by Simon Christie
It's the near future and for the last seven years, the Earth has been under attack from a race of monsters - the 'Kaiju' - emerging with increasing regularity and growing strength through a space-time continuum beneath the Pacific Ocean. To combat this inter-terrestrial menace, mankind has set aside international, religious and political differences, pooling resources and manpower to build lethal robotic behemoths - known as 'Jaegers' - equipped with a dazzling array of weaponry to defend the world from the menace rising from the depths.
The Jaegers can only be controlled by two symbiotically linked pilots, who bond together through a mental 'drift', allowing them to work in tandem, dancing a bio-mechanical duet that deals death to the invaders. The stronger the bond between the pilots, the more effective the Jaeger they control.
Del Toro's first deft move is to sidestep the more obvious origin story - opting instead to quickly establish the events that have led humankind to the brink of imminent destruction. Mankind is already on its knees, defences failing, with only a few Jaegers left to send into battle.
For all the attention that will rightly be focussed on Pacific Rim's action sequences, Del Toro works hard to establish the real world environment in which the conflict will be fought - his wonderful attention to detail serving to ground some of the more fantastical elements in a recognisable sense of reality.
The Jaegers, once heroic talismans running point in the battle with the Kaiju, have been put out to pasture in favour of other means of defence, now representing little more than a resistance movement led by campaign stalwart Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). With good pilots hard to find, Pentecost turns to former maverick Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), and unproven rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), to quickly and effectively forge the required Jaeger pilots' co-dependent relationship.
The exposition can be clumsy at times, and there's a sense that more established actors may have lent an extra degree of credibility to proceedings. Elba never seems to hit his (usually considerable) full-stride and Hunnam goes through the heroic motions without elevating his performance beyond the ordinary, but any actor signing up for Pacific Rim was always destined to play second fiddle to the spectacular special effects work from the wizards at ILM.
Perhaps learning from the errors of others (yes, Transformers - we're looking at you), Del Toro often elects to decelerate the pace of combat, allowing the eye to track every blow and body shot. These are more like fights between two bull elephants, awesome in scale and terrifying in power. The battles between Kaiju and Jaegers prove genuinely tense and taut affairs, played out amidst grand cityscapes of destructible steel, iron and glass. Repeat encounters are kept fresh by virtue of the variety and singular characterisations of the individual Jaegers, coupled with the ever-changing forms and increasing threat of the different Kaiju they confront.
Blows are received and returned with a momentum and energy as relentless as it is undiminishing - referenced very nicely with a nod to a Newton's Cradle that underlines both the fight between twin worlds through an inter-dinmensional portal and the inexorable and uncompromising struggle that wages on and on.
Pacific Rim is not without its mis-steps - there are two clunkily conceived, overly-caricatured scientists on hand, proving a notch too heightened even for a film about gargantuan monsters and robots. If the film would benefit by trimming some of its running time, by the time a Jaeger picks up an oil tanker, using it as a club to pummel a Kaiju, all such concerns will be long forgotten.
Del Toro sets a new benchmark for epic-scale action - grounded in a reality that although fantastical, never inhibits immersion or believability - its real-world fears (the enemy emerging from within) and the necessity for sociopolitical unity, both striking a relevant chord. But ultimately, Pacific Rim remains a prize fight of a movie, so lace up your gloves and enjoy it for its big moments. They may be as unsubtle and inconspicuous as a ten-mile high celluloid mushroom cloud, but each of them proves more riotous, raucous and rockingly good fun than the last.
Pacific Rim - 2013 - USA - 131 mins - dir : Guillermo del Toro