Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Diego Klattenhoff, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr and Ron Perlman.
Writers: Travis Beacham and Guillermo de Toro.
Director: Guillermo de Toro.
The niggling pre-release concern that Guillermo del Toro’s monsters-vs-robots action epic Pacific Rim was going to be his arty Euro take on Michael Bay’s Transformer series never really materialises; its an infinitely superior work to those travesties in every regard. What does surprise is that it still manages to carbon-copy one of Bay’s earlier ear-shattering works; essentially, Pacific Rim is Armaggeddon.
Once you substitute ‘undersea alien giants’ for ‘shards of meteorite’, the narrative comparison falls into place with startling detail. An ensemble of international types, each with a troubled past and under the command of a stoic leader with his own secret issues, must track threats to densely populated areas until the breadth of the enemy’s force dictates that the ultimate sacrifice will have to be made to protect mankind.
Also recalling the 1998 Bruce Willis blockbuster is a clunky plot and cheesy dialogue, the kind of shortcomings that genre fans were hoping del Toro would rein in for his first big summer entry (sorry fanboys, but Hellboy’s 1 & 2 were sleeper hits at best). Astonishingly, the harder one looks into the parallels, however minute, the more overtly obvious they become – Ron Perlman’s much-needed eccentric fronts up at about the same time as Peter Stormare’s crazy Russian did; a square-jawed Idris Elba, as the mission leader, has daddy-daughter issues with Rinko Kikuchi’s strong-willed heroine (ala Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler); Charlie Hunnam fulfils the scarred but solid hero role well, echoing the Ben Affleck part in Bay’s film.
Support players such as Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky as father/son Aussie hunks (sporting awful Down Under accents) and a visibly uncomfortable Clifton Collins Jr as the nerdy tech round out the trope-y caricatures. Several turning points rely far too heavily upon bickering nerdy scientists Charlie Day and Burn Giorman, whose contributions should have amounted to little more than comic relief but who are called on to plug plot holes, much to the story’s detriment.
The highly-touted effects work is photo-realistic (or as ‘realistic’ as acid-spitting behemoths and 6-storey high mechanic men can be). There is a genuine beauty in the detail, though it is frustratingly hard to make out at times. Australian audiences may appreciate the significant role a monster attack on Sydney plays in the unfolding plot, even if the details in the scene are nonsensical (a huge wall that fails to hold back the marauding beast runs down the middle of Sydney Harbour; pictured, right). That said, the rain-soaked clashes between machine and beast more than make up for some truly eye-rolling leaps in logic and coherence.
Guillermo de Toro’s film is not a total bust – let’s face it, it is probably the best sea-monsters-vs-giant-robots bash-‘em-up we’ll ever get - but the ‘bigger is better’ mantra he embraces overwhelms the genre intelligence and class for which he is revered. In an American summer season of less-than-stellar efforts so far, Pacific Rim is not the worst of the bunch but it is clearly the film that falls furthest from its inherent potential.