Pacific Rim (2013)
At first glance Pacific Rim may appear to be yet another exercise in Hollywood excess. Another bloated, vacuous spectacle made by cynics who have no other motive than to part the unwary cinemagoer from their hard-earned cash. Fortunately, it is not one of those movies. It is big and certainly visually impressive but it also has a plot, likeable characters, a global overview and a sense of integrity regarding the genre it lovingly references. In every respect, this is a superior example of the summer blockbuster genre and it can all be attributed to the unique talents of Guillermo del Toro.
Del Toro is a man of passion, intelligence and an inherent understanding of the subtleties of cinema. His diverse portfolio of work shows how he is equally at home with the cerebral and the spectacular. Pacific Rim is very much an example of the latter but it has far more substance than many movies of this kind. The director's clever nuances and flair for creativity are present throughout the movie. Although this a homage to the great Toho productions of the sixties and seventies, Pacific Rim is far from a conceit or an indulgence. It is a very public and accessible ode to a genre that shaped the director's childhood.
So, what makes Pacific Rim head and shoulders above the competition? The fresh perspective that Guillermo del Toro brings to the proceedings. It is not the US that saves the world but people from all nations. The focus of events has a very far eastern flavour and an international cast, all of whom have well developed characters and backstories (by genre standards). There is humour provided by two bickering scientists which not only entertains but is a clear reference to Japanese monster movie tropes. The visuals are both original and creative providing a genuine sense of scale and threat. Yet the Kaiju's still have Godzilla-esque quirks and mannerisms. Ramin Djawadi score also echoes iconic themes from the Toho glory days.
Pacific Rim also eschews the usual broad strokes of Hollywood. The female lead Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is a far more interesting protagonist than we usually see. The cultural differences between East and West are touched upon but not in any clichéd fashion. As ever the director has a scene in which a small child is terrified and it is a very potent sequence. Yet it has significance to the plot and is far more sophisticated means of explaining motivation. Films so often these days simply think they can define a character’s actions in the most arbitrary manner.
Pacific Rim is not without some shortcomings and the biggest is possibly the length of some of the action scenes. Where younger viewers may delight in an unleavened diet of CGI, the more mature viewer may grow a little tired during the third act. However, there it can be argued that when you get a major studio to bankroll a project such as this for $190 Million, then there is a requirement to indulge them. The 3D process also impacts upon the elegance of Guillermo Navarro cinematography and at times darkens the image too much.
Simply put Pacific Rim puts the Transformers franchise to shame and shows them up for the disposable and hollow products that they are. The movie also showcases the powerful presence of Idris Elba and once again has an American lead character, played by a Brit (Charlie Hunnam). Del Toro regular, Ron Perlman, has an extended cameo and a lot of fun with a rather quirky role. Production designer Andrew Neskoromny gives a very convincing wartime feel to the movie, especially the Jaegers themselves. Under Guillermo del Toro's guidance all these strands come together to make a movie that is far more than the sum of its parts. I'm left pondering how different and potentially better The Hobbit may have been under his creative auspices.