Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky
Running time: 132mins
The lowdown: Guillermo del Toro, the man behind the best film of the noughties Pan’s Labyrinth, takes his love of monsters 30 storeys high in this awesome cage fight of a movie. Riffing on Japanese movies and anime such as Godzilla, Gundam and Evangelion, he delivers giant robot vs. titans monster action quite unlike anything seen before. Unfortunately, his strong storytelling gets lost amidst the sound and fury making this a three star blast of fun rather than the five star classic the trailer suggested it might be.
The full verdict: Pacific Rim promised to be the monster movie we’d been waiting for.
The movie was going to pay multi-million dollar, photorealistic homage to all that cool Japanese stuff we’d been forcing on friends for years, with Guillermo del Toro directing.
Pacific Rim was going to go big and the competition was going to go extinct.
Unfortunately, the end result is not the happy ending we were after.
The monsters – named kaiju after the Japanese word for “strange beast” – are lovingly designed spiritual descendants of Godzilla and Gamera.
The robots – Jaeger after German word for “hunter” – are spot-on recreations of the giant mecha found in classic anime Gundam, Patlabor, Tetsujin 28 and Evangelion.
A fantastic prologue has Raleigh (Hunnam) tell of the first monster wave that spilled out of “the Breach”, a rift in the Pacific ocean that unlocked a portal to an alien dimension.
With the military mere midges to these skyscraper sized behemoths the world pooled its resources together on the giant robot “Jaeger Project”. Victory went to the humans, but the kaiju returned, bigger and badder.
But, while it’s admirable Pacific Rim has no franchise ambitions, this is one film that could have benefited from the trilogy treatment.
That prologue would have made an effective first movie and Pacific Rim, with perfunctorily introduced characters and a wealth of background detail, feels like the final chapter of a movie series we’ve not yet seen.
Raleigh retires after a tragic encounter with a kaiju, but is called back into action when it becomes clear the apocalypse is approaching. His commander Stacker Pentecost (Elba, trying to live up to that name) teams him with Mako Mori (Kikuchi) a kaiju survivor with vengeance in mind.
There are other characters, equally thinly sketched. Ron Perlman lights up with the screen with his shark-toothed grin as a kaiju body part blackmarketeer and Charlie Day gives good mad scientist figuring out the beasties’ plan.
But, with decades of Japanese pop-culture to delve into, it’s disappointing Pacific Rim only skims the surface. The pilots mentally synch with each other in a process called “the Drift” that bears a marked resemblance to the pilots synching with their bio-mecha in Evangelion, as does the line “to fight monsters we created monsters”. But Evangelion had a plot massively more riveting than the linear weak tea we’re served here.
Rescuing Pacific Rim from total disappointment are those four or five knockout Jaeger/kaiju face offs, with del Toro’s imagination really firing.
Epic in scope and rattling in its destruction, these scenes surpass even those trailer hopes. Whether emerging from the ocean snarling and thrashing or unfurling hidden wings, the kaiju redefine movie monster expectations. While the 100ft jaegers are brilliantly realised scrappy bruisers handy with an ocean liner or plasma cannon.
But, what seemed to a slam dunk just skimmed the rim. A monster sized shame.