Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings 2011

Wrong Turn 4

I was blissfully unaware that we needed a prequel to the previous three Wrong Turn movies but apparently we did so this is what we’ve got.

Actually I’m not even sure I knew there was a part three. Part two? Sure, who could forget part two? Actually I could and did. I have no idea if I’ve seen it or not.

I’ve seen part one, definitely, but I only remember that because my fine friend Andy worked on the FX. Other than that, what I recall is some kind of Hills Have Eyes style cannibals living in the backwoods of Somewhere USA, eating anyone who happened to take the wrong turn of the title. Judging by how we have reached part four, a lot of people did.

So, at last, we get to learn how the three cannibal brothers came to be. Actually, I didn’t remember that they were brothers in the previous films and I imagine that no one else has been following their family saga that closely either. But for those who are interested, they are kind of like the Three Stooges, only hideously deformed and unable to say anything eligible, so in fact just like the Three Stooges. The story starts with them as children locked up in a mental asylum; they escape and eat all the staff.

That is it, that’s the whole back story you are going to find out from this film. And that’s before the opening credits. No abusive mothers, no being forced to sleep in pig sties, nothing. That’s all you’re going to get. I suppose it is better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, where all we learn is that as Leatherface was going along, he walked past a chainsaw and thought “oh, I’ll have that”. That was all you got there, but Wrong Turn Part Three isn’t much better.

The main bulk of the film takes place a number of years later, in 2003, the year of the first movie. So it’s still a prequel just about, however I remember their home in the woods was pretty sophisticated and well lived in the first Wrong Turn, but here they are still in the asylum. They stayed there the whole time with nothing better to do than munch on the other inmates, so how can they also be in the backwoods? It’s all very confusing, but maybe just I’m over thinking a film called Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings.

Anyway, what do you know but a bunch of very attractive young Americans turn up on their snow mobiles after getting lost in the snow. The asylum seems deserted so they decide to do what all American Youths do in these films – get high and fuck each other. Well, you can’t blame them, they’re all so handsome and shallow, that’s definitely what I’d do if I was them.

Of course there is the Smart Girl, the Annoying Prankster, and a small amount of other racial token representations. Oh and there are also a couple of lesbians. Really hot lesbians who only ever want to strip naked and perform lesbian things on each other. How forward thinking these film makers are.

It takes a little while for the cannibalistic siblings to rear their really ugly heads, but soon they are chopping and chewing on our hapless heroes. Actually, they’re not really heroes. There’s not even one sympathetic character among them. Even the final girl (or girls) are pretty one note, if that. In fact a number of them have such the same look, height and hairstyles I wasn’t sure who was dead and who was alive half the time. About a third of the way in a WASPy girl popped up who I swore hadn’t been in the film up until that point. I could only tell because hair was wavy rather than straight. So it’s actually a blessed relief when they start dropping like flies. They do the usual thing, like suggesting the best thing they can do when one of their party has already disappeared is to split up and go look for them – even the joke of this cliché is a cliché. You can’t go back around again fellas and start it like its something fresh, the split up plan is over, stop it.

At one point they capture the brothers but instead of killing them or at least tying them up, they lock them in a cell, a cell the brothers had previously escaped from. Then the kids all decide to go off and get some sleep, apart from the guy who wanted to kill the brothers. He stays awake to torment them and keep guard. But then he decides the best thing to do now is have a little sleep himself. It doesn’t end well for him and rightly so, stupid twat. I mean, we’re all watching these films to see stupid people die, aren’t we? We’re not here to get thrills and frights from horrific situations where we could go “what would I do if I were there?” and so immerse ourselves in the story. Oh no, that would be crazy. We just want to watch non-characters act illogically, surely? Chaff

I’m not knocking the high body count and interesting deaths, this the film-makers have got pretty spot on. There’s a fair amount of death by incredibly sharp barbed wire, which seems to be the brothers weapon of choice. I mean a bit tricky as they rarely seem to be wearing thick gloves, but maybe they have mutant hand skin so don’t have to worry about chafing too much. There’s also a good amount of flesh slicing and chewing, often in grisly close up. Doesn’t really add anything to the film, maybe a grumbling stomach to the odd viewer, but I thought you’d like to know.

Okay I’m not expecting much from part four of a franchise, they should’ve stopped at part two, it goes along at a fairly steady pace and there’s some fun gore. But the characters here are lifeless and even our villains aren’t very interesting, just grunting and giggling in bad make up and lacking the quality freakishness of the Hills Have Eyes cannibals or the charm of Leatherface. Yeah he has charm, I just wouldn’t bring him home for Christmas. And we don’t even learn what the “bloody beginnings” of the sub-title are. There’s not even an actual wrong turn, just a slight misstep in a snowy field. That title is a bloody lie.

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Twins Of Evil 1971

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One thing that can be said for Hammer Horror movies – they were almost never boring. Twins of Evil might be their least boring film ever, not good exactly, but what fun.

Peter Cushing plays the single-minded witch hunter who, with his wacky “brotherhood” spend the nights hunting single women and burning them at the stake in an attempt to wipe out the mysterious plague that leaves young men dead and drained of blood. Cushing doesn’t believe that it could possibly be vampires causing the deaths because vampires are just myths and made up. Witches? Fine, completely believable, but the day Cushing believes in stupid vampires is the day that, er, he appears as Van Helsing in other Hammer movies.

Some of the young women are protected by a local Count who is incredibly bored, horny and into Satan. No connection is made here by Cushing and the Brotherhood either. The Count, who looks like a scary cross between Uri Geller and Jimmy Fallon, decides to kill a peasant girl for the hell of it. Her blood brings back to life one of his Countess ancestors who happens to be a vampire. This causes a few problems as this is the first time a vampire has shown up but there have already been a number of victims. Fortunately everyone ignores this plot hole and the Count and his relative, who by all accounts seems to be his Grandmother, do the only decent thing and have sex.

At this point Grandma Countess Vampire person masterbates a candle.

Say what now? Yep, the Countess tosses off a candle. I am not making this up. The two aristracts are rolling around on fur rugs in front of a fireplace and the countess reaches out behind her, grabs the erect candle and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, pumps its shaft. If you don’t believe me look:

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Happy now? God knows I am. It might be the silliest thing ever committed to film, no subtlety, no sense. Just work that wax girl.
Anyway, by now you might be wondering why the hell this film is called Twins of Evil. The two nieces of Peter Cushing arrive in town, under his charge and cause a lot of heavy panting by the locals. Of course one of the twins wants to meet the Count and get up to some bad stuff, the other just wants to be polite to everyone. This is a bit of a problem as the film is called Twins of Evil and clearly only one of them is evil. I can only assume that the title is in reference to the evil ones constantly heaving breasts. Another problem is that one of the girls speaks with a thick Austrian accent while the other speaks the queen’s English. Was this not noticed on set? Perhaps as the two actresses were Playboy’s first ever twin centre-folds the almost certainly male crew decided not to worry about such minor details.
So one becomes a vampire, there’s an awful lot of burning, staking and an almost beautiful beheading. The sets, lighting and dreamy day-for-night are all up to the usual Hammer standard – I wonder how many low budget films made this quickly nowadays could look this good- and between the bright red blood and the non stop unsubtle sexual imagery it’s might be one of their best. It’s certainly never boring

The Conjuring 2013

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Who knows what will come next (okay Insidious 2) but right now The Conjuring feels like the pinnacle of the current cycle of haunted house horror movies. It can only be downhill from here on in…

In fact what we’ve had of late with all our conjurings, possessions, pacts, insidiousness and activities is precisely what critics of the horror genre had been complaining about a lack of: genuine scares built on atmosphere and tension, rather than blood and guts. Paranormal Activity arguably started the current glut of chillers, while at the same time killing the previous ruler of the horror genre: torture porn.

The Paranormal Activities thrashed the ever weakening Saw sequels at the box office and that was the end of that franchise, and that subgenre. So it’s ironic that the director of the original Saw has made a ghost story better than any of the Paranormal Activity films, while at the same time carrying on in their tradition. The Conjuring ain’t no found footage movie, mind. It is a beautifully shot piece capturing the true horror of early 1970s fashion, with Velcro shirts and frilly blouses being thrown about with wanton abandon when a ghost fighting couple are summoned to investigate a demonic presence at the home of a family in Rhode Island.

Whether the ‘true’ story of a married couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren, traipsing the country dispelling evil demons is actually true or not, the attention to detail gives the film a great authenticity. It is the little things that make this movie. The father of the demon harassed family has a clapped out old Cadillac so rusted it will never move again, although he always thinks he’ll find the time to fix it. There are horribly dated portraits of the five daughters hanging up the stairs and it’s no wonder they’re the first things to be smashed by the ghost. Best of all are the Warrens’ den of possessed artefacts from their previous investigations. I don’t want to know what the samurai armour got up to in the middle of the night, but is the tambourine-clashing monkey a reference to an old Stephen King short? I like to think so. As you’ll probably have seen in the posters, evil artefact No. 1 is Annabelle the possessed china doll. Evil dolls are a complete ghost cliché and yet director James Wan makes it feel like the first time this thing has been put on screen. She’s a wicked creation with her cracked eyeballs and even more cracked smile, but please, don’t get me one for Christmas.

But then that’s the whole thing with The Conjuring, it is a collection of ideas and story points we’ve all heard or seen before, but done with such style and confidence that it almost feels fresh. I say almost. I have pretty much lost track of the amount of films I’ve seen of late where a daughter or son or mother have been slammed into a room, with everyone else trying to open the door which is held shut by an unseen force. Let’s move on now okay?
This is a minor complaint however. All the actors play the film completely straight (okay maybe not the policeman, but there’s nothing wrong with a comedy copper), with Patrick Wilson and especially Vera Farmiga leading the proceedings with total conviction as my old man would say (from beyond the grave. Sorry that’s a joke, don’t die dad, this is just a horror blog). Plus there’s Lily Taylor who couldn’t be bad in a film if you hung her upside down in a bag of bad apples with “rotten” written on the front.

So The Conjuring, totally worth it. It’s over two hours but flies by, helped no end by its structure which keeps the momentum up to the all singing, all dancing seventies-pant-swinging finale. That’s a lie, that doesn’t happen.

 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1994

 

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Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came and went back in the nineties like a fleeting fart in the wind, so quickly out of the cinemas that I missed my chance to see it. Critics dismissed it as overwrought but I secretly thought that maybe they were wrong and it would one day be rediscovered as a misunderstood classic. Finally that day came and I was the man to rediscover it. So I watched it on a massive screen in all it’s glory. My god is it overwrought.

We begin the long haul in the ice, as Aidan Quinn tries to power his ship and reluctant crew up to the North Pole. There is an awful lot of screaming and shouting as the ship smashes against the ice, salty sea dogs drown and Quinn does his best mad-eyed Captain Ahab impression. Then Kenneth Branagh as Victor Von Frankenstein stumbles out of the snow and shouts at them all to run for their lives. Or sail for their lives, or whatever. Then Frankenstein recounts the tale of how he got there and who is shouting out in the mist at them all. We all know who it is, there’s no need to shout about it, but about about it he does. And so does everyone else. We go back to Victor’s childhood with his mum shouting in childbirth, then Victor shouting about her death, then there’s some mucking about with lightning and he and Helena Bonham-Carter scream for a change. Then he’s off to University where he shouts at his lecturer. He makes friends with Amadeus Mozart who spends most of his time shouting at Frankenstein through a locked door. John Cleese pops up in a rare serious role and would have got away with it if he wasn’t forced to shout at Branagh about what a bad idea his experiments are. Fortunately he’s not around long enough to get a sore throat as Robert De Niro pops up stabs him for no reason (cue more angsty screaming from Branagh and Mozart) before being hung for his crime, though not without a numbly shout at the crowd before hand. Soon Frankenstein has resurrected bits of De Niro as the monster with much sweaty topless shouting and screaming. This then goes on for two more hours, everyone shouts, then everyone screams, everyone dies and Aidan Quinn goes home.
This above description is not an exaggeration. Everyone really is at high fever-pitch all the time, Branagh is positively foaming at the mouth, De Niro you feel is desperate to reign it in but this is a big, lush, expensive production. There is no room for quiet moments on the giant grandiose sets. He would be lost in it. Even intimate moments when like when Victor tells Elizabeth he will return after University to marry her (that old line) is ruined by not only Branagh and Bonham -Carter shouting the lines when they are a foot away from each other, but also a cast of a hundred extras dancing through a window in the background.
The sets are magnificent though. Whether its 18th century Ingolstadt or the Frankenstein family’s great hallway with its huge sweeping and deeply unsafe staircase, the art department have excelled themselves. Frankenstein’s lab is filled with bronze birthing machines and weird steampunk pipes and there are lots of bright red flowing coats in amongst the mud and dirt of the city.
It’s such a pity all this is for nothing. The story is incredibly faithful to the book and there is a sense that there might have been a good script in there somewhere but it is all lost in amongst the noise. There are only two quiet moments in the whole film. One where the monster meets the blind man (beautifully underplayed by the great Richard Briers) and their brief friendship would be quite touching if it wasn’t for the fact that the scene is bizarrely intercut with the blind man’s family shouting in the forest. The other quiet moment, and the best scene in the film is when Frankenstein and the monster meet up in an ice cavern (no idea why or where its meant to be) and the creation asks his father why he made him and then abandoned him. It’s obviously a reference to God, which has always been an ongoing theme of the book and its various adaptions, and is a small, quiet and deeply sad moment really well played by De Niro. Even Branagh shuts up for a bit and just lets the characters breath.

The rest of the time we are left with the screaming and shouting and whaling and gnashing of teeth. I lost count of the amount of times the camera rose above a character while they screamed “Nooooooooooooooooooo!” I mean, that was a cliche twenty years ago. What the hell was Branagh thinking? Oh well, nevermind. It’s not like it’s the only movie version of Frankenstein out there.

The Drowned Man, National Theatre until 13 December 2013

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Deep into the realms of horror theatre, this is certainly the maddest live performance experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve taken LSD at a circus so I know what I’m talking about.
Set over four floors of a former postal sorting office, Punchdrunk Productions have transformed the building into the fictional Temple Studios, set at the time of a wrap party for a movie that is still being made. As an audience member you wander around the never ending corridors, into creepy rooms and sets where a bit the story will suddenly spring up on you like a snippet from a newspaper, before disappearing off into the darkness.
Let’s do the short spoiler free version of this: it’s long, three hours long, it barely makes a scrap of sense, is completely disorienting and you get a sweaty nose.
It is also the craziest thing in London right now and if you want to see what it’s like to enter someone else’s nightmare then I’d go and see it while you can. Oh, and don’t read anymore of this review as I am going to hit you with lots of spoilers from here on in, not that it will really give anything away because in some respects The Drowned Man is like the Hollywood stars it portrays: completely recognisable but also impossible to really, fully understand. However this is part of its weird charm.
So here we go. Upon arrival my fine friend Mariam and I had to hand over our bags and were given a white mask like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe tale. All the audience had to wear the mask, it separated us from the performers, but also gave us a weird view of the action, looking through the holes of the masks (that were like skulls with beaks) we crowded around the different events like ghosts watching the living. Mind you it felt like the performers were the ghosts. Starting with the old fashioned Studio executive taking us in a lift down to the basement, talking like someone from a hundred years ago, he was like a spirit out of The Shining. Then as people left the lift, our man had a change of heart, slammed the door shut on them and took the rest of us up to the top floor where the tale began.
Set in the late fifties/early sixties the story, if you could call it that, started in a dust bowl of a mid-west town in the dead end of America. It was like wandering around a dream, there was a forest, but no sky, a trailer park, but no dwellers, then a girl and a boy ran past an old automobile and started a terrific row. Okay, so I must tell you at this point they argued through the medium of dance, and I’m not saying it wasn’t a bit pretentious, because it jolly well was. However, only a few minutes in you are already so freaked out by the mist and the darkness, the wild soundtrack playing all round you and the masked, terrified looking audience that a bit of dance is light relief.
Before you know it you are off again, going in your own direction, discovering dusty old empty rooms,  and then coming across a girl in her rotten old bedroom, putting on a pretty dress for some future, disastrous romantic meeting. Mariam and I stumbled (and there is a fair amount of stumbling, it’s bloody dark) into a bar room brawl. Stand back or you might get an incomprehensible madman landing on you. This open plan approach to seeing a play is to theatre what Grand Theft Auto is to videogames. Sure there is a main plot somewhere along the way but whether you find it all is another matter.
Down the stairs onto the next floor you find yourself witnessing the behind the scenes wheelings and dealings of a Hollywood studio, as starlets and has-beens mix with wannabes and sharks willing to become a success at any price. Things certainly are getting weirder here, and they were pretty nuts in the first place. Now you feel you have stumbled into the outtakes of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, where extreme sex and lounge music are the norm.
The further down the building you go, the creepier and more surreal things become: a room marked “Prosthetics” is adorned with hanging bits of fake flesh, a vast check-floored hall is the home of satanic rituals involving red velvet curtains and baseball bats. In fact, as Mariam pointed out, even the areas where no action actually happens feel like you’ve entered the room just as some one has left. You are encouraged to opens drawers, look through racks of costumes, sit in empty cinemas. Time and again we’d come across some freaked-out audience member, lost from their friends in all the dark mayhem, reading an old diary, looking for clues to the bigger picture like a shadowey detective. The attention to detail is incredible. I think the biggest clue I found to what the story was was in a small, dirty little room off from the main action down a dead end in the cellar. From the ceiling hung vein-like bits of red string. On each vein was a small piece of paper with a name written on it: stars having given up their identity and their souls for the Hollywood dream.
Mariam and I managed to stick together against the odds, despite seeing other audience members being being dragged off through a door, never to be seen again. Or at least I think never again, in the masks we all looked the same. There was a break of sorts somewhere in the middle, where we came across a time warp bar, serving wine and Budweiser while glamorous singers intoxicated us with their dreamy melodies. There was even an ending which I think made some kind of sense, but as we stumbled out blinking into the real world we could not be sure how long had we’d been part of this experience. Was it three hours? Was it longer? In fact I would recommend leaving your watch behind and just getting lost in the nightmare. It’s not for everyone, some of the eyes behind the masks looked terrified, a couple looked bored, but it’s certainly unique. As Mariam and I sat down for a much needed bite to eat afterwards we talked about The Drowned Man for a long, long time. We worked out the plot and the themes, and how all the details added to the story as a whole. Then I discovered a piece of paper in my pocket; the synopsis of the play, nothing like the story we saw! Well, it’s a different tale for everyone I suppose.
Oh and the Drowned Man himself? I think that might have been me.  The masks didn’t half make your nose drip with sweat, I felt like I was water torturing myself, which in that long, dark nightmare somehow made a lot of sense.

Straw Dogs 2011

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SPOILERS! This remake was widely dismissed upon its release the other year, with cries of “how dare people touch a Sam Peckinpah classic?!” But Straw Dogs ain’t no Wild Bunch, let me tell you. The 1971 version of Straw Dogs seems to have been risen aloft in recent years as some kind of perfect vision of the ‘Us vs. Them’ thriller. It does have many good things going for it, but it also has some terrible old clichés and a really grim rape scene. So you’ll be pleased to hear that the remake has stuck closely to its origins, if not in location (it’s now set in the Deep South as opposed to the deep south of Cornwall) then certainly with its old clichés and another grim rape scene.

This new version finds James Marsden and Kate Bosworth returning to her old home town so he can concentrate on finishing his film script about the heroes of Stalingrad, seemingly blissfully unaware that this film has already been done twice in the last few years with Enemy at the Gates and Stalingrad (Oi Marsden! The clue’s in the title!). Here the usual assortment of sweaty, unshaven, lazy, beer-swigging Southern hicks roll about lusting after Bosworth’s tight little Hollywood body. The most prominent of these is the absolutely vast Alexander Skarsgård. I mean, this guy is huge and not in a fat way; I mean he’s a fucking giant. Every time he’s on screen it looks like everyone has been shrunk down to a smaller scale and when he’s got his mighty hand around Marsden’s neck it looks like he’s playing with an Action Man doll.

These men are an obvious threat to the fragile tranquillity of the young couple’s happiness, so of course Marsden does the obvious thing and employs Skarsgård and his pack to do up their broken down barn. This is where the main dynamic of the film lies, dealing with class difference: big city liberal vs. small-town conservative and brains vs. brawn and it’s all done pretty well, managing to make solid social commentary while simultaneously building up sweaty tension until everything blows up in the Southern heat.

One aspect of the original underlying story which is repeated in the remake is the idea that nerdy bookworm men should be constantly aware that they are under threat of having such a glamorous woman taken away from them by ‘real men’, so to speak. Kind of like stronger lions stealing another’s mate in the wild. In the original film Dustin Hoffman as a super geeky mathematician excels at this, really emphasising the odds that are stacked against him, which makes his final violent defence all the more powerful. Now I like James Marsden as an actor, he has an easy going charm about him, but relentless glasses-wearing doesn’t distract from the fact that the lad is far too good looking for the role. At no point do you think he’s ‘punching above his weight’ with his beautiful wife, which undermines the dynamic of the characters somewhat.

Finally, after various subplots involving James Woods as a bigot, we get to the last act which like the previous version is one big long siege with lots of screaming, shotgunnin’ and a dirty great big bear trap. And it’s a pretty intense act. Even with his pretty boy looks you do actually feel that the odds are indeed stacked against Marsden and Bosworth as they get suitably bloody and savage. It’s gripping stuff, which is a nice surprise since up until this point things have been moving along pleasantly, if not exactly thrillingly.

Oh…  And I’ve got to talk about the rape scene I suppose.

The original film was notorious for the vastly unpleasant rape where Susan George seems to smile at one point, perhaps suggesting a certain amount of pleasure. This resulted in the film being unavailable for years with Peckenpah refusing to cut the scene and the censors refusing to release it. Anyway as it turns out, that ‘smile’ was a result of a cut already made before the film was first released, bringing the two shots incorrectly together and making the scene seem much worse than it initially was. Still…

Well there’s no such smile in the remake. At first Bosworth really does try to fight off her attackers, but when she realises it’s hopeless and she’s going to be raped whatever she does, she goes silent. All understandable of course, but the unfortunate side-effect of this is that what we actually therefore see is just two super beautiful bodies grinding one on the other. Taken out of context, it could look like any Hollywood sex-scene and so potentially undermines what a hideous, ugly and often violent act rape really is.  When a second more aggressive rape takes place, with an unattractive perpetrator, the camera shies away from watching this. Well I’m glad about that in many ways, but on the other hand I think that showing one kind of rape and then avoiding the other suggests that sexual violence perpetrated by beautiful people can be titillating. As such the film seemingly avoids showing rape in the terrible light it deserves. Also, because Bosworth’s character doesn’t tell anyone what happens to her (there’s a suggestion that Marsden knows, but that doesn’t really make any sense) this renders the rape almost completely irrelevant in terms of the rest of the plot, in which case why have it in there at all? You could argue that it explains why Bosworth acts so violently later on, but why does a woman have to suffer the indignity of sexual assault before she can ‘legitimately’ beat the shit out of guys who are otherwise hideous, foaming-at-the-bit villains anyway? Maybe the film makers thought it was in the original so we gotta have it in this one. I’m not so sure we do.

Anyway, apart from that, as remakes go Straw Dogs one of the better ‘what-is-the-point’ remakes of late. It’s made with a certain amount of intelligence and thought, and at least they didn’t try to make up an explanation for the title: “well Amy honey, it seems like those wild redneck dogs were made of nothing more than straw after all”. Phew.

Pacific Rim 2013

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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.