This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 14th July 2013
Having plundered choice elements of Alien, Blade Runner and Transformers, and designed to look slightly smarter than your average biff-baff blockbuster, Pacific Rim proves a beast almost as surprising as the Godzilla-like baddies our heroes are up against.
It’s the year 2020, a future where Earth’s technology has moved on impressively although hipster audiences will be relieved to know their look is still “in”. (Characters also still use the terms “A-SAP” and “dude”, which is comforting.) As told in a fast-moving prologue, our planet has been besieged by alien life-forms known as Kaiju which have destroyed whole cities, and thus humankind has created massive warrior robots (Jaegers) that go into battle whenever a Kaiju rears its head.
It takes two soldiers plugged into one another’s consciousness – sorry, I mean “locked in a neural bridge” – to drive a robot, but when Becket (Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy) loses his co-pilot, it’s going to take a lot to get him back behind the wheel and prepared to “drift” into someone’s brain again. Actually, not that much – a desperate military boss and a beguiling Asian beauty prove convincing enough.
Thanks to an international cast, Brits, Japanese and Americans try out each other’s accents (though some of the “Australian” drifts more than the soldiers’ minds). Top of the military pecking order is The Wire’s Stringer Bell, actor Idris Elba here keeping his natural British accent, quite thrilling as he utters the line “We don’t need ‘em” like he’s channelling Ray Winstone. However, sadly Hunnam is no Chris Hemsworth in the hero stakes, and apart from Rinko Kikuchi as a martial artist with a (genuinely moving) past, the other fighters are like videogame characters with clichéd personalities and disposable life-spans.
But thanks to the visual panache inherent in his earlier films Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, director Guillermo del Toro makes it look amazing, with a Blade Runner-inspired take on Hong Kong and alien creatures to rival the 1979 prototype. Despite the by-numbers plot and the litany of stereotypes (macho BS stands in for dramatic arc), the “science” behind the mind-melding and robot-driving is exciting, and vibrant performances from familiar faces allow you to enter into the spirit of the whole thing.
It’s so much more than robots fighting aliens – well, not that much more, but enough to keep it jolly entertaining, even during the Big Fight Scenes – that Pacific Rim deserves a hearty recommendation. And a better title.