To be fair, Pacific Rim never promised to be anything more than a monumental robot-monster smackdown. Throughout the promotional campaign we’ve barely seen a human face, aside from a brief flash in the trailer of Idris Elba bellowing about the apocalypse. So to turn around and accuse Pacific Rim of being inhuman does feel a little churlish.
But it’s simply impossible to overlook. As the film opens we’re introduced to skyscraper-sized automaton Gipsy Danger and her pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), as they battle against the ongoing threat from the ‘kaiju’, monsters from another dimension who slip through a portal in the depths of the ocean. Raleigh is the tough, silent type, constantly battling his boss, the gloriously named Stacker Pentecost (Elba) – also the tough, silent type. As is his protegé, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi). And his trusted Aussie sidekick (Max Martini). Indeed, the only characters who aren’t tough and silent are a pair of irritating mismatched science geeks, one apparently channelling Dr Strangelove (Burn Gorman), the other JJ Abrams (Charlie Day).
The action set-pieces are superb: thunderous, rain-soaked, and beautifully detailed – you can almost feel the rust and the slime. They’re also a tad repetitive. By the climax, we’re starting to feel like we’ve been punished enough. But if Del Toro is pitching for an audience of 12-year-old boys (and we do mean boys: this is old-school macho), he’s done a bang-up job.
Still, there are times when Pacific Rim could be the work of any jobbing Hollywood director – the warmth and idiosyncracy that characterises Del Toro’s finest work, from Pan’s Labyrinth to Hellboy 2, is absent. The Avengers proved that a slightly left-of-centre director like Joss Whedon could find a home in the heart of Hollywood without losing the personal touch. With Pacific Rim, Del Toro doesn’t even seem to be trying.