Synopsis: As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.
When I left the small screening of Pacific Rim with my buddy Matt and our fantastically patient wives I felt all kinds of giddy excitement from the 2 hours of monster bashing robot porn. So much so it led me to make the statement “that was awesome, I already know I am giving it 8/10 when I review it”. At which point the far more pragmatic Matt said “really?”. A brief and energetic discussion ensued about how I enjoyed it more than Man of Steel and whether a B-Movie can be a B-Movie if it cost $150m. I can say hand on heart that when I made that statement about it being an 8/10 movie I genuinely meant it. I also thought I would have all sorts of things to write about it and I couldn’t wait to sit down at my laptop.
That was a week ago.
You see Pacific Rim is like a ridiculous sugar rush. When you’re in the midst of it you think it’s incredible and you feel all kinds of crazy energised. But once it wears off you realise it was that artificial energy that you can’t put into anything constructive. Just as quickly as it comes, it goes and you forget about it. And maybe that is all Pacific Rim needs to be; a 2 hour escapist movie about huge things punching other huge things. The issue is that somewhere in there you need some story and characterisation, something Del Toro is normally incredibly adept at doing. More so than many of his genre peers. Here though it seems he was so hell bent on creating a pure genre piece, complete with 1980’s style stereotype Russian, Asian and Aussie fighters, cheesy dialogue and by the numbers plot arcs that he forgot to inject any originality into it.
It also felt like it was lacking a big star to carry the weight of the movie. Given that Tom Cruise was originally cast in the role that eventually went to Idris Elba, and at that time production stopped because of budget concerns, it felt as if the B-list cast was a cost saving exercise. And you can see where the money went. It is a visual feast and the battle scenes are as impressive as anything in Iron Man 3, Man of Steel of Star Trek: ITD. But in those quite periods between the noise it lacks the gravitas and credibility that a leading man or woman like George Clooney, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence or Don Cheadle would bring to those moments that required you to feel something other than “ooooooh look at that thing hitting the other thing”. Charlie Hunnam is nice to look at and does what he can with the two dimensional character he is given, but he isn’t ready to carry a movie of this size yet. Similarly, as he was in Prometheus, Idris Elba, one of Britain’s finest young actors, is made to look like he has been botoxed out of showing any emotion. Charlie Day on the other hand, who is always funny, elevates the non action moments anytime he is on screen, his staccato, over caffeinated, screechy delivery a perfect fit for the nerdy scientist role.
But for all it’s faults there is no escaping that for the moments you are in it, it is fun. Big, dumb, loud fun. Del Toro promised big monsters fighting big robots and in that department he delivers and then some. The set pieces are genuinely spectacular. The moments that you spend inside the Jaegers as they stride and swing like giant Rock-em Sock-em Robots is pure unadulterated infantile joy. It also lacks the attempted pretentiousness that made Man of Steel feel fraudulent and for that it deserves points. The internet though has some blame to be had for over egging how good it was and skewing expectations. The fact that it was a Del Toro joint also meant that my own higher expectations of him that he has set over the years were not quite meet. I just hope that Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla doesn’t suffer in the same way next year.
Conclusion: Shane Black and JJ Abrams have set a bar this year for action movies with genuine character development as well as retina searing pyrotechnics. Pacific Rim is a two hour sugar rush that will leave you briefly on an artificial high before realising shortly afterwards that it lacked any emotional nutrition.