Giant monsters fighting giant robots... Now for some of us just the thought of a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie with the concept of kaiju versus mecha is an instant ticket sale. And therefore, the temptation just add 'does what it says on the tin' and call that a review is very, very great!
However, I do appreciate that for everyone skyscraper-scaled monsters and droids knocking seven bells out of each other might not be enough. And I can understand why... No, honestly I can. After all, a lot of us - your humble reviewer included - were badly burned by those goddawful Michael Bay Transformers movies; horrendous flicks where everything exploding and a legion of big robots couldn't make up for ill-judged, ill-conceived and ill-executed jokes of scripts.
But on the other hand, Pacific Rim is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro - a film-maker in a very different ballpark to that shitfox Michael Bay. It's one where everything isn't exploding for a start off, and unlike Bay, del Toro knows how to shoot robot fisticuffs so as that you can actually see what the hell is going on! Plus I can confirm that as wondrously detailed as the mechs and monsters are in this movie, we never ever see their titanic testicles clanging together.
Now I'm sure del Toro's previous works need no introduction, and if they do that why IMDB was invented, but I feel I should offer a word of warning here - this is not the del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth or The Devil's Backbone, who fused phantasmagoria and drama in movies that delighted both arthouse heads and genre fans. But neither is this movie the product of the del Toro who made the highly entertainingly offbeat Hellboy movies, although it is fair to say there's a large strand of comic book chromosomes in the DNA of Pacific Rim.
And that should be evident from the storyline - giant monsters, dubbed 'kaiju' have started to emerge from a crack at the bottom of the Pacific ocean to wreak havoc in the world. After having their cities stomped, humanity fights back with the Jaeger program - building giant robots, each piloted by a brace of humans, to indulge in some preventive stomping of their own. And that's basically it.
Now undoubtedly some will denounce this movie as dumb, just another blockbuster chock full to the gills of CGI destructo-porn. But, I ask you what you expect from a movie about giant robots smacking down equally giant monsters? Yes, it IS a ridiculous concept, and yes, it IS a blank cheque for FX crews go berserk creating improbably beasts and to rain down carnage upon the cities of the world. What were you expected? War and Peace?
However it is fair to say that Pacific Rim is del Toro's most simplistic film to date, but I wouldn't say that this isn't a case of the respected director selling out. Rather, and what I suspect some will fail to grasp, is that this movie has been made deliberately like this. Essentially this is del Toro setting out to make the 21st century equivalent of an old fashioned monster movie, designed to delighted the ten year old child in all of us. It's a homage to Godzilla and his ilk, to the big bug movies of the '50s, and to the creations of Ray Harryhausen. Hence simple story telling, exaggerated comic relief characters, lots of action and the monsters front and centre.
Now I shall not be claiming Pacific Rim is a new masterpiece from del Toro, for it is far more lightweight than the other movies in his oeuvre. But it is a glorious delight for monster movie fans - it's big, colourful, and slightly daft - just as the all the best Godzilla movies are. For lovers of old school kaiju flicks and creature features, Pacific Rim is like Christmas come early - it's tremendous fun right from the start, and if you a fan of the Big G and his brood, you'll be sat with a big grin on your face for much of the time and restraining the urge to wildly applaud in the big set pieces.
However while Pacific Rim is clearly modeled on old kaiju movies - even down to the slightly wonky plotting and scenery chewing performances - the big difference is the quality of the FX and the vision behind them. Now if you are a fan of the genre, you will be giggling insanely throughout - however rather than laughing at the cardboard cities and rubber suits as one does in old Toho movies, they'll be chuckles of joy and delight as del Toro delivers some of the most spectacular and imaginative giant monster mayhem you'll ever see. Not only is the action breathtakingly bonkers but with del Toro behind the camera it looks simply gorgeous too.
But I also suspect that Pacific Rim will prove to be tremendous fun for non-kaiju fans too. For while the story is simple and there are tons of special effects, this is a movie with a big heart too. While the human characters are largely just sketches, and in fairness that's all they need to be in a big screen fantasy like this - del Toro fleshes them out enough so we can get behind them and want to cheer them on. Yes, it's painted in broad strokes - but so are all the classic comicbooks and all the fondly remembered fantasy blockbusters of '80s.
And let's cut to the chase here folks - we often claim we want fantasy movies to be intelligent and gritty and dark and serious, but when they do, how often do we end up carping about them being too grim and joyless? Whereas Pacific Rim isn't trying to be weighty and profound - it's a giant monster movie that just wants to have fun, to revel in the sheer delight that can only come from seeing a tower block sized mech clobbering an interdimensional dino-dragon with a cargo ship. I wouldn't say it's a check-your-brain-at-the-door movie, but rather it's a bring along your inner ten year old who loved Star Wars, Destroy All Monsters and Jason & The Argonauts deal. Go along and cheer on the Jaegers battling the kaiju!
JIM MOON, 12th July 2013