"The battle scenes are nothing short of astonishing."

The first toy I ever owned was a model Volkswagen Beetle that turned into a robot. The first on-screen death that affected me was that of Optimus Prime. The first film I ever rented on the strength of its cover alone was the terrible Eighties b-grade stop-motion adventure Robot Jox. You could say I'm part of Pacific Rim's target audience. Believe me when I tell you it delivers.

It's the near future, and gigantic alien monsters (kaiju) are emerging from an indestructible underwater portal and wreaking havoc along the coastline. Mankind's response is to build equally vast robot warriors (jaegers), because when life gives you an excuse to do so, you take it. Problem is, the supply of kaiju is apparently inexhaustible, while the supply of jaegers, and skilled pilots, is not.

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With remarkably little preamble, Pacific Rim gets straight into robot-on-kaiju action. Charlie Hunnam plays Dudebro Protagonist, a maverick jaeger pilot who's not afraid to break the rules. The “neural load” of piloting a jaeger is too much for a single human, so each has two pilots telepathically bonded with the aid of a “neural drift” device. What this means in practical terms is that Dudebro has a brother who hangs around just long enough to get eaten, establishing our hero as a ronin archetype and getting all that angst and turmoil stuff out of the way nice and early.

Idris Elba has a standout turn as Seasoned Mentor, performing double duty as a surrogate father-figure for Rinko Kikuchi's Blatant Love Interest. A dash of human antagonism is provided by Cocky Rival, and there's plenty of odd-couple style comic relief from a Zany Screwball Scientist and Stuffy British Scientist tag-team.

Pacific Rim draws its characters in broad strokes, is what I'm saying.

“Black market dealer in alien body parts” is Ron Perlman's first human role in a Guillermo del Toro film in as long as I can remember, and it's a good'un. When Ron chews the scenery it stays chewed. The battle scenes are nothing short of astonishing, with none of the fast-cut shakycam nonsense that infests Michael Bay's roboeuvre. They're all set at night and in the rain because it looks better, an excuse that's been in play since The Warriors if not before. The jaeger designs have plenty of personality, and a convincing physical presence that calls to mind underrated Rocky-with-robots romp Real Steel.

At times the film seems to be reaching a little too hard to hit every cliché: there's heroic self-sacrifice, a completely unnecessary Schrodinger's Cat moment for the hero, the Cocky Rival redeems himself in the last five minutes, and so on. For a genre built entirely on the bones of its predecessors, though, it's a minor quibble. The “you're going to have to shut it down manually!” scene at least has the decency to acknowledge Alien.

If you came looking for complex character relationships or realistic science or a plot that makes any kind of sense whatsoever, you came to the wrong film. If you came looking for a big-budget kaiju movie with giant robots smacking enormous sea creatures up and down Hong Kong with scant regard for property damage, Pacific Rim is going to blow your socks off. And your feet. In fact you'll be lucky to have anything left below the knee.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2013
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Pacific Rim packshot
Men operating giant robot suits are the last line of defence against sea monsters from another dimension.
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Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Max Martini, Mana Ashida, Ron Perlman

Year: 2013

Runtime: 131 minutes

Country: US

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