Here's a slightly odd confession that might shock slightly but won't really appal anyone: Until Pacific Rim, I had never seen a Guillermo del Toro film. Yes, I know. It's moderately terrible. Lightly singe the non-believer.
I did try to watch Pan's Labyrinth, and that I stopped about ten minutes through had little to do with the film and more to do with my being somewhat distractable at the time. Still, Pacific Rim was a landmark moment for me – not a major landmark, like the Eiffel Tower, but a minor landmark, like the Wytheville Giant Pencil. I was losing my Guillermo del Toro virginity, by which I mean I was watching a two hour film, not that I was engaging in any sordid activities with a no doubt lovely Mexican director.
Pacific Rim looked like it was going to be a fun film – it was obvious from the trailers that this was not going to be high art, and I don't think anybody went into the cinemas with the expectation that it should be. It was always advertised as a light, fluffy action film that heavily referenced the kaiju and tokusatsu genres. Del Toro said as much, referring to it as 'airy and light.'
It doesn't disappoint. If you're the kind of person who idolises Frank Miller as your god and thinks that all action films should be grim, dark and bloody, like the The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steels of the film industry, this will be a massive letdown. But if you watch expecting, as advertised, giant robots beating up equally giant monsters, you're in luck: There is plenty of that.
What elevates Pacific Rim from a fun but ultimately forgettable action film – because while it is fun, very little stands out as overtly remarkable – is Idris Elba's performance as Marshall Stacker Pentecost, the main characters' leader and mentor.
The other actors aren't bad, by any stretch of the imagination – Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi put in fine performances as the two leads; Robert Kazinsky, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day all do well in portraying their over-the-top, caricaturish roles. But Elba easily stands head and shoulders above the rest of the film's cast, and easily steals every scene he's in.
(The role was initially offered to Tom Cruise. You may take a moment to ponder that, if you will.)
Elba's performance is easily one of the quieter of the displays on show, so the best way of describing why he is so engaging is that he oozes a certain presence. Like some kind of fiendish eyeball magnet, he sucks all of your attention towards himself, and imbues every stare, word or movement with an unnerving gravitas.
Apart from that, Pacific Rim is more or less what you'd expect: Robots punching monsters while everything explodes.
The one part that made me prickle slightly in irritation was when they hastily tried to shoehorn in an environmental message. Yes, global warming is a very bad thing. We should do something about it – but amongst the many and varied reasons why we must sort this problem out, 'because monsters might invade' is not one of them.