I loved this film. Utterly and completely – I was hooked from the opening moments right through to the end. I ditched all my critical awareness and was thrilled. I’d also been avoiding the trailers and posters for months (la-la-ing with my fingers in my ears), so I was in a completely receptive state, unaware of anything other than the deep bassy soundtrack and knowing it was giant monsters vs giant robots. If that already sounds silly or annoying to you then don’t watch the film. If you don’t like Godzilla (the proper ones, not the mincing ankled crap turned out by Schumacher with a hateful cast) or anything remotely like it then you won’t like this. I loved such series as Evangelion: NeoGenesis and Transformers (not so much the recent films, although seeing giant robots on screen was like a preview of heaven) and this is very much in the spirit of them, and of all the B-movie science fiction films we’ve ever had. In other words, this is so far up my street it’s been entirely renamed after me.
We open with action and a potted history of Kaiju emerging from a rift in space above the ocean floor and the splendid destruction of San Francisco. It’s great – nothing is spared, the vast monster is half-concealed by fog wrecking the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s no waiting around for the cool stuff to happen, no tiresome story leading up to a single kickass scenes – those scenes are frequent, intense and begin right at the start of the film. Yay. Humanity is under threat – that’s always a great setup – and these monsters just keep coming. To deal with that threat we abandon long range guns and missiles and divert global resources into the Jaeger programme: massive robot suits. This is basically the plot of Evangelion (minus the angels / human evolution storylines) and I like it.
Drama exists through the paired consciousnesses it takes to pilot a Jaeger, who are mentally synced in ‘the drift’ and that allows them to do stuff together while being able to talk and argue. Don’t think too much about that bit, it’s fairly silly. But it doesn’t matter – a film with fewer giant metal bolllocks on show would flounder at this point, trying to explain away the techno-babble nonsense. Pacific Rim just shrugs it off and shows you a giant robot punching an alien in the face. That’s exactly what I want to see. Our primary hero, whose name completely eludes me (character development ain’t exactly high priority) loses his co-pilot brother in a fantastic night time at-sea scrap with a shark faced Kaiju. Gipsy Danger takes a kicking and crashes down on shore. That’s also quite a scene.
After that we’re into the madness of it all – more fights, between pilots and the project vs the governments who want to build walls instead of awesome robots (why are politicians always such wankers?), and pilots and project managers (Idris Elba on splendid hero form). It’s predictable, silly and enjoyable. Clearly no cliche police were available for the production: the film is awash with character stereotypes and genre nods (watch out for the Chinese and Russian Jaeger teams, they are hilarious). I think it has to be the incredible fights and CGI which overwhelm all such objections and issues. Basically it’s a classic storyline where they have to get the old model/grizzled OAP out of storage to beat the enemy.
There’s a possible marring of the film in the choice of Burn Gorman (otherwise known as the fish-faced guy from Torchwood who has been asked to play the most cliched English mathematician imaginable. He’s somewhat irritating, performing as if electric current is being played through his face. His character is matched with a Kaiju-enthusiast who manages to plug his mind into a chunk of alien brain and finds out some stuff about the invasion. It doesn’t really add much to the plot other than a bit of comic relief – and a reason to meet Ron Perlman’s badass Kaiju-bit-flogging character (stay post-credits for this too).
The characters are forgettable, the script and plot hackneyed but the visual effects are out of this world. The design teams have obviously had a field day designing different Jaegers – my favourite is Cherno-Alpha (the Russian behemoth), but the three armed guy is also amazing. The Kaiju vary delightfully, spitting acid, fists, shark faces (“they all have exactly the same DNA!” – this is the Prometheus stupid error. No they don’t…) writhing fighting and being evil. The sight of seawater cascading off these beasts and Kaiju and Jaeger tossing each other over buildings (dragging a boat along to use as a sword!) and the underwater scraps make this a win. I’m saddened to learn it’s busy tanking Stateside, because this is B-movie as it deserves to be done. Thank you Guillermo del Toro – every moment delighted me.