Giant monsters versus giant robots. As far as blockbuster movie premises go, Pacific Rim is unashamedly uncomplicated. Yet a lack of complexity hardly matters as director Guillermo del Toro blows the likes of Battleship and Transformers out of the water with action sequences that are breathtaking in scope and ferocious in intensity.
Audiences are given an appealing and credible hero to root for in the battle for human survival, in the form of Charlie Hunnam's demoralized soldier Raleigh. Spurned by the army after an act of bravery that defied orders and led to personal tragedy, Raleigh is plucked from a construction site by Idris Elba's resistance leader Stacker to spearhead mankind's last stand against the gigantic monsters that are emerging from a rift in the Pacific Ocean and wreaking havoc on the globe.
Only a few of the giant robots used to combat the alien creatures remain, but these rely on the mental and physical skills of dual pilots located in a control pod within the head of the machine. But can Raleigh sync up with his emotionally timid love interest Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) to save the day?
Pacific Rim breaks free from the shackles of reported production issues and a colossal budget through the sheer enjoyment of witnessing the simple battle between good and evil unfold in such a glorious and immersive visual style, laden with beautiful imagery. The seaborne foes and their mechanical counterparts are rendered magnificently, with del Toro's lens placing the viewer at the heart of the action to make you feel the weight of every blow.
This time is wisely spent trying to build the characters and establish their relationships to ensure an effective pay-off, but the dialogue is often dull and dour, lacking that certain spark that writers like Joss Whedon and Shane Black can impart to the action movie genre.
The movie would certainly have benefitted from introducing the mesmerising Ron Perlman's underused character Hannibal Chau, an imposing black market trader of monster remnants, into the story a lot earlier.
Nor do the set pieces grow in strength as the movie progresses, which contributes to this sense of imbalance and unevenness. For the soggy and predictable climax pales in comparison to the previous cityscape-ruining sequence, which was staggeringly effective in making one's jaw drop to unfathomable depths. There are also strong echoes of Independence Day in Pacific Rim's final act.
The emotional sensibilities of del Toro fortunately rear their head on occasion. One particular segment featuring Mako as a young girl, in the midst of a monster attack, evokes the same sense of awe and dread experienced through young eyes that made Pan's Labyrinth such a spellbinding treat.
Canny casting bolsters the movie too, with Elba imbuing Stacker with emotional depth and a mandatory but masterful rousing speech, while Charlie Hunnam is a clever choice to play the lead. He gives Raleigh an understated sense of dignity and humanity that compels you to want him to save the world and get the girl by the time the end credits roll. On that note, don't leave the cinema as soon as they do unless you want to deprive yourself of a nice surprise!
Charlie Day and Burn Gorman inject a good degree of humour into the film as two sparring scientists, who channel the nerdy mania of Ghostbusters-era Rick Moranis and the 'r'-rolling aloofness of classic Kenneth Williams characters respectively. Gorman's dash for the toilet bowl after encountering a monster is certainly the best lavatorial scene in modern cinema since Ewan McGregor's encounter with the U-Bend in Trainspotting.
Unlike the plethora of recent reboots emerging from Hollywood, akin to the monsters being spewed out of the Pacific Rim, del Toro's effort is based on an original idea written for the big screen. No comic book, range of action figures or board game has been plundered. That fact - combined with an appealing cast and array of visceral thrills - compensates for the significant structural issues and ensures that this behemoth of a blockbuster provides enough entertainment and fun to stay afloat and merit your attention.