Guillermo del Toro’s directorial roles in cinema are pretty sparse these days, and when he does direct it’s normally out of love for a character, like Hellboy, or because he has something truly original to portray, like the visionary Pan’s Labyrinth. Other back catalogue gems like The Devil’s Backbone mean that his very unique approach to cinema is one that you look forward to and so people were eager to find out what his new project would be. Pacific Rim, a tribute to Japanese Kaiju films and general nostalgia trip was del Toro’s choice and scepticism was mixed in with the inevitable optimism, along with mutterings of similarities between what was visible of the film in the trailers and Michael Bay’s abysmal, leery, disgusting Transformers series. What the film was relying on, then, was his enthusiasm for the subject matter and his genuine love of film that could substantially differentiate this from the aforementioned abominations.
There’s plenty of love evident here, and the film is certainly stunning to look at, with some jaw-dropping shots of the massive robots, known as Jaegers, that the world uses to protect itself from the Kaijus and some equally impressive fight scenes that hearken back to the likes of Godzilla. Everything exudes an over the top manga texture, right down to the acting performances and the landscapes that are handpicked for just this sort of feel.
Indeed, none of the backstories for the characters are anything new, and they’re performed as if to act out popular ‘epic’ character tropes. Charlie Hunnam’s character is likeable enough but he doesn’t stand out and his emotional trauma is hard to buy in to when the film finds it hard to balance character development with expansive scenes of large-scale combat. Rinko Kikuchi’s character suffers from a similar problem as any attempt to widen our understanding of her feels superficial and rushed which when mixed with her ordinary and even bland performance means she has nothing to fall back on but predictable, albeit well-learnt, character tropes designed to take the ramshackle character-driven section of the film further.
Idris Elba’s performance is competent, playing the familiar immovable, emotionally solid (or is he?) commanding officer that gives out orders sternly and scowls at anything he possibly can. The intention is for the character to be the catalyst for the other epic goings-on, whether it’s his decisions or his faults, or even his arguments that dictate this. While adequately done, there is once again no development beyond the norm, and he’s another box-ticker, fulfilling the role of a leader figure that is full of stern rousing speeches and unrelenting determination, as well as the odd emotional revelation that serves to make him all the more human. Yawn.
Pacific Rim has a lot of faults, and many of these do bear a resemblance to Transformers. What’s the difference? Enthusiasm pours out through the screen here, and while it may be ridiculous, over the top, completely stupid and almost numbingly predictable, there’s a prominent sense of fun and excitement that Bay could never match, with his pornographic, sleazy sensibility. Del Toro’s desire to make a film for big kids and little kids alike is fulfilled, and while it could have been a whole lot better, it’s still quite a lot of fun.