Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a blockbuster without bite

Despite having a hand in over a dozen motion pictures, as either a writer or producer, in the past five years, Pacific Rim marks the first time Guillermo del Toro has helmed a film since 2008’s Hellboy sequel.  Much has changed for the Mexican visionary who now returns to the director’s chair as one of Hollywood’s most powerful filmmakers.  Loaded with a $180 million budget, Pacific Rim reflects del Toro’s rather sudden, though not undeserved new status.  Unfortunately, it also bears many hallmarks of a typically vapid big studio blockbuster, as well.

Forgoing A-list stars for CGI monsters, Pacific Rim is nothing if not a high-gloss creature feature on an absolutely massive scale.  The concept is a simple one: gigantic, pre-historic looking aliens begin to emerge from the Pacific Ocean to terrorise mankind.  To combat these gargantuan beasts, called Kaiju, man creates equally enormous piloted robots known as Jaegers.  The problem is, del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham’s tale never diverges from its all-too straightforward path.  The past-his-prime hero teams with an unproven upstart to attempt to overcome the odds with the guidance of their wise leader, whilst quirky secondary characters attempt to trick the viewer into thinking the film is less formulaic than it actually is.  As a result, Pacific Rim’s 130 minute runtime quickly begins to feel like a chore, regardless of how great all its nonsense looks on the screen.

Thankfully the support shines as Charlie Day’s frenetic energy pumps some life into the human to human interaction, working especially well opposite Ron Perlman’s gruff black market trader.  The main cast members, led by Charlie Hunnam, all put in serviceable, if forgettable performances.  Only Rinko Kikuchi gets a character worth investing in and she gives it her all.  The Japanese star’s charm goes a long way in a film where anything more interesting than Idris Elba’s wobbly accent is in short supply.

It’s impossible to watch Pacific Rim without countless other films coming to mind: everything from Godzilla ­to Jurassic Park to Starship Troopers to The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to Real Steel.  And, yes, Michael Bay’s Transformers.  Sadly, wrapped up in the concepts of his predecessors, del Toro fails to carve out a unique identity for his sci-fi saga.  Instead the audience gets a vibrant, beautifully visualised take on what has been served up so many times before, right down to the increasingly passé city-levelling rumbles.  Scattershot attempts at humour fall wide of the mark and Pacific Rim’s tone is never more in question than when a Newton’s Cradle makes a bizarre appearance.  To top it off, del Toro and Beacham’s script includes that one dumb moment which occurs in any badly structured story that completely undermines the intelligence of the protagonists: when a last resort is turned to, it beggars belief that all the Jaegers wouldn’t have been using said resort from the very start.  It’s to the art design’s credit that the dull Pacific Rim remains bearable at all.  There may not be anything exciting happening, but no other plodding film has looked quite this stunning.

In truth, it’s not so much that Pacific Rim is a bad movie, but rather that it’s difficult to swallow such a blandly average film from the man who gave audiences Pan’s Labyrinth and Helllboy. There’s no narrative innovation or heart here; just loads of neon-lit action held together by a ropey plot.  Still, there’s no denying the certain appeal present for young boys who’ll eat the high quality façade up without any thought to how redundant it all is otherwise.  For the majority, however, del Toro’s first popcorn flick is neither as sweet nor as savoury as it should have been.  5/10

Pacific Rim is in cinemas 12 July

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