Many aspects of this film appealed to me before I went to see it. I liked that it wasn’t a sequel, or a remake/reboot, or an adaptation of a comic, or a TV series/Video game/theme park ride. It’s an original story (well perhaps, but more on that later…) and an unashamedly loud, brash summer blockbuster. The fact that Guillermo Del Toro was the director drew me to it all the more, and who doesn’t want to see GIGANTIC robots beating the utter crap out of GIGANTIC monsters?
Undoubtedly some SPOILERS AHEAD.
There is no doubt it achieves its main aim of putting that particular robot/monster titanic slugfest on the screen in some style. And for me, they were often its most entertaining sequences. The sheer volume in the cinema was enough to convincingly emulate the sensation of being slammed in the face by a double-decker bus sized fist. It definitely achieves that sense of scale, which was another thing that enticed me in the original teaser trailers and posters – they weren’t mincing around with exoskeletons or even Transformer-sized robots; these Jaegers were colossally immense, awe-inspiring constructions.
Beyond the megalithic punch-ups, I can’t say there is much more to recommend the film. Perhaps that is being unkind. I liked the concept of the ‘Drift’, the two pilots acting as right and left hemispheres of the brain, the ‘neural handshake’. That concept had great potential for revealing elements of backstory and character in a clever plot-relevant way. There is a stupendous amount of detail involved in the Jaegers and some of the world-building is interesting: for example I liked the way they dive straight in and take you through to a point well past the first incursion, or response, and submerge you face-first into this new world order. It’s a bold narrative move. Too many films these days (superhero movies, I’m talking to you) spend so much time with origin stories and set-up that it’s impossible to have a complete story in the world within the available running time.
But I’m being generous. This is a hugely expensive B-movie, complete with TERRIBLE dialogue, bad acting (Charlie Hunnam I’m looking at you, although the awful accent they saddled you with didn’t help), stock characters and over-used predictable plot elements.
At times it’s so ridiculous that I almost lost interest in the entire film. For example, when the two wacky scientists make their entrance (and any time they’re on the screen, to be honest). Various plot-convenient Jaeger abilities that had hitherto gone unemployed – ELBOW ROCKET! SWORD MODE! (why the thundering hell didn’t they use the sword before that point? And while I’m at it, why not just open up with plasma cannon to the head before the Kaiju get their slimy paws on you?). And the ending –
let’s penetrate the giant alien ship and upload the virus to the alien mainframe then inexplicably escape let’s penetrate the Breach and nuke the sonsabitches then inexplicably escape.
And then I’m ticking off the painfully overused tropes and clichés – the loss of a parent/sibling/loved-one in the opening scenes to set up a character’s arc; the gruff commander with a secret, a rousing speech at the right moment and an eventual self-sacrifice for the good of the many (but really, who thought the ‘cancelling the apocalypse’ line was a good idea?); the cocky ace pilot whose respect our hero has to earn; the shadowy, uncaring government types etc…
It’s pointless going into the various plot holes in any detail, but the parts that really leapt out at me were the incredibly important scientist sent on his own into a life-threatening situation. No back-up at all? Not one guy who can maybe handle himself in a fight or possessing even an iota of common sense to help him on this perilous journey that might save the entire human race from becoming Kaiju muesli? What about the evolution that led from planes and tanks to humongous killer robots? Was there no inbetween stage where all that incredible technological know-how thought that perhaps barrages of intelligent missiles to the head might be more effective at taking down the Kaiju? Okay, that might not plug the breach, but seems a method that might have been considered.
Perhaps I’m asking too much of a film that is blatantly riffing on the classic Toho Godzilla films, which I used to enjoy heartily in all of their silliness. There was no pretence at being anything other than giant monsters fighting each other. The Jaegers reminded me of Jet Jaguar from Godzilla vs Megalon, and there is no doubt that Del Toro has made his own version of those films, with the sugary Japanese pop-culture references and instant appeal to kids (I would have loved the hell out of this film as a thirteen year-old boy).
Still… I can’t help but feel Del Toro is capable of something so much better. The script feels at times written by a committee to include all the elements such a film requires. I’m a huge fan of Del Toro’s subtler fantasy/horror movie work in The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. I would love to see the version of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness as directed by him if he ever gets to go ahead with it. Pacific Rim feels like Del Toro is playing with his toys.