In the near future, our planet has been devastated by a series of attacks by the kaiju – gigantic alien creatures that arrive on Earth via an inter-dimensional portal in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. In response, Earth has spent the past twenty years pooling its resources to develop Jaegers: massive robots controlled by two psychically linked pilots, specifically designed to take down the kaiju with extreme prejudice.
But after initially succeeding, the world watches in despair as the kaiju begin to adapt, and inevitably overwhelm the planet once again. Stacker Pentecost (Luther star Idris Elba), the man leading the Jaeger programme and a former pilot himself, is given eight months to prove the Jaegers are still effective and – with only four left – decides to go out with a bang.
Seeking help on the science front from kaiju experts Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), Pentecost and talented protégé Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) go off to re-recruit washed-up maverick pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), and before long have persuaded him to come back for one last hurrah.
Pacific Rim is, as you might have guessed, not this year’s most subtle film. But there’s an oddly operatic grandeur to its smash-everything-into-submission approach. Though it’s noisy and bright and has a tendency to state the obvious, there remains a particular stylishness to proceedings. And for once it’s actually nice to see some of the clichés played out. Del Toro’s approach manages to be at once tongue in cheek and utterly earnest – in fact you’ll probably find yourself teetering between laughing at the macho “Let’s cancel the apocalypse” speeches and punching the air shouting “Suck it, kaiju!”.
Whilst the film hits a lot of the clichés, though, it also manages to remain unconventional in many respects. There is a current of oddball humour running through Pacific Rim, thanks to Day, Gorman and Del Toro favourite Ron Perlman (who pops up as black market trader and snappy dresser Hannibal Chau).
Elsewhere, Del Toro allows his artistic eye room to flourish with some spectacularly beautiful sequences: in one a damaged Jaeger collapses on a wintry beach observed by an old man and his grandson; in another Mako finds herself caught in a horrifying memory whilst trying to pilot her Jaeger, and is soon overwhelmed when the flashback takes hold.
Perhaps most refreshing and least conventional is that the female lead and love interest is played by a Japanese actress. Depressingly, it’s hard to think of the last time a leading lady in a Hollywood action film or superhero blockbuster wasn’t white (Zoe Saldana aside) and Del Toro’s casting shows a willful desire to, at least to some extent, challenge the norms.
When you compare Pacific Rim to the tired superhero rehashings it is surrounded by, you realize that it succeeds because it hits all the beats in a truly satisfying way. Where recent action spectacular Man of Steel disappointed because it didn’t pack enough of an emotional punch, Pacific Rim wears its heart on its gigantic, metal sleeve.
Ultimately, we’d love to see more directors like Del Toro taking on this genre because – although his first venture treads largely familiar ground – Pacific Rim somehow manages to feel like new territory.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 12 July 2013.
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