Guillermo del Toro has made quite a name for himself dealing in niche fantastical horrors, whether directed by him (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth) or produced by him (The Orphanage, Mama), but it's his forays into Hollywood with the Hellboy and Blade franchises that have given him mainstream appeal. Never in short stock of pending movie developments, del Toro spent years developing his dream project tackling the alien monsters in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, but after studio execs pulled the plug on that one, unsure of its global appeal given the dark content, and after a time-consuming stint working on The Hobbit, he decided to take on Travis Beacham's script Pacific Rim.
A far cry from del Toro's earlier works, Pacific Rim sees a future Earth being repeatedly attacked after a deep ocean trench opens up a portal into an alien world which giant monsters (called Kaiju) pass through. After wreaking havoc for years, the Kaiju start coming through at shorter intervals, and in order to survive mankind has built skyscraper-sized robots (called Jaegers) which have become our principal form of defence. It's no surprise that the Kaiju and Jaegers are fantastically rendered, playing to del Toro's strength is the SFX department. It's hard to think of another film that has executed monsters so original, fearsome and realistic - perhaps only Gareth Edward's brilliant octopods from his debut Monsters (and I'm sure his upcoming Godzilla will have similarities to del Toro's city-smashing behemoth). The battle scenes between Jaeger and Kaiju are quite something to behold, and viewing the spectacle in full IMAX Experience 3D is totally worth the extra fiver. However, despite the CGI characters delivering, it's the humans who let the film down, with cheesy lines and some seriously cliched acting.
In order to control the Jaegars, two pilots must be neurally linked to each other and the machine, operating from within the giant sentinel's hollow heads. Finding two pilots so perfectly in sync for the bonding process is tricky work, and over the years certain harmonic partnerships have made for triumph and victory in battle, making rock stars out of pilots who last long enough to feel the fame. Heading up the Jaegar defence team is Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, prone to dramatic monologues, raspy defiance, and with a past shrouded in mystery, he is your typical Hollywood colonel. Charlie Hunnan is the film's protagonist Raleigh Beckett, a former Jaegar pilot who was the 'best goddarn pilot I ever saw' before a tragic accident left him broken and retired. Pulled out of relative obscurity and thrust back on to the frontline of the Jaegar programme, Raleigh must team up with an unlikely partner, and withstand the torments of a rival pilot, if they are to stand a chance of overcoming the Kaiju and saving the World. It's all a bit ham-fisted, and in keeping with American summer blockbusters, which is a shame as the acting talent is far better than the performances delivered, but there is no escaping a script delivering one cliche after another. The only exception to this is the ubiquitous and superb Ron Perlman, who plays a black-market dealer in Kaiju parts, a delectable reminder this is a del Toro film (and wouldn't be without Perlman).
Without the imaginative del Toro at the helm Pacific Rim would have likely fallen flat like the Transformers sequels before it, but his fine eye for detail and keen pace in storytelling gives the film more character and soul than many of its rivals in the genre. Sure, it's not as good as Cloverfield or Monsters, but Pacific Rim isn't exactly an interesting or unique piece of filmmaking and nor does it try to be, instead del Toro got to work quickly after years wasted on his abandoned projects; and it does exactly what is says in the tin: robots smash monsters. [3/5]