The body electric – Pacific Rim review

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By Simon Miraudo
July 9, 2013

Guillermo del Toro‘s dream of helming The Hobbit trilogy was crushed by circumstances out of his control (specifically, MGM’s money woes). His next proposed project, the pricey At the Mountains of Madness, was nixed by Universal, despite Tom Cruise being attached to star. You could forgive the Mexican filmmaker for wanting to pick up his toys and storm out of Hollywood in frustration. Mercifully, he’s decided to stick around. But that hasn’t kept him from picking up his favourite toys.

In Pacific Rim, del Toro’s first feature in five years, he pits monsters against mecha; fabled kaiju from Japanese movie history against gigantic, human-operated robots called jaegers. An eight-year-old boy with $200 million to blow would probably do something similar. An eight-year-old boy, however, lacks del Toro’s skill as a craftsman. Bankrolled to the tune of $180 million by Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros, del Toro finally gets to crack open his biggest toy box yet. I’m ecstatic for him. I’m only mildly happy for myself, as a viewer.

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Travis Beacham’s script introduces us to a future dystopia in which gargantuan extra-dimensional beasts emerge from an underwater crevasse and wreak havoc in our most densely populated cities. The governments of the world respond – perhaps influenced by Michael Bay‘s likely eighteen eventual Transformers sequels – by building similar-in-size robots that, quite literally, punch the monsters to death. The jaegers require two pilots; both of whom need to engage in a “neurological handshake” to lock minds and operate the machine in sync. They call it drifting. All the kids are doing it. This will be the last time I ever try to explain the mechanics of this universe.

Charlie Hunnam – or maybe it was Garrett Hedlund, who can tell? – plays Raleigh, a retired jaeger pilot recruited by his old commanding officer, Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba), for humanity’s final stand against the kaiju. According to manic biologist Dr. Geizler (Charlie Day, going full Rick Moranis) and befuddled scientist Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), these … these things are adapting and increasing in ferocity. Thus, the end is nigh. That is, unless Raleigh and an assortment of Russian, Chinese, and Australian warriors have anything to say about it. His brother and former co-pilot died in action, so Raleigh is teamed with the coy, Japanese Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), with whom he is even more “drift” compatible. I don’t know what it means that strangers with sexual chemistry are equally adept at mind-melding as brothers. The film certainly doesn’t want to get into it. Saving it for the sequel, maybe.

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World-building has always been one of del Toro’s strong suits, and, despite the significant amount of exposition that needs to be imparted in Pacific Rim’s opening, he once again does a fine job of introducing us to an intriguing and well-developed fantasy land. His other talent is inspiring awe: also achieved. When the beasts do battle, it sure is something to behold, even if the rain-drenched, night-time setting seeks to obscure the details of the actual participants. (I’ve refrained from describing the kaiju because, besides resembling Godzilla and Gamera’s uglier, more deformed cousins, we never get a good enough glimpse to really define them).

Here’s the thing: though it’s better than the aforementioned Transformers sequels (a bar so low it might be located even beneath the crevasse from which the kaiju surface), I didn’t necessarily find it that much more special than every other big-budget monstrosity of its ilk. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a totally idiosyncratic del Toro flick with an endless reserve of imagination, wonder, action, nutso humour, and, all-importantly, heart. Pacific Rim is certainly aided by having del Toro at the helm, yet it’s not at all indicative of his singular gifts. Beacham’s dialogue is atrocious; Hunnam’s performance is soulless; the Australian accents are indecipherable. I enjoyed Day and Gorman’s comic double act, and the explosions did indeed explode to my liking. Basically, Pacific Rim is better than a bad lot. It’s fun. But that’s all.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Pacific Rim arrives in Australian cinemas July 11, 2013.

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