So the great del Toro finally takes the Hollywood dollar. To be fair, the Mexican director, who has brought art house to the multiplex, has had his tussles with the major studios before but the seriously ginormous Pacific Rim marks his proper debut on the blockbuster block.
Del Toro’s movies are often grand allegories on religion, childhood, life’s great mysteries, and the tantalising slipstream between physical and temporal worlds. Even his Hellboy films had a dark superiority to most superhero trash so is Pacific Rim some divine metaphor or a multi-million dollar summer blockbuster in which giant robots and giant prehistoric lizards beat the crap out of each other?
Thankfully, it’s the latter and while it’s impossible not to call it Transformers Vs Godzilla, unlike Michael Bay, del Toro can actually direct and with Pacific Rim he brings a real sense of craft and artistry to old themes and visuals. This very entertaining epic has some of the most impressive special effects I’ve ever seen and the now clichéd scenes of towering skyscrapers and landmark bridges shattering into a million shards, have a fresh thrill and a pretty awesome chill factor too.
It may be short on wit and the script is a non starter, but Pacific Rim is the best action flick since Iron Man 3.
We don’t hang around for the fun to start either. Legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, are rising from the world’s oceans and pulverising cities and killing millions. To combat these killer giants, a special type of weapon has been devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a "neural bridge". However, after early victories, the Kaiju have adapted and are becoming quicker, bigger and even more ferocious so the world decides to build massive walls in the hope that coastal defence will keep the brutes at bay.
Amid all this, humankind are like motes drfting as the dust settles. Mostly they are military jocks and Jaeger pilots, a variation on WWII flyboys, who are split into international groups including glowering Rooskies, gung-ho Aussies and determined Chinese. Our hero is Raleigh Becket, a washed-up pilot looking for a shot at redemption who is played with a comic book functionality by Charlie Hunnam.
Del Toro may not have gone for the kind of cartoon violence acted out by good-looking young rookies that made Paul Verhoven’s Starship Troopers so great but most of the cast here are mere ciphers with only Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost (Stringer Bell, Luther and now Stacker Pentecost! Is it in Elba’s contract that he has to have a cool name?) bringing gravitas to proceedings.
He plays a Colonel, as imposing as any Jaeger or Kaiju, who exudes a Churchillian air and strides about delivering rousing speeches against impossible odds as he gathers his Jaeger pilots for one last battle royale that will determine the fate of humanity.
Light relief comes in the form of two bickering boffins, and Rinko Kikuchi plays a rookie who looks like she’s just stepped out of the pages of an Anime graphic novel. There’s also a fun turn by Ron Perlman as Kaiju body parts dealer but they are all mere distractions to the main attractions of Pacific Rim – the metal-crunching, reptile-slicing ding dongs between the robot and monster behemoths. Del Toro doesn’t keep us waiting for long between talky scenes and there are more than enough prolonged and very enjoyable set pieces in which Jaeger and Kaiju are locked in mortal combat.
Despite the lumbering hardware and those massive lizards, del Toro manages to keep the whole enterprise light on its feet. It’s utter nonsense but it’s secure in its utter nonsense and neither is it afraid to be grave and solemn as it meshes up a Japanese B-movie classic with a not so classic from the eighties.
Del Toro has had his troubles with Hollywood before but he’s just come back and beaten it at its own tired little game. My only regret was that Optimus Prime didn’t make a cameo appearance and have his annoying ass canned by a Kaiju or, better still, a Jaeger.