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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Pacific Rim

(M) ★★

Director: Guillermo Del Toro.

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Burn Gorman, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini.

"What have I told you about getting your Transformers wet?"

Guillermo Del Toro's Godzilla Vs Transformers - sorry, Pacific Rim - is both as dumb and as awesome as you'd expect.

It's dumb because it's about giant monsters fighting giant robots. But it's awesome because, well, it's about giant monsters fighting giant robots.

The set-up is done with applaudable efficiency in the first five minutes. Enormous creatures called kaiju have come to Earth via a portal deep under the Pacific Ocean and have been wreaking Mothra-style havoc on cities for a number of years.

In order to defeat the beasts, world leaders decided to build jaegers - ie. giant robots - to fight back. They are piloted by two humans who are mentally linked by something called "the drift" and control the machine like two synced-up puppeteers sitting inside the robot's head.

All seemed to be going well in the battle to save humanity until the attacks became more prevalent, the kaiju got bigger, the jaeger program became too expensive, and now we look doomed.

Admirably, Pacific Rim is not about the arrival of the monsters and the need to build these giant robots. It drops us into the thick of it - we get our first kaiju/jaeger fight in a matter of minutes, so Del Toro at least knows what people going to this movie want to see.

There is no tedious build-up, and very little in the way of a Jaws-like approach to the monsters or the mecha. Just a barrage of Cloverfield-type beasties punching on with Optimus Prime's big brothers.

But what happens between rounds in this hyper-heavyweight fight? Well, that's where Pacific Rim suffers and, as a result, so does the audience.

Surprisingly, the biggest problem is the cast. While admittedly most of the dialogue is exposition, the script isn't total rubbish, but some actors handle it much better than others.

Rinko Kikuchi is the best and acquits herself well as the jaeger pilot-wannabe, desperate for revenge but traumatised by her past. Idris Elba is okay despite getting the hammiest lines possible as the jaeger program commander, and ditto for Del Toro regular Ron Perlman as a blackmarket crimelord, but from there it really drops off.

Charlie Hunnam, who is the star of the show despite being so terrible as the lead in Frankie Go Boom and The Ledge, is stilted and utterly uncharismatic, while the "comedy" pairing of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the constantly sparring kaiju researchers seems to be a moronic competition to see who can go the furthest over the top without getting a laugh.

And then there's Robert Kazinsky and Max Martini as Chuck and Herc Hanson, the two Australian jaeger pilots. Not only are their performances rubbish, but they use two of the most hideous Australian accents since The Simpsons came down under.

With all this dire dialogue and bad acting, it's a relief when the monsters and robots start thumping the radioactive snot out of each other.

The special effects are nothing short of astounding, by the way. I know we take these kind of things for granted these days, but there is some seriously impressive CG work here.

Sure, most of the battles take place at night, in the rain or underwater in order to hide the seams, and occasionally Del Toro's camerawork has the same problem as Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen in that it gets too close to the action so you can't actually tell what the hell is going on, but when it pulls back and shows these two leviathans duking it out, it's glorious to behold.

But that is about all Pacific Rim has going for it. Even Del Toro's usually visual stylings, so distinctive and sumptuous in Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, is almost totally absent. Only a small section of the film revolving around Perlman's character Chau bears the signature glow and style of Del Toro.

If you expect nothing more than monsters fighting giant robots, you'll love Pacific Rim. If you were hoping for something more from Del Toro, at least there are monsters fighting giant robots.