Pacific Rim – transcending the jaw-dropping stupidity of its premise to become glorious

Pacific-Rim-Poster-682x1024And the award for Most Flagrant Disregard for Human Life and Property goes to… 

We cannot pretend this is Ibsen with monsters and giant robots. I cannot pretend I’m doing a profound reflection on mankind.” – Guillermo del Toro

AS BLOCKBUSTER season enters into its all-singing and all-dancing Vanity Fair, pilfering your wallets with its greasy coin-dripping fists, it is somewhat refreshing to find a modern film that revels – nay – rejoices in its own exorbitant opulence. Enter Pacific Rim, a film so dumb, loud and cliché-ridden that it becomes monolithic, transcending the jaw-dropping stupidity of its premise to become glorious. This film is stupid – my God, is it stupid – but it is gloriously stupid. This is what Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise should have been. Hell, this is what  Top Gun would have been if it had the foresight to include giant robots and aliens from another dimension. No ‘Playing with the Boys’ though.

Helmed by the directing talents of Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim follows the emergence of the Kaiju (Japanese for ‘demon beast’ and itself a reference to the beasts of GOJIRA) from a dimensional breach in the eponymous rim as they lay waste to America, Hong Kong and of course, Japan. To combat these sky scraping monsters, the world powers collate their resources to create the Jaegers (German for ‘hunter’ or rather ‘giant robots’) as a defence force. The Kaiju eventually begin to overwhelm the Jaegers however, and so it falls to Stacker Pentecost (yes, that is his name) and his rogue team of multicultural misfits to launch one final stand.

To suggest that del Toro is an interesting filmmaker would be rather banal of me. While this film is no Pan’s Labyrinth, it most certainly is spiritually aligned with del Toro’s Blade II and Hellboy. Visually, his typical insectile and religious imagery pepper the screen while thematically human co-operation drives not only the characters’ internal struggles but the very Jaegers they pilot. For anime fans, the Gundam, Evangelion and (if you want to go there) Ultraman comparisons are immediate and obvious, and del Toro has tacitly acknowledged the debt he owes to these forebears; in essence, Pacific Rim is a gushing love letter to these series.

The characters are stock archetypes but they are solid archetypes: Charlie Hunnam the emotionally-wounded maverick, Idris Elba the ice-cold general with a heart of gold, Robert Kazinsky the cocky Iceman and Rinko Kikuchi the frankly adorable rookie who just wants to get her head in the game. The characters all hit their single notes perfectly, conveying exactly who they are, why they’re fighting and what they’re fighting for. Their arcs are simple and crystalline but, crucially, these characters are believable; the obstacles they must overcome make sense within the film’s internal logic and context.

Del Toro lavishes his characteristically wonderful cinematography at the audience with shot after shot dripping with flair, despite the often enclosed environments in which they are filmed. When we’re not following the action of the Jaeger and Kaiju battles razing Hong Kong to the ground we are following the characters’ interactions within their Alaskan homebase; the contrast of human interiority and external apocalyptica blends very nicely. Unfortunately, this writer did not see the 3D version of the film but I am told it is well worth the extra dosh. Regardless, the 2D version is spectacular – the visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic are nothing short of phenomenal.

What is perhaps most striking about the visuals is how clear the action is – when a Kaiju wraps itself around a Jaeger, you can see it, even as rain and sea spray slams against them. On a visceral level, the combatants always feel like they have an unbelievable weight to them, fitting their bulk – a punch from a Jaeger often takes about five whole seconds to connect. Backed perfectly by a rousing, colossal score, there are numerous jaw-dropping moments in the film and even more GODDAMN IT YES moments, most notably perhaps when Raleigh suddenly discovers his old Jaeger buddy has a spanking new wrist-mounted cruise-liner sized sword. A sword.

Though everyone and their dog will figure out where the plot is going from the first five minutes, the film’s breakneck pace and astonishing sense of spectacle never allows you to slip into the doldrums of predictability. Its relatively trim running time of 132 minutes similarly precludes any notion of fatigue.

While the characters are stock, the dialogue cheesy and the plot wafer-thin, you won’t care when Idris Elba delivers a Braveheart speech, you won’t care when Ron Perlman’s fantastic cameo swaggers into frame, and you certainly won’t care that this film cost $180 million, because the music is swelling to monumental proportions as Gipsy Danger drops the People’s Elbow on a city-sized abomination ripped out of H.P. Lovecraft’s wet dreams – and my God this is stupid but it is glorious. Fists will pump, cities will level and grins will be plastered all over your face with childlike glee. Pacific Rim is unadulterated joy on-screen, and I urge you to see it with friends, popcorn and memories of slamming Megazord into a T-Rex when you were six years old on your living room floor. Michael Bay, start taking notes.