Pacific Rim * * * 1/2

Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writers: Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Max Martini, Ron Perlman

Running Length: 131 minutes

Synopsis: When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju.

On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes – a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi) – who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse.

Review: Pacific Rim is what the Transformers film should have been – it’s a behemoth of an effects movie, loud and brash and all guns blazing from the word go, but doesn’t eschew a proper storyline in exchange for CG effects and action sequences. Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a very impressive film here – minus some bad science and logic, this is about as entertaining as the monsters versus giant robots sub genre gets.

It’s clear that the film is targeted mainly at teenaged boys (just like Transformers), and so the proceedings remain very chaste throughout – there’s very little true violence and bloodshed (barring kaiju blood, but it’s about as gruesome as an ad for diapers, blue liquid and all), and virtually zero sexual chemistry between the two leads. The focus is really on the mecha and the monsters, which fortunately are rendered very well. Action sequences are cleanly shot, with none of the confusion that plagued all the Transformers movies, and the film is pretty evenly paced with little downtime.

Pacific Rim is also a rare action film which successfully balances the OTT action sequences with exposition, which allows audiences to feel more vested in the proceedings. There’s also immense attention paid to the finer details of the universe that Pacific Rim is set in – for example, Jaegers each have their own unique look and feel, and it’s readily apparent that a lot of painstaking work was put into making the Shatterdome and other environments look just right. Unlike Transformers and the ilk, there’s no lazy filmmaking to be found in Pacific Rim. This is also a film in which paying for a third dimension doesn’t feel like a pure money grab – the action sequences felt enhanced and even more visceral when viewed in (IMAX) 3D.

That’s not to say that the film is without issues – apart from the junky science (apparent even to a layperson like me), one of the biggest problems the movie has is with the choice of its main lead. Although Charlie Hunnam bears the looks and build of an all-American hero, his thespian skills leave much to be desired, and some of his line delivery is so poor it’s almost comical. To be fair, the rest of the cast is perfectly serviceable (Rinko Kikuchi and Mana Ashida, the child actress playing the younger version of Mako, are the most memorable), and the one scene where Raleigh and Mako face off in physical combat is flirtatious fun.   

Guillermo del Toro has not attempted a project of this size prior, but he has now shown that tackling a big summer blockbuster is not out of the question for him. Pacific Rim borders on being a guilty pleasure – it is hugely enjoyable with the standard trappings of an action film, and yet delves just enough beyond the superficial that it doesn’t become featureless, mindless action tedium. The final title card in the end credits pay tribute to Ray Harryhausen (master of stop motion animation films like the original Clash of the Titans) and Ishiro Honda (the director of Godzilla – the original film, not the pale Hollywood remake), and the film indeed is a shining example of how Harryhausen and Honda’s films would look like if made with the trappings of 21st Century technology and modern sensibilities.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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