“The wise move would be to leave your brain to one side”
Gigantic fighting machines with names like ‘Crimson Typhoon’ or ‘Gypsy Danger’ battling underwater creatures seems to suggest director Guillermo Del Toro has decided to delve into his personal love of monsters and provide an unashamed example of what summer blockbusters should be: big!
With only a handful of filmmakers who clearly enjoy revelling in the fantastical side of their trade (Peter Jackson being one of them), it’s clear to see from the outset with this film, the sense of a director deciding to have complete and utter fun for a change. In this case, it feels like a trip around Del Toro’s mind with hundreds of millions of dollars at hand.
Commanding Officer Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) leads an army of Jaegers – huge machines that are used to combat equal sized monsters known as Kaiju that have risen from a portal, deep from the Pacific Ocean. With returning-to-duty soldier Becket (Charlie Dunnam) and wannabe fighter Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) wanting to prove their worth, and our sea creatures evolving and adapting to their advisories, it’s up to the clever minds around them to form a plan to defeat and rid the rampaging monsters once and for all.
Just the scale alone is almost an awe-inspiring wonder. You very much get the notion of these hundred-foot beasts knocking seven bells out of each other whilst tearing up the landscapes of Hong Kong and Sydney in the process. And whilst it may have fallen into the trap of being a constant headache or just unnecessary destruction, there is always something going on at anyone time and not once does the action let up for the sake of just resorting to showing off the special effects. Constantly surprising us with each set piece that passes, seems to be the films way of trudging the action along without making anything tedious.
In its favour, the film does in some ways portray a message of this being all of human life in it together. We have the black and white actors, American, British, Chinese, with an environmental theme fractionally thrown in too. But even though it may feel it’s not boldly getting the themes across, it’s oddly subconsciously there, and that in turn deserves some admiration in the fact that it doesn’t need an A-list star to carry the film. However, what it makes up for in the universal aspect, does somewhat setback the intermingled relationships between all the characters. It’s as though the very actors themselves can’t justify being on-screen long enough to provide any peril or gamble to the oncoming threats they face, which as they say themselves could be the apocalypse.
That’s not to say the likes of Idris Elba, putting his foot down as the all chargeable commander, doesn’t play his character well and envokes a threatening yet fractured presence. With Charlie Dunnam and Rinko Kikuchi fitting to their story fine with even Charlie Day and Burn Gorman providing a comedic element that has always been present in Del Toro’s films. But when you’re wanting these characters to have more pathos and it resorts in places to a G.I. Joe sensibility of showing off the tech gear, it does seem in some ways a missed opportunity. With a mention too for Ron Perlman‘s short but scene-stealing mob-boss character, becoming the lucky charm for Del Toro.
Also, the story itself does seem a tad predictable, for instance, having two main characters where one is approaching mental breakdown yet physical, and the other needing a butt-kicking partner to help prove their worth; you can almost see the jigsaw pieces fitting together themselves on-screen. However, to be positive, if you’re going to have a robot versus monster blockbuster, this provides you with everything and more. It’s proper B-movie stuff and the wise move would be to leave your brain to one side and just let the explosions, roars, building collapses and sticky innards of alien monsters wash over you.
It’s entertaining, despite the flaws within it being all too easily noticeable. While it’s not Del Toro’s greatest, there’s no denying there’s something enticing in our mindsets to want to see such an esteemed director go to town with this sandbox of treats and ask the question of give us all you’ve got. But it seems the greatest assurance you can give, is that it will do exactly what you expect it to, and how.