Saturday, 6 July 2013

PACIFIC RIM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Better than the TRANSFORMERS movies, but it's no GODZILLA.

Pacific Rim (2013) **
Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Guillermo del Toro is clearly a real filmmaker.

His eye is impeccable. He never cheats us with ugly, uninspired compositions, rapid fire herky-jerky camera movement, poor placement and choice of lenses, bad geography and annoying ADHD-styled editing. His action scenes (Blade II for example) are classically presented with genuine panache.

When del Toro is in the realm of suspense, his eye for the grotesque and his innate sense of just the right pacing to create creepy crawly shudders (The Devil's Backbone, Cronos) and jolts of violence and terror (Pan's Labyrinth) are impeccable.

And, lest we forget that his astounding blend of thrilling, wise-acre derring-do, horror, science fiction and all-out fantasy was on glorious display in his first plunge into the Hellboy franchise, which, in spite of its risible sequel, still stands as one of the best comic book film adaptations ever made.

And as that film proved, he's got a great sense of humour - pretty much a must for most genre pictures.

Pacific Rim is not without dollops of the aforementioned traits, but alas, it feels like a lesser effort from Mexico's master of all things macabre (and for me, an extra disappointment since it should have been, but falls severely short of being just the kind of movie I'd normally love). The biggest problem is that the silly, predictable screenplay presents a familiar tale which never allows us to connect emotionally with the characters in spite of the high stakes facing the world. We're saddled with mostly dull characters whose concerns pale in comparison to the threat of total annihilation when humungous alien sea monsters rise out of the murky depths and begin wholesale destruction of major cities on the Pacific Rim coastlines.

In retaliation, mankind develops equally humungous robots powered by actual fighting men whose minds are linked with each other and the mainframe that powers the robots. This works for awhile, but the aliens figure out how to exploit the weaknesses of man's technology. Soon, the elite command of these robots is faced with being phased out by alternate measures to stave off the attacks. To save their position as the truly ideal way to fight the threat, but frankly, to also keep the world safe, the team of military monster fighters faces their greatest challenge.

That's pretty much it. The movie has a handful of nicely directed action set pieces driven by dull characters with whom far too much time is afforded to. Since we don't connect with the humans we are forced to spend time with, the big battles have an eye-candy appeal, but little else. Basically, what we're dealing with here is a blend of Transformers and the best of the Japanese Godzilla franchise and whilst far better than the former, it never reaches the lofty levels achieved by the latter.

The mostly competent cast, acquit themselves to the task with bland professionalism, but the characters del Toro hands them give both performers and audiences very little to work with. In all fairness to Charlie Hunnam as the manly hero, love interest Rinko Kikuchi as his lithe partner in battle and Idris Elba as the hands-on commander-in-chief, I suspect all three might have been capable of moving well beyond that level of dull thespian servitude if the writing for their archetypes had been as rich as that afforded to Ron Perlman in the supporting role of a sleazy black marketeer.

For once, too, del Toro's innate sense of humour fails him since the tone of it slips far too often into tongue-in-cheek instead of coming naturally out of both character and narrative. Wise-acre humour, of course, worked so beautifully in the first Hellboy because it all derived so organically in the writing and world of the film. Here, it's never integral, but feels slathered-on.

Though the visual style and pacing of del Toro's film are generally fine, we simply don't give a damn where we're going narratively since the predictability factor in all of this is partially inherent in the overwhelming familiarity most of us have with the tropes of the genre and the story's inability to rise above this. Because del Toro has such a gifted sense of craft and style, the film remains more than watchable, but at the end of a long, hard day of monster wrasslin', Pacific Rim is state of the art, but lacking heart.

"Pacific Rim" is in wide release via Warner Brothers.