In simple terms, Pacific Rim is Transformers vs Godzilla. Neither of those were good films so rather than dwell on the story, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of why this film is much more successful than anything of this ilk that has gone before. There are two key strands:
1. Characterisation. The film has some. The characters have feelings and emotions and motivations that mean they are more than just cardboard cut outs. I’m not saying that the film has the depth of The Wire or anything, just that the core characters are slightly more believable than you normally find in these kind of films. What this means is that the audience feels like they have a stake in the events that take place, you care about the people involved.
2. Direction. Guillermo del Toro knows what he is doing. He knows how to use the camera and editing to induce emotion within an audience. His angles are chosen for a reason. But most importantly, he knows how to direct action. The best action sequences minimise camera movement and cutting. Watch a 70s martial arts film, watch The Matrix, watch Singing In The Rain. The thing that links them all is that, when the action is happening, the camera is just watching events unfold.
There are two reasons why this is better for an audience – the first is that, if you were genuinely watching these things in real life you would only get to see them from one position, therefore by limiting cutting the events are made to feel more real. The second reason is that by not cutting three times every second you can actually see what’s happening. If you are filming something spectacular (or creating it with CGI), surely you want your audience to be able to actually see it and appreciate it? The faster the camera moves and the more rapidly the film is cut the harder it is to make sense of the images and so the sense of spectacle is reduced.
Linking these two together, del Toro knows that action and destruction have no meaning without the weight of emotion, without a human cost to appreciate. Where Transformers will destroy buildings without a care for what the recriminations would be, there is always a sense of the human cost of the damage wrought by the monsters terrorising earth here.
That’s not to say the film is without fault. It is, naturally, too long, but that has become par for the course. I had hoped that perhaps del Toro would have excised all flab and delivered a tight, taut 100 minutes, instead of the 131 it currently sits at, but at least it’s not reached the 2 and a half hours that so many films seem to be reaching now.
And the film also features Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia fame as a scientist examining the bodies of the fallen monsters. I love Charlie Day – he is brilliant in Sunny and has entertained me in a few other roles – but here he is woefully miscast and his scenes always served to pull me out of the film. It wasn’t quite at Denise-Richards-is-a-nuclear-physicist levels of unbelievability but it wasn’t as far off as I’d like.
But ultimately, this is a brilliantly fun film that shows exactly how to produce entertaining blockbuster fare that doesn’t scrimp on the spectacle and doesn’t leave you feeling lobotomised when you walk out of the cinema.
Length: 2 hours 11 minutes – Feels like: 2 hours 10 minutes.