Pacific Rim (12A, 131 mins)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Wildly anticipated, Guillermo del Toro’s first film since Hellboy II five years ago is a thundering slice of sci-fi action that, given its premise and budget, emerges as a typically overbearing, sporadically very entertaining blockbuster.
It’s got problems, and plenty of them, but these are papered over with enough skill, exuberance and spectacle that more forgiving audience members should find much to tickle them.
In an extensive prologue we learn that massive alien beasties, Kaiju, are coming to earth via a portal deep beneath the Pacific, kicking off a seven-year war after humanity’s response comes in the shape of enormous people-controlled robots, Jaeger, used to battle the Kaiju.
One such Jaeger pilot is Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), an orders-ignoring hotshot the likes of which we’ve seen a thousand times in movies like this. They're fighting a losing battle, with the Jaeger programme due to be retired in favour of erecting defensive walls, until it becomes clear that the few remaining robots are earth’s last hope.
With all the bombast and subtlety of a Michael Bay effort, Armageddon and Transformers being the most obviously referenced, and with the woeful banter to go along with it, this is brainlessly chaotic stuff. Elements of Avatar are in there too, and naturally plenty Godzilla, but such considerations aren’t really at the top of the agenda. This is a movie with little but carnage on its mind, and on that front it delivers.
Once the initial heavy bursts of destruction are out of the way, the movie pauses for a lengthy bout of training and character introduction. This midsection finds the film at its weakest, with the most periods of talk, and the clunkiest of interactions and relationships. During this down-time, the need for action is covered by flashbacks and memories and internal squabbling between Raleigh and his rival pilots.
But, notwithstanding the fact that it can get rather dull during that middle stretch, what saves Pacific Rim is its well-drilled structure and sense of pacing, a ruthlessly controlled build that takes us from glimpsed skirmishes to colossal scraps between Kaiju and Jaeger, as cities topple beneath them.
As long as you don’t pay too much attention to most elements of the story, Pacific Rim does the job it set out to do. It gets better as it goes along, which is important, and in its scale and threat it’s genuinely epic. It doesn’t maintain it all the way to the end, and it’s regularly thoroughly dumb, but when it’s good it can be very good indeed.