-point monster fights. It’s a bit like Power Rangers remade on a hundred million dollar budget by a guy who has a soft spot for retro dinosaur movies and anime. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like. And it’s played absolutely straight; no winking irony, no needless pandering to people’s nostalgia or homage to the films it so obviously draws from, Pacific Rim just gets on with business of having the most awesomely designed giant robots you’ve ever seen beating the crap out of the most awesomely designed giant monsters you’ve ever seen.
Del Toro is a guy who obviously knows how to make original, otherworldly critters that manage to be both beautiful and terrifying all at once, but he’s really outdone himself here. Each of the Kaiju is basically the Forest God from Hellboy turned up to eleven. They’re huge, striking and brought to life via the most breathtakingly lifelike CGI around. The ‘bots are just as good. Robots that tower over skyscrapers are more often found in anime than on the big screen these days, but these robots buck the trend by being totally massive and totally unconcerned with looking like they’re actually possible. The sheer scale of the action is breathtaking in itself and the sweeping, epic direction allows you take in every detail while the astonishing score and sound effects ensure you feel every blow deep in your skull.
I’ve compared Pacific Rim to Avengers already, and similarities with Independence Day are fairly apparent too; at times they appear to be reading from the same script. A lot of the giant mech tropes will be familiar to anime fans too. If, upon watching this film, you think that the idea of pilots syncing their brainwaves with their robots to improve their battle performance is lifted straight out of Neon Genesis Evangelion then, well, so did I. It’s done cleverly, though; since two pilots are required to pilot a Jaeger, and they have to be totally in sync with each other to properly fight, the relationships between the various characters become a central plot point rather than an afterthought. Smart. Characters are pretty simply drawn but likeable enough and each gets enough screen time to make them feel fully rounded. Except the Russian pilots. Poor guys have like six words between them. The two bumbling mad scientists are also something of a misfire- crossing the line from funny to annoying approximately one second after they appear on screen. A hilarious cameo from another del Toro alumni late in the film really livens things up though, and none of the character or world development gets in the way of the action. All the pieces slot together perfectly so that there’s enough of every aspect and little wasted screen time. And although the focus of the film is clearly on the mind blowing action, del Toro still manages to put a human heart into all the mechanical mayhem. This is easily the most pacifistic action film I’ve ever seen. Great care is taken to show that all the civilians have been evacuated before the city destroying rampages start, the usual obsession with military machismo and war-glamorizing is very down played and when Idris Elba’s Marshall Stacker gets his own “we will not go quietly into the night” speech before the final showdown, he asks his soldiers not for heroic sacrifice but to believe in each other.
Pacific Rim takes an idea as old as cinema itself and finally gives it the treatment it deserves. Men in rubber Godzilla suits falling into cardboard buildings probably meant a lot to the fans experiencing it firsthand but today’s audience has been crying out for a decent monster scrap for years. For such a touchstone of nerd culture the kaiju/mecha genre had been riding on nostalgia for far too long, and I’m delighted to say that with Pacific Rim I finally have a monster movie I can call my very own. It’s not a remake or reimagining, it’s not stuffed to the nose with shout outs to obscure 80’s cartoons, it’s a brand new franchise made with the best modern technology, helmed and played by the best dudes for the job. Pacific Rim brings the monster movie crashing into 2013 and it’s absolutely bloody fantastic.