Guillermo del Toro, 131 mins, 12A

Jonathan Romney on Pacific Rim: America vs the world? Big mistake

Take a smart director, a global audience and a terrified Hollywood, and you get… a huge mess

Go big or go extinct!” runs the tagline for the futuristic epic Pacific Rim. It reads awkwardly, like those phrases in fake English that used to embellish Japanese T-shirts and rucksacks. And it doesn’t make sense as advice – look what happened to the dinosaurs. Yet it’s a policy that Hollywood is taking very seriously, as it keeps on cranking out mega-scaled monoliths of action cinema, the studios seeming to regard anything on a more manageable size and budget as a fast ticket to dereliction.

It’s got to the point where even those well-known miniaturists  Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have complained that Hollywood is courting its own “implosion” by focusing on blockbusters. In terms of film as an art, it’s true – cinema’s capacity to dream is being hammered into the ground by monumental tent poles. But here’s the commercial logic: 80 per cent of Hollywood’s revenue now comes from abroad, with China as the world’s No 2 film market. This market insists on 3D action spectaculars, and that’s what it’s getting.

It may not be a problem per se if American films are becoming less American; an Asianisation of Hollywood cinema is inevitable in a globalised world. But what we’re seeing is not a matter of cultural enrichment. In Pacific Rim, we have a Mexican director making a Hollywood movie with specifically Asian (or cod-Asian) flavour aimed at an international market. The result: a film from nowhere, about nothing.

Reportedly costing $180m, Pacific Rim has an almost transcendentally simple and unoriginal premise – Giant Robots versus Giant Monsters (or to all intents and purposes, Transformers versus Godzilla and Her Gang). The director is Guillermo del Toro, whose filmography includes some wonderfully eerie Spanish chillers (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, the sublime fairy tale nightmare Pan’s Labyrinth), and two superbly entertaining comic-strip adaptations, the Hellboy films.

But even smart, idiosyncratic directors can make dumb, impersonal movies. And Pacific Rim is the flashiest, clumsiest, most heavily armed in the salvo of Stupid Bombs that Hollywood has been bombarding us with.

It’s businesslike, though. An opening voiceover brings us up to scratch: “A fissure between two tectonic plates – a portal between two dimensions!” From it emerge giant monsters (known by the Japanese name kaiju) which have stomped three cities to dust within the film’s first 90 seconds: talk about cutting to the chase. To fight them, humanity builds a strain of mammoth robots called Jaegers, and that’s your exposition done.

A wafer of plot proposes that, in 2025, humanity faces a desperate Final Stand against the kaiju, and only the most intrepid Jaeger pilots can save us. Our telepathically bonded heroes are Jaegernaut-on-the-skids Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and shy-but-intrepid female Japanese trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Idris Elba plays their take-no-prisoners commander Stacker Pentecost, who doesn’t actually chomp a cigar or have steam pouring from his ears, but is the sort of irascible boss man who might. As a comedy duo of goofy boffins, Burn Gorman chews all  the scenery that isn’t digitally generated while Charlie Day enthusiastically gobbles the rest.

The hulking Ron Perlman (Hellboy) briefly appears in an eye patch, cheering things up no end.

If the characterisation is so entirely cartoonish – people don’t speak but bark, like Action Man toys with built-in voice boxes – it’s because Del Toro is deliberately making a live-action Japanese anime.

The humans are only here to fuel the robot/monster business, just as the pilots operate the Jaegers by getting inside and pedalling, like gym users on really difficult cross-trainers. But the film’s bloated gargantuanism raises problems. How do you make things on screen look ever bigger (given that you can’t get much bigger than an IMAX screen anyway)?

How do you make these robots look strikingly bigger than other popular giant robots? Only by making people smaller.

But the correlative of reducing people to miniscule ciphers is that, to maintain any human element at all, personality functions only in the most primitive form, as sentiment essentially, with each character provided with a rudimentary intimate backstory: Raleigh lost his brother, Mako her parents, Stacker is a softie at heart. The action sequences go from huge to huger, but the film’s supposed emotional pay-off is a single tear running down Mako’s cheek.

The film is co-scripted by Del Toro (with Travis Beacham), and he’s working with his usual cameraman Guillermo Navarro, but there’s precious little of his sensibility visible. You can detect the Del Toro signature in some smaller touches, though – the scuffed interiors, and the monster brains and organs in wobbly latex, such as a tongue festooned with blue light bulbs. The humour is infantile and the colours rainbow-brash, although at least that offers respite from the grey-toned solemnity of the Dark Knight/Man of Steel school. That aside, Pacific Rim is deafeningly, depressingly futile.

George Orwell’s 1984 contains the famous line: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” Pacific Rim rewrites that as: “Imagine Godzilla stamping on the human imagination – forever...

... In 3D.” 

NEXT WEEK The World’s End, a satirical sci-fi comedy with beer mats


Monsters University (100 mins, U)

A second-tier Pixar film is still better than most cartoons, but Monsters University is very much second-tier. A prequel to Monsters Inc., it’s a predictable, geeks-versus-jocks campus comedy with nothing much at stake.

Play (118 mins, no cert)

Unnerving Swedish drama in which a gang of schoolboys bully three younger boys into following them around Gothenburg. Psychologically acute and technically superb, it would have been stunning as a short film. But at two hours long, at times it would have done well to swap “play” for “fast-forward”.

The Deep (93 mins, 12A)

When an Icelandic trawler capsizes in 1984, one of the fishermen tries to swim back to land in the numbingly cold North Atlantic. A well-made account of a true story, but essentially a magazine article.

Nicholas Barber


Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvMartin Freeman’s casting is a stroke of genius

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players