Pacific Rim is a different blockbuster compared to many that audiences will see in 2013. Considering the fact that it served as Guillermo Del Toro’s first directorial feature in five years, it is also a film that is not a new franchise installment, a remake nor adaptation. The film’s director Guillermo Del Toro has always been a director of dark, visionary style to which he applied in his original fantasy and horror films as well as in adapted, mainstream Hollywood. Pacific Rim could arguably be his most prominent picture to date as it mixes his own roots with the grand, visual scale of Hollywood. It may have taken many narrative concepts from various monster films but Del Toro’s creativity and flexibility as a director enabled him to produce a feature film that was mind-blowing and an exhilarating thrill ride.
Pacific Rim is quite literally a combination of Transformers and Godzilla. So, on a visual scale and with visionary director Del Toro, Pacific Rim had the potential to be nothing more than an epic experience. However, films similar to Del Toro’s latest have often been critically demolished due to a high supply of visuals and lack plot and character creativity. Pacific Rim may still contain elements from other past films but the combination provided us with something unusually original. The majority of monster movies are incredibly corny but surprisingly, Pacific Rim was more realistic than expected. For example, Del Toro’s darker tone with striking cinematography, identical to Blade Runner, captured a surreal tone of science-fiction and seeing gigantic creatures called Kaijas from a dark world breaching and attacking ours would leave audiences emotionally threatened and drawn into the story. Del Toro has been impressive with capturing realism of dark fantasy and science-fiction cinema. So, he does another impressive job with Pacific Rim.
On the other hand, Pacific Rim was a grand visual spectacle. In some ways, it has a similar pictorial representation to James Cameron’s Avatar where the effects in Pacific Rim are the presentation with the plot serving as a background feature. The most stunning visuals were of the human-shaped Jagers, the ‘species’ of gigantic robots, fighting the aliens. It provided a touch of masculinity which we do not see often anymore in Hollywood. Supported by the dark tone, cinematography and that most of the cast are male, Del Toro highlights the Jagers as strong forces, ones more powerful than mankind, and the action sequences become very physical through intense sound effects. However at unexpected, strange occasions, there are incidents of attempted humour thrown in and because it is a dark, serious sci-fi, the humour just did not work.
To make Pacific Rim more original and perhaps different to other Hollywood blockbusters, Del Toro selected an ensemble cast of unknown actors. In the leading role was Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, a former Jager pilot who comes out of retirement to help take down the Kaijus. While Pacific Rim works on a scale of direction, visual effects and plot, it is the character development that became the biggest letdown. The protagonist must engage audiences from beginning to end as we are following him in this story but Becket not only had a thin personality but was severly underdeveloped and at times, underused. Rinko Kikuchi was pretty bland as Mako Mori as there was very little partnership or romantic connection between her and Becket. Meanwhile, it is Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky and Ron Perlman who make convincing appearances in Pacific Rim with decent performances.
If there is anything that Pacific Rim has shown, it is how breath-taking a visual experience in a cinema can be yet must have strong characters, performances in order to fulfill that. Guillermo Del Toro’s approach to dark fantasy and science-fiction worked in Pacific Rim but the characters and screenplay are what prevented it from being a crucial visual spectacle. Was it worth Del Toro leaving as director and co-writer of The Hobbit series to make Pacific Rim? On a visual level, yes, but financially and to retrieve more fans, no. If you are looking for a film to entertain you and to leave you thinking ‘wow’, then Pacific Rim is a solid candidate.