“The deeper you bond, the better you fight,” Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) tells two co-warriors. Syncing emotion with action with more action, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a warmer Transformers – or Real Steel writ extra-large, complete with dad issues and hardware that’s a bit lumbering but gets the job done. Something that could be said of the movie itself.
It shares a key niggle with Michael Bay’s metal-on-metal orgies: some of the scraps, you just don’t have the foggiest what you’re looking at. Otherwise, though, we’re dealing with a different model of FX-engorged blockbusting. One that’s steeped in affection and sincerity and doesn’t go in for jarringly crass stereotypes, slapstick or sex gags.
The pre-title sequence nails a balance between exposition, character development and mass destruction, as Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket voiceovers the state of the play (invading aliens from an under-sea portal are combated by robots steered by two pilots sharing a mind-link called ‘The Drift’), before tragedy hits and he’s out of the game… Until, of course, soldier-boss Pentecost pulls him back in.
After the opening rumble, it’s a good hour before the Kaiju (them) and the Jaegars (us) have a rematch. No problem: GdT uses the downtime to get our heads around Drift-ing, which boils down to a not-too-mawkish metaphor for human connection.
Strutting and soulful, Hunnam is the hero, but the film’s heart belongs to Babel Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi, who overcomes plucky-rookie-battling-inner-demons clichés with unstudied sweetness. Plus a few cool moves in the training dojo.
Elba is suitably commanding (and gets a corny-but-rousing Independence Day moment), Ron Perlman shark-grins through an extended cameo and there are two highly-strung scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman) you think are going to annoy but grow to tolerate.
And this being GdT, the creatures are beautifully ugly creations: machete-faced, blue-acid-barfing, multi-tail-lashing… infused with less of Pan’s Labyrinth’s poetry perhaps, though there’s a Harryhausen-like pulp majesty to their stately wrestles with the Jaegars.
You just wish, goggling as they thrash across cities, seas, space and beyond, that your view wasn’t so clogged with embers, sparks, mist, neon and rain, rain, rain.
Still, such is the goodwill GdT marshals elsewhere – the little sight gags, the generosity towards all characters, good or douche-y, the sheer childlike delight in building a massive made-up world - you don’t really mind not knowing which robot the severed arm that just flew across the screen belongs to.
A huge, CGI-heavy popcorner that still feels personal. Come for the epic monster-on-mecha showdowns, stay for the likeable humans.