Pacific Rim review
“What, you mean great characterisation and awesome action isn’t enough?” ©Warner Bros

Do you remember when you were a kid, and you watched Godzilla or Power Rangers for the first time? That sense of magic and awe, as you watched hideous monsters face off against the forces of good? Pacific Rim is the movie your 12-year-old self has been waiting for.

On the surface, it’s hard to peg Pacific Rim as anything more than what it looks like: Basically, a nice reason to put giant robots up on the screen alongside even giant-er monsters, as they smack each other around a bit and look awesome in general.

Yet, there is more to Pacific Rim than meets the eye.

The main idea behind Guillermo del Toro’s latest is simple: Aliens – known as the Kaiju – invade Earth through a portal deep in the Pacific Ocean. In response, humanity sets its differences aside and builds the Jaegers – great big honking robots – to fight back. However, below the deceptively simple surface of this film lies a film with more heart, more soul than one might expect.

Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) plays Raleigh Becket, a washed-up Jaeger pilot struggling with the past. He’s approached by frontrunner for Awesome Name of The Month Year Decade Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who needs Becket to help him in a last-ditch attempt to save humanity.

In Pacific Rim, Jaegers must be co-piloted with a partner as the neural strain is too much for one person to bear. And for Becket, his best option is Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a bright, but untested rookie motivated by revenge. Which brings us to the Drift – a link shared by the pilots so they can operate the Jaeger as one.

Pacific Rim review
Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori (Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi) in the most high-tech buddy cop movie you’ll ever see. — PHOTO: WARNER BROS

It’s this connection between pilots – both in the literal and figurative sense – that elevates Pacific Rim to more than the sum of its romping, stomping parts. The characters feel real-er, more grounded. Becket – once a hot-headed rookie himself – takes on the role of an uneasy mentor to Mori, who in turn helps him deal with the guilt of his past.

But it’s the powerful, commanding performance of Idris Elba as Pentecost, the officer-in-charge of what’s left of the Jaeger programme, that stands out. Intimidating, awe-inspiring and fatherly all at once, Elba capably sells the idea of a man who quietly shoulders the burden of protecting the world as it goes to hell around him, daring not to break.

Pacific Rim review
Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) quietly gets on with being awesome in Pacific Rim. — PHOTO: WARNER BROS

But that’s not to say that the movie is all plodding and serious inbetween monster fights, oh no. Pacific Rim not only recognises and revels in its campy roots, but pulls up the whole freaking tree and charges full speed ahead with it (one of my favourite scenes in Pacific Rim can only be described as the “Holy Ship!” moment.)

Balancing out the action are Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as squabbling scientists, who don’t overstay their welcome, as well as black market Kaiju organ dealer Hannibal Chau (played by del Toro staple Ron Perlman, who steals every scene he’s in).

There are some lines that might make you groan if they were in other, less capable movies, but don’t feel at all jarring or misplaced here. While there were a few visual gags that briefly took me out of it, it was nothing too immersion-breaking. Basically, Pacific Rim is comfortable with what it is, and never tries to be more.

Pacific Rim review
©Legendary Entertainment

On to the battles: Fights between the Jaegers and Kaiju pull no (rocket) punches, and are just completely epic in scale to behold. My word, that scale. Del Toro brings his famous eye for technical detail to each battle, and the collateral damage that results. When two monsters fight, you’ll definitely know it – cities get levelled and buildings get smashed.

Compare that to Man Of Steel, another movie with a similar level of destruction – and one I had an issue with. In Man Of Steel, things exploded for seemingly no reason other than to look cool. But Pacific Rim never comes across as excessive, nor are there explosions for the sake of exposions – it felt appropriate, and sold the high stakes of what they were fighting for.

Guillermo del Toro has, many times, described Pacific Rim as his love letter to the Japanese Kaiju movies of his youth, and it shows. The influences from those films, along with mecha and anime, are unmistakeable. There is an amazing attention to detail, from the designs of the film’s Kaiju, to the visible evolution of Jaegers, from the blocky, basic Mark Is like Cherno Alpha, to the sleek, futuristic design of Striker Eureka, a Mark V Jaeger.

Pacific Rim doesn’t set out to change the face of film-making. Nor does it try to be more than what it is. Instead, what it sets out to do, it does extremely well – it brings back a sense of awe and wonder to sci-fi, and fleshes it out well with solid character development.