After months of anticipation, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim arrived in Hong Kong on a wave of muted praise and widespread disappointment. The feverish anticipation for the film had waned slightly following a poor performance at the US box office, proving that the general public at large were unenthused by a summer blockbuster lacking recognisable stars or a previously proven brand.
It is a sad day when a director of del Toro’s proven creativity channels his gothic sensibilities into a kaiju-inspired science fiction behemoth in which humanity must build colossal robot suits to ward off attacks from giant alien monsters, and gets little more than a shrug in return. Particularly when for the most part, Pacific Rim is a hugely entertaining ride.
As one might expect from the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, the design work in Pacific Rim is incredible. Every nut and sprocket on these huge lumbering mech suits, or jaegers, is painstakingly detailed for the viewer, while the creature design is as inspired as it is varied, not content to simply ape the likes of Godzilla and Gamera who so clearly inspired them.
Screenwriter Travis Beacham goes to great lengths to create a plausible future, where this perpetual onslaught of giant monsters from a giant “breach” in the ocean’s floor is not new, but has been a problem for some years already. However, with all this effort afforded to world-building and backstory, he seems to have forgotten to create any characters.
Hot-headed pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), unlikely spunky partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), stoic commanding officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and eccentric scientist and kaiju expert Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) are written wafer thin to the point of being physically transparent. They are incredibly simplistic cyphers and puppets who exist solely to move the film forward from one colossal stand off to the next.
Does it really matter when the action is so spectacularly staged? Well actually it kind of does. The film does get infuriatingly dumb and dreary whenever the characters are forced to communicate with each other, to the extent that not even actors of Elba or Ron Perlman’s talent can do much with the material. They give it a good go, however, and frankly, everything looks and sounds so damn good that even the baffling dialogue and godawful accents can’t detract from the experience entirely.
There is no doubt that Pacific Rim could have been so much more than it is, had it bothered to develop some decent characters, employed some better performers in pivotal roles and cared as much for what the creatures really are as they clearly did about how they look – but the film is still a hell of a lot more imaginative and entertaining than most of this summer’s crop of summer blockbusters.
While its domestic performance has been somewhat disappointing, Pacific Rim is doing far better overseas, and has officially now taken more money in China than it did in the USA. Hopefully there will be a big enough return on the initial investment to green-light a sequel, and if so, we can only hope that del Toro and whoever is hired as his scriptwriting partner second time around, will put as much effort into the film’s human element as they do into their clashing titans.