Friday 22 November 2019

Epic robot wars

Alien battle: Mankind prepares to fight a desperate rearguard action
Alien battle: Mankind prepares to fight a desperate rearguard action

Ed Power

Film Review: Pacific Rim (12A, general release, 131 minutes) 2 STARS

Director: Guillermo Del Toro Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day

Mexican writer and director Guillermo del Toro oscillates between dark and disturbing gothic fantasies (Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone) and more commercial and formulaic action movies. One look at a publicity poster for Pacific Rim will tell you which kind of film it is. "Go big or go extinct," reads the stirringly concise tagline, and Pacific Rim is set in a near future where mankind is under attack from a different kind of alien.

In a brisk prologue, we find out how a portal to another planet opened in a fissure on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, unleashing a breed of enormous, dinosaur-like monsters that are aggressive to a fault. These Kaiju emerge, roaring, from the sea to lay waste to coastal cities all around the Pacific rim, and after conventional armory fails to stop them, mankind comes together to create a new weapon on a more appropriate scale.

The 'Jaegers' are massive armoured robots operated from within by pilots who use them as avatars.

It takes two pilots to run the machines, which they do by melding minds so that their thoughts and movements are perfectly in sync. At first, the Jaegers score big successes against the monsters, and their dashing pilots become rock stars. But soon the aliens begin to adapt, and the international community abandons the Jaeger project and embark on a despairing attempt to construct tower sea walls.

When they don't work either, a British military commander called Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) regroups the remaining Jaeger machines and pilots to a base in Hong Kong, where he prepares to fight a desperate rearguard action.

Pentecost tracks down a retired and traumatised Jaeger pilot called Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) to lead the raid.

The last word you would use to describe Pacific Rim is original. It shamelessly borrows bits and pieces from other blockbusters, from Transformers and Godzilla to Top Gun and Independence Day. Del Toro's film is all about the effects and, in fairness, they are impressive: the opening battle where a Jaeger and Kaiju fight to the death in stormy seas off the coast of Alaska is spectacularly well realised, and del Toro constantly mixes up his camera angles to give a sense of the robots and the monsters' enormous scale.

But as usual with these CGI-heavy films, once the battles start coming thick and fast they prove very hard to follow. It's possible that del Toro may have encouraged his actors into camp overacting, but some the performances are pretty dire, even from normally accomplished actors like Elba.

And Pacific Rim takes a grueling two hours and seven minutes to rumble its way towards a conclusion that will surprise no one.

I must say it bored the britches off me, but then again, and as you may have noticed, I am not a 12-year-old boy.

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