Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Everyone loves a good monster movie, and Pacific Rim is one of the better ones. A serviceable story, well-planned animated action scenes, and some highly imaginative character design make for an enjoyable 132 minutes of escapist entertainment.
Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro ( Hellboy; Pan's Labyrinth) promised there would be no comments on the fate of humanity or the state of the world in this film, and he kept his word.
It is del Toro's tribute to two sub-genres of Japanese film: kaiju, which focuses on giant monsters like Godzilla, and mecha, which features robots. A tidy script (by the director and Travis Beacham) pits one genre against the other.
In the near future, the earth is being invaded by monsters who are surfacing along the Pacific coastline. The world's military develop giant humanoid machines called Jaegers, which are operated by two pilots. But when the Jaeger programme is cancelled by a world government in disarray, the machines and their pilots convene at a base in Hong Kong to slug it out with the monsters in the South China Sea.
Pacific Rim works because, although the premise is ridiculous, the story sticks to the rules of the world that has been created. As del Toro knows, that is the secret to making a fantasy film feel believable. Once the viewer has accepted that the world is being invaded by freaky dinosaurs, and giant robots are its only salvation, the story spools out in an unexpectedly credible manner.
The creature design is fabulous, and begs the question of how del Toro would have visualised the monsters in The Hobbit, a film he had to abandon. The Kaiju are giant reptilian creatures with elements from Alien, the creature in Predator, and Japanese legends Godzilla and Mothra. The Jaegers are impressive, too - great big metal men who box, wrestle and wield swords. The action scenes are effective, as the fights look to have been well-planned; they are much more interesting than the flash and dash of the Iron Man series, for instance.
The Hong Kong dateline may just be there to help Chinese box-office ratings, but it does fit the plot. The city, which is digitally created, looks like a futuristic rendition based on stereotypes. Del Toro's Hong Kong seems to owe more to the cities in Luc Bessons' The Fifth Element (sans flying cars) and Mamoru Oshii's Ghost In The Shell.
No human characters could compete with the giant monsters for attention, but the actors, who include Briton Charlie Hunnam and Japan's Rinko Kikuchi, do a splendid job. Only a naff James Bond-style final scene lets the film down.
Pacific Rim opens on July 18