I could see what director Guillermo Del Toro was trying to do. I can. This is a film clearly meant to be a giant, Star Wars-esque thrill-ride, full of wonder and excited and giant robots and giant monsters and explosions and those little character moments that give the whole thing pep.
And it is giant -this is a ‘big’ movie, with an enormous sense of scale matched only by Man of Steel, which is similarly disappointing. The monsters and robots crash and thud along the screen, giant hulking things that don’t just hit each other, but collide.
It is only a thrill-ride inasmuch as a film that packs in three prologues and an hour of exposition can be considered thrilling. It was plodding and dull, and the character moments were non-existent -instead we got vague types and archetypes -the cold general masking a warm heart, played by Idris Elba. The comedy relief scientists, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. We get the protagonist with emotional baggage in the form of a dead brother (why don’t you remind us again, ham-fisted script?), played by Charlie Hunnam. The grizzled but loving father, and the cocksure, hotheaded son, Max Martini and Rober Kazinsky. The (only) female, providing a sort of love interest for the protagonist called Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. Also Ron Perlman turns up but I have nothing to complain about there, because he’s Ron Perlman.
As you might have gathered, there is very little character despite what is established within the first five minutes of us meeting them. I cannot judge their performances to the extent that it is quite hard to judge something that is established and repeated for two hours.
The story has potential for simple-minded fun, as it involves a rift in our ocean leading to giant, destructive monsters (Kaiju) coming through -we build ‘monsters of our own’, giant robots called Jaegers, to tackle these monsters, because nukes would be too dangerous, although I quickly began to wonder quite what the point of that was, because as in the Avengers, Man of Steel, and countless others, buildings, cities and presumably people are totalled, levelled and killed anyway.
The Jaegers work by having two people operate them, connecting mentally over ‘the drift’, whatever that is, to control the robots through their actions -one person for each side of the brain. Don’t be fooled by thinking that these Jaegers are fast-moving machines like the Transformers -they are slow, and when they are dropped into the sea (why they couldn’t be lowered is beyond me), you half expect them to not get back up again. Perhaps they will be improved for the sequel.
It is not, really, all bad. Perlman is underused but is excellent when he is onscreen, and there was a sequence I particularly enjoyed where we see a young Mako traversing her ruined city, trying to avoid the giant Kaiju in her wake- the scene was clearly influenced by Joon-Ho Bong’s ‘The Host’, a vastly superior monster movie, but no matter. It also carries a lightness of tone and spirit that is a perfect counterweight to the dark and po-faced tone of Man of Steel, or Transformers. But this is all to no avail, as the human core is non-existent, and I could not connect at any point.
Perhaps I’m being harsh, as this is clearly a well-meaning, unpretentious film that is only trying to be escapism, but The World’s End was also escapism, and it was vastly superior escapism than this. The first expository hour dragged on and on, and then when the frenetic and muddy editing of the action-packed second half hit, I found myself struggling to see who was doing what to who and to why- it became a mess. It was dull and exasperating, a film that is clearly trying to be this generation’s Star Wars, but my advice would be to just show your children that instead. They might learn a few things about character, nuance, emotion and plot on the way.