All giant monster movies have some merit in my books so Pacific Rim gets a pass, but god-damn-it, only just. What fan of horror/ sci fi/ Godzilla wasn’t excited by the prospect of big mecha suits, enormous beasts from beneath the sea and Guillermo del Toro? God knows I was and I almost worked on the thing. But the end result is really less than the sum of its parts, and that mostly is to do with the age old problem: a boring, sub-standard script.
Now a lot of people seem to think a good script is just about whether the dialogue is well written or not. Of course that is partly true (and the dialogue here certainly is not), but it is also about creating interesting characters and setting up a solid and yet motivating structure for the story. Pacific Rim manages to mess up both of these, while trying to do the opposite. The first thing the script does is skip the beginning of the story. We only have a brief recap as to the origins of the giant monsters, or Kaiju as they are known, their arrival on earth and the ensuing human resistance using Jaegers: big fat mecha robots controlled by two pilots. This isn’t a totally bad idea; it passes by what could have been a long old process before we even get to the first fight. Instead we are treated to a big old bash-up in the sea between our heroes and an ugly looking behemoth. So far so good but then we jump forward a few years and times have got tough, the humans are loosing and the fight back must begin anew. Or some such bollocks.
This is the section of the film where things go quite wrong. The lead hero, Raleigh Becket (a movie moniker if ever there was one) played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam is your standard troubled loose-cannon and his new partner, Mako Mori played by Rinko Kikuchi, is so weak and wishy-washy you want the monsters to win. Raleigh also has a rival, kind of a Val Kilmer in Top Gun type, but for some reason the film makers have chosen to cast someone who looks almost identical to Hunnam. It’s really weird when they have one of their meaningless scrapes because it looks like really good effects created to show doppelgangers fighting. Not that I could work out what they were arguing about in the first place; it was almost as if they were doing it to create some kind of human conflict because the big monster threat wasn’t enough. Or they were trying to drag out the film before the real action starts.
Honestly this section seems to go on forever. And while I’m all for giving a film a chance to breathe and giving the audience time to get to know the characters so we care about them when the shit hits the fan, these guys are cartoon-like in their simplicity. We meet two scientists working on an unnecessary sub-plot involving two good comic actors failing miserably to raise even a smirk. And I haven’t even mentioned Idris Elba. Idris Elba! A man who is able to convey charm, charisma and depth while frozen in a suit made of gold in Thor has nothing to work with here, just a boring old military/father figure type. God it’s depressing.
Okay, so, well into the second half of the film things suddenly pick up: there is a terrific section involving a fight in and around Hong Kong, the lashing rain and neon lights creating a wonderful backdrop for some truly spectacular imagery. The effects cannot be faulted, though maybe some of the choices can. Why are all the fights at night? There’s a small glimpse of a daytime fight in Sydney which really shows off the size of the monsters and robots, but a lot of this is lost in the dark. Worse, the final battle is deep under sea, so now we lose all sense of scale in what is essentially an alien world. Then there are the Kiaju themselves; sure, they look okay sure, but there isn’t much variety in them, a few extra legs and wings here and there, but I’d have liked a larger selection of rogues to slap about.
But those are only minor problems; the real trouble is the script, with its bland dialogue and one dimensional characters and that long, long section where nothing of note happens. On the positive side at least I am thankful that the script isn’t overly convoluted and the action is nicely framed, edited and clear, unlike the dreadful Transformers movies. Maybe I’m being too harsh on the film, based on my own expectations; but when you spend this amount of money and effort making it look good, and it really does look terrific, maybe spending a little bit more time on the foundations ain’t too much to ask.