Guillermo Del Torro has made his name on both foreign-language movies (The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Hollywood productions (Hellboy, Helboy II: The Golden Army) and has worked as a prolific producer (Julia’s Eyes, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rise of the Guardians, The Hobbit Trilogy). He has proved he is diverse already, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that has now helmed a huge, big-budget Hollywood action movie. This is an enormous, towering monster of a blockbuster. Robots wacking big ziard-dinosaur-like monsters. Well, why not, eh?
But let’s not get too excited too quickly, as Pacific Rim is a bit of a disappointment. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t exactly brilliant. Del Toro directs with a keen eye for spectacle, though the personal drama set away from the big robots (which have been built, and are driven, by humans in order to fight the alien monsters who have invaded our planet) doesn’t always work. The script, written by both Del Toro and Travis Beacham, ranges from the mildly clunky to oh-god-this-is-awful levels of direness. Though to be honest, Beacham did write 2010’s Clash of the Titans, so we can hardly expect Shakespeare.
The acting isn’t always great either. Charlie Hunnam can be a good actor (seek out Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk – he’s superb in that) but here he struggles to do anything with a two-dimensional role. Rinko Kikuchi, who plays his co-driver of one of the massive creature-hitting robots, does a little better, though her character is invested with more emotional meat. Idris Elba, on the other hand, in a role of Big Importance And Authority doesn’t exactly impress (though he manages a greater level of subtlety here than he does in the BBC’s Luther, possibly the most nasty and ridiculous show on UK television).
The plus points: the action. Though some sequences go on a little too long, generally this is a spectacular achievement in CGI artistry. Though one could also say that about the Transformers franchise, Pacific Rim has the upper hand: Del Torro doesn’t think his audience is stupid. The fight scenes are fast, complex, and breathless. Things happen quickly without becoming mind-numbing.
The most interesting thing about the film is its approach to gender-based sexuality. Instead of actively sexualising its female star (like Michael Bay’s loathsome Transformers series), the film deliberately makes the male body the object of sexual desire. A semi-naked Charlie Hunnam is sexualised on a number of occasions. Surprising this may seem, this is still fairly radical in mainstream cinema. Whether it is right or wrong, bad or good, the jury is still out. It’s a difficult area. But there is something interesting in the fact that big blockbusters are now becoming aware that women and gay men have sexual desires too. Previously, a lot of screen material has been exclusively dedicated to fuelling the sex fantasies of heterosexual teenage boys. That is not the case here.
As an action CGI spectacle, Pacific Rim delivers. It’s such a pity the drama that goes with it is so inept (with some annoying moments of ill-judged comedy). With a more solid approach to character and a sophisticated screenplay, this could have been Del Toro’s new masterpiece. Instead, all we have is an entertaining though flawed piece of technical brilliance.
Pacific Rim (2013), directed by Guillermo Del Toro, is released in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12A.