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RIM SHOT
Today sees the release of Pacific Rim. The trailers didn’t fill me with hope as they looked like a larger scale Transformers. Before I start my review, I just want to say that I am a huge admirer of director Guillermo Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone are great films and both Hellboy movies are a lot of fun. Even Mimic, his mainstream monster movie, acquits itself very well. But the trailer for Pacific Rim is sadly very accurate. We are introduced to a world where monsters (Kaiju) from another dimension find themselves in our world, wreaking havoc and destruction and it takes a group of manmade machines (Jaegers) operated by two human pilots to go up against them. Charlie Hunnam (Sons Of Anarchy) plays Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger pilot who goes into hiding after the death of his brother and it takes Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to get him to jump back into a Jaeger when the last few machines are all that stands between a Kaiju victory against the humans. For me, the big problem with Pacific Rim is just how infantile and empty it all is. The script is excruciatingly corny, the characters are nonexistent (only Del Toro’s regular contributor Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau manages to lift the scenes he is in) and the plot, such as it is, is flimsy and filled with holes. Idris Elba, often good value in things like Luther and obviously The Wire, is wooden and awful here. I enjoy fun, intelligent action films as much as the next man, but Pacific Rim looks and feels like an expensive toy movie, with all the depth of a child filming his toys in his bedroom. The best action films (Aliens, Predator, Die Hard) have a level of intelligence to their scripts that lift them up from being more than just impressive special effects bonanzas. Del Toro is a huge fan of monster films and Japanese robot movies but nowhere here does this really feel like one of his films. I will also admit that I was never into Japanese monster movies and giant robot films when I was a kid so there is no nostalgia for me here. I am fully aware that this is a very deliberate series of choices from Guillermo Del Toro and this is a love letter from him to all the films he’s loved but it just didn’t connect with me. I would rather if Del Toro was to make a mainstream Hollywood movie, that it would have been more like Mimic than like Pacific Rim. Audiences have such poor taste these days for mainstream films that I’m sure it will do well at the box office but I feel this is such a waste of a true cinematic maverick’s talents…

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OFF TO A FLYING START
DC have been desperate to resurrect the idea of a Superman franchise on screen for a while now. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006), despite a few initial positive reviews, didn’t set the box office alight and buried the idea of bringing DC’s alien icon back to the big screen. Fast-forward to 2013 and we have Man of Steel, directed by Zach Snyder (Sucker Punch, Watchmen) and produced and co-written by Christopher Nolan (Batman trilogy) with David Goyer (screenwriter on all three Batman films). Snyder has been capable of visual flourishes in the past but his worst indulgences have sunk some of his previous efforts, so presumably Nolan was brought in to keep his flaws in check. Man of Steel is obviously an origin story, where we are treated to the destruction of Krypton and Clark Kent coming to terms with who and what he is. As with every Superman origin story, we see him brought up by Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner respectively) and Snyder has decided to forego Lex Luthor in favour of General Zod (a brutal Michael Shannon here) as his first adversary. Man of Steel isn’t perfect: it takes itself very, very seriously and is a very dark and cold film with little emotional connection. But considering Nolan’s take on Batman, this doesn’t come as a huge shock. But, despite this, Snyder has made some very clever casting choices (Russell Crowe as Kal-El’s father, Jor-El, has enough gravitas to pull this off, and Shannon is excellent as the psychotic Zod) and Brit Henry Cavill in the lead role channels Christopher Reeve while bringing a fresh vulnerability to the part. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is also very good: the filmmakers have made the reporter feisty but tough and actually quite sympathetic at the same time. In terms of its look, the more lowkey character scenes have a quiet majesty to them which acts as a nice counterpoint to the action sequences, which manage to be bold, dynamic and in your face, with more mayhem than you’ve seen in any other superhero film before. The stakes were very high here for DC and Warner Bros: Marvel had stolen a march on them with Avengers (Assemble), Thor and the three Iron Man films. But the combination of Snyder and Goyer has created a surprisingly measured summer superhero blockbuster film with some very assured touches and set the scene for future big screen Superman adventures the equal of their rival’s movie adaptations. There has been much debate about the way that Superman defeats General Zod and I won’t confirm what other people have spelt out elsewhere but it does throw up some interesting moral questions for the future. Man of Steel has washed the bad taste out of everyone’s mouths created by Superman Returns and it will be genuinely interesting to see how Snyder and Nolan develop the character in future instalments…