Guillermo del Toro pits huge metal mech suits against giant creatures from a parallel dimension in his epic science-fiction beat ’em up. But is sheer spectacle enough, when the characters involved in the struggle are so lacking?
After months of anticipation, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim arrived in Hong Kong on a wave of muted praise and widespread disappointment. The feverish anticipation for the film had waned slightly following a poor performance at the US box office, proving that the general public at large were unenthused by a summer blockbuster lacking recognisable stars or a previously proven brand.
It is a sad day when a director of del Toro’s proven creativity channels his gothic sensibilities into a kaiju-inspired science fiction behemoth in which humanity must build colossal robot suits to ward off attacks from giant alien monsters, and gets little more than a shrug in return. Particularly when for the most part, Pacific Rim is a hugely entertaining ride.
As one might expect from the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, the design work in Pacific Rim is incredible. Every nut and sprocket on these huge lumbering mech suits, or jaegers, is painstakingly detailed for the viewer, while the creature design is as inspired as it is varied, not content to simply ape the likes of Godzilla and Gamera who so clearly inspired them.
Screenwriter Travis Beacham goes to great lengths to create a plausible future, where this perpetual onslaught of giant monsters from a giant “breach” in the ocean’s floor is not new, but has been a problem for some years already. However, with all this effort afforded to world-building and backstory, he seems to have forgotten to create any characters.
Hot-headed pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), unlikely spunky partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), stoic commanding officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and eccentric scientist and kaiju expert Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) are written wafer thin to the point of being physically transparent. They are incredibly simplistic cyphers and puppets who exist solely to move the film forward from one colossal stand off to the next.
Does it really matter when the action is so spectacularly staged? Well actually it kind of does. The film does get infuriatingly dumb and dreary whenever the characters are forced to communicate with each other, to the extent that not even actors of Elba or Ron Perlman’s talent can do much with the material. They give it a good go, however, and frankly, everything looks and sounds so damn good that even the baffling dialogue and godawful accents can’t detract from the experience entirely.
There is no doubt that Pacific Rim could have been so much more than it is, had it bothered to develop some decent characters, employed some better performers in pivotal roles and cared as much for what the creatures really are as they clearly did about how they look – but the film is still a hell of a lot more imaginative and entertaining than most of this summer’s crop of summer blockbusters.
While its domestic performance has been somewhat disappointing, Pacific Rim is doing far better overseas, and has officially now taken more money in China than it did in the USA. Hopefully there will be a big enough return on the initial investment to green-light a sequel, and if so, we can only hope that del Toro and whoever is hired as his scriptwriting partner second time around, will put as much effort into the film’s human element as they do into their clashing titans.
In the wake of surprise hits like The Hangover and the monster success of its sequel earlier this year, American comedies are focusing less on the libidinous shenanigans of horny teenagers and more on adult men behaving very badly. The premise of Seth Gordon’s new film is one we have all fantasized about and has its roots in Hitchcock – a fact openly and rather amusingly acknowledged. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis are three friends who regularly find themselves at the mercy of their overbearing employers. Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell aren’t merely pedantic micro-managers or slave drivers on a power trip, they are seriously disturbed and vindictive individuals. Therefore, the guys come to the only natural conclusion and agree to murder their horrible bosses.
The film’s biggest strengths are the bosses themselves, with Spacey, Farrell and particularly Aniston doing fantastic jobs of being sadistic, disgusting or grotesquely predatory as the storyline demands. However, because of their sheer exuberance our three heroes struggle to keep up and the film flounders whenever they are left alone on screen. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day are all fine comic actors with likable onscreen personas, but the film’s premise can’t help but make them appear weak and spineless. In particular, it is hard to sympathise with Charlie Day’s character who is “tormented” by having a scantily-clad Aniston throw herself at him at every opportunity, while purring some seriously perverted pillow talk. Make no mistake, Aniston’s horny dentist couldn’t be further from Rachel in Friends and after 20 films, she might finally be able to re-invent herself.
Spacey, on the other hand, recalls his stellar turn in 1994’s Swimming With Sharks as the ultimate boss from hell. He mercilessly bullies and manipulates Nick (Bateman), taking amusement in his suffering while dangling the empty promise of promotion to ensure he gets results. Colin Farrell sadly gets the least screen time out of everyone, but ensures that, while almost unrecognisabe under a fake pot belly and comb-over, he is unforgettable as the cocaine-addled son of Donald Sutherland, determined to run his father’s company into the ground. There is also an amusing cameo by Jamie Foxx as a sleazy underworld “murder consultant” whom the guys hire for his rather woeful advice on homicide.
Horrible Bosses is often very funny indeed and draws some surprisingly devilish performances from its cast, but nevertheless fails to commit fully to its premise. Gordon and his writers seem convinced their everyman heroes are more than ordinary, and are never willing to push them over the edge or have their bosses corrupt them absolutely. We are left yearning for more face time with Spacey, Aniston and Farrell and to see them gleefully crush more sad sack subordinates on company time. And any film that has me yearning to spend more time with the boss is clearly more horrible and manipulative than I had realized.