Tag: Charlie Hunnam

The Lost City of Z (2016)

The Lost City of Z (2016)

An obsessive explorer plunges into the Amazon in search of a lost city in this imaginative epic

Director: James Gray

Cast: Charlie Hunnam (Percy Fawcett), Robert Pattinson (Henry Costin), Tom Holland (Jack Fawcett), Sienna Miller (Nina Fawcett), Edward Ashley (Arthur Manley), Angus MacFadyen (James Murray), Clive Francis (Sir John Scott Keltie), Ian McDiarmid (Sir George Goldie), Franco Nero (Baron de Gondoriz), Harry Melling (William Barclay)

For as long as parts of a map so unknown, that all we write on them is “Here Be Dragons”, there have been explorers yearning to uncover their secrets. Exploring in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was a dangerous, sometimes fatal, call, as explored with a near-mystical thoughtfulness in James Gray’s ambitious film The Lost City of Z. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) was the courageous soldier, whose whole life was a campaign to prove he had nothing in common with his disgraced father. Fawcett became obsessed with discovering the secrets of the Amazon, principally the existence of a lost civilisation built by the indigenous people of Brazil, which he called The Lost City of Z. It was to become a quest that would dominate his life.

Based on a true story, Gray’s film taps deeply into a Herzog-by-way-of-Lean view of the Jungles of South America, a place of great awe and danger which creeps inside the soul of Fawcett until, as one tribesperson says, he seems to be of both the West and the Jungle. Shot on location, the Jungle becomes a place of great beauty, but also unknowable mystery and menace. As Fawcett and his companions hack their way through it, on what could be a fool’s errand, their growing respect for it and the indigenous people, is matched only by their increased awareness of its dangers.

The Golden Age of Exploration is a difficult subject to tackle today, with many seeing (in some cases correctly) it as underpinned by a Westernised Imperialism, that earnestly believed the best thing that could happen to these lands (and the ‘savages’ who populated them) was that they should gratefully concede their land and culture to Western ‘civilisation’. Gray’s film is careful to show that Fawcett acknowledged he didn’t always understand the world he was in and learned some hard lessons. But the key difference is that acknowledgment and, as presented here, the humility and respect he recognised the rights and skills of the indigenous people. It marks him out from several of his contemporaries who see them only as contemptable savages and simpletons.

Indeed, Gray’s film positions Fawcett as an admirable egalitarian. His belief that the people of Brazil were not only capable of building in the Jungle, but that they could create an advanced society of pottery and irrigation ahead of those in the West is laughed out of court by many of his fellow members of the Royal Geographical Society (as we see in an involving debate sequence). While staying with a tribe in the Amazon, he marvels at their ability to cultivate and farm the land – something he had been assured was impossible. Encountering a tribe whose custom is to eat parts of their dead (so as to preserve their spirit in themselves), he reacts not with kneejerk disgust but understanding and respect.

The respect he shows for the environment and those he finds there is contrasted with the reaction of famed explorer James Murray, who joins him for his second expedition. Played with a puffed-up self-satisfaction and rigid believe in his own righteousness by Angus MacFadyen, Murray (a noted polar explorer) proves a serious handicap on the expedition. Unfit, unprepared for the tropical environment and treating all he encounters with hauteur, Murray slowly alienates the rest of the party by displaying the imperialist confidence Fawcett and his companions avoid. Stealing supplies, nearly overtipping a raft and ruining some of their stores, Gray uses Murray as the picture of the arrogant classic explorer and a great contrast with Fawcett, who swears thereafter to never again judge a man on his standing and reputation rather than on his character.

Gray’s film has rather a good ear for the pressures and hypocrisies of post-Edwardian Britain. The film opens with Fawcett successfully shooting a leading stag during a state visit by Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It’s a feat that wins him praise – but not any form of meeting with the Archduke since Fawcett is, as a Lord puts it, “unwise in his choice of ancestors”. It’s a stigma Fawcett has to deal with at almost every turn, from being pooh-poohed for his advocation of the Amazonian tribes to dealing with the criticism of the entitled establishment figures.

Gray marshals this all rather effectively, bringing the film into a neat balance of acknowledging modern issues with exploration while still giving an excellent idea of why motivated these men. It all plays out within a dream like aesthetic that leaves a haunting impression. During his first expedition, Fawcett emerges from the bushes into a make-shift opera house built in the jungle (how Fitzcarraldo is that?), on a plantation ruled by a Portuguese landowner dripping with the greed of his class (Franco Nero in a delicious cameo). During his time at home – and at the front during the First World War – elements of the jungle creep into frame, reflecting Fawcett’s longing to return to this mysterious exotic land which makes him feel alive in ways the stifling life at home never does.

Gray’s sense of atmosphere is so well done in the film – its mesmeric shots and sense of unreality will linger – that it’s a shame Charlie Hunnam isn’t quite the right actor to play the role (he took over from Benedict Cumberbatch, who would have been perfect for the obsession, decisiveness and desire to prove himself). Hunnam gives a solid performance, and he really understands the egalitarian humanity of Fawcett, who treats all men and women as equals. But there is a deeper unknowability and mystical longing in Fawcett that is beyond his grasp.

Interestingly, Robert Pattinson – here grimy, eccentric and almost unrecognisable as Fawcett’s best friend Henry Costin – would have been a better call. This is an intensity and soulfulness in Pattison that Hunnam can’t quite bring to Fawcett. Tom Holland gives a heartfelt performance as Fawcett’s hero-worshipping son and Sienna Miller a sensitive and intelligent one as his devoted wife. Clive Francis and Ian McDiarmid play with aplomb sympathetic senior RGS men.

There are many more virtues than faults in The Lost City of Z. The photography by Darius Khondji is wonderful – no one has filmed the jungle better since The Mission. Gray’s intelligent and thoughtful film addresses questions of colonialism and prejudice, while also not shying away from the danger and aggression of some of these tribes. The portrayal of Fawcett’s final expedition is wonderfully done, culminating literally in a dream like sequence where reality, hope and fate merge. It’s a fascinating film.

Children of Men (2006)

Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey could be the last hope for mankind in the masterful Children of Men

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Cast: Clive Owen (Theo Faron), Julianne Moore (Julian Taylor), Claire-Hope Ashitey (Kee), Michael Caine (Jasper Palmer), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke), Charlie Hunnam (Patric), Pam Ferris (Miriam), Peter Mullan (Syd), Danny Huston (Nigel)

Children of Men was overlooked on release. But the more it ages, the more it clearly hasn’t aged it at all. Criminally ignored at the major awards, this might well be the finest film of 2006 and certainly one of the best movies of the noughties. Rich in thought-provoking content and cinematic skill, this is truly great-film-making from Alfonso Cuarón. Dark, grim, edgy but also laced with hope, faith and kindness, Children of Men grows in statue with each viewing, rewarding you more and more.

It’s 2027 and the world has gone to hell. Mysteriously mankind became infertile 18 years ago, and faced with the despair that the extinction of the human race is inevitable, society has collapsed. Cities lie in ruins and war has torn countries apart: Britain “stands alone”, one of the few with a functioning government – even though that government is a totalitarian, nationalist police state. Aggressive campaigns are waged against refugees from around the world, who are herded into hellish concentration camps. In this chaos, Theo (Clive Owen) is a disaffected civil rights activist, now plodding through a dead-end job and smoking weed with his friend, ex-newspaper cartoonist Jasper (Michael Owen). All this changes when he is entrusted by his activist/’terrorist’ estranged wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to protect Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who carries inside her something that could change the whole of humanity: an unborn child.

Today Children of Men seems alarmingly prescient. In a world of migrant crises, Brexit, Trump and coronavirus (the film even refers to a flu pandemic of 2008!) the vision of the future it presents seems only a few degrees away from our reality. Rather than a hellish view, it seems more and more like something that could happen. Everything is worn out and grubby. Streets are lined with rubbish, buildings coated with graffiti. Televisions and advertising screens alternate between demands to report immigrants with promotions for “Quietus”, a suicide pill. Fences, armed police, barbed wire and crowds of filthy, terrified and brutalised people are common. Humanity has given-up: there is no hope in the world.

It’s that collapse of any sense of hope and optimism that has driven this collapse of society in Cuarón’s vision. In a world where the extinction of mankind is inevitable, what’s the point contributing to society or worrying about your legacy or the future? Why preserve anything when no-one will be around to see it in a hundred years? By such fragile threads, does society hold itself together. The crushing depression of knowing you live in the final days of humanity is everywhere. There is not a single person alive in their teens: a fact hammered home by the characters visiting a deserted and derelict school. Everyone has lost any sense of purpose, with life a grim daily grind.

Perhaps that’s also why physically the world hasn’t changed much. Unlike most “future set” dramas, this view of 2027 could be 2006, just dirtier and with a few more electronic screens (in fact this has helped hugely in not dating the film). It’s like all life has stagnated. And liberals like Theo have turned into apathetic drunks, drifting blithely through life not bothering to engage or change anything about the shit show all around them

All this makes the film sound impossibly grim – and Cuarón is superb in building this world (including the genius stroke of never explaining, even in the smallest detail, what has caused this pandemic of infertility – the film is refreshingly free of any clumsy scene setting) – but it works because it’s a film laced with hope and a belief in the fundamental goodness of people. The story has overtones of a religious fable: Theo and Kee as a sort of Joseph and Mary travelling to protect an unborn child whose birth could save the world. Specially composed choral music, rife with religious overtones, underplays key moments and scenes subtly leaning into this spiritual journey.

And the goodness that people find in themselves is inspiring. Theo, brilliantly played by Clive Owen who has just the right dissolute cynicism hiding crusading courage, may have given up but actually he’s a deeply empathetic and caring man. Animals instinctively love him. He’s a natural protector, who shows concern in all sorts of ways for people him, who puts himself at risk to protect people and refuses to ever accept defeat. But he’s a million miles away from a super-man, getting increasingly dishevelled, bashed and brutalised, while his struggles with footwear (he carries out action sequences  wearing just socks, then flip-flops and finally barefoot) is both a neat little gag and also a sign of how vulnerable he is in this dangerous world.

Cuarón’s film builds brilliantly on his empathy to carefully and beautifully build the growing understanding and trust between Theo and Kee (equally well played by Claire-Hope Ashitey). Again, it stems first from his protectiveness (Theo also works hard to protect people around him from disturbing sights, twice urging Kee not to look back and that whoever has been left behind is fine), but also from her instinctive trust in him as a good man and above the only one who seems to have her interests at heart (everyone else is concerned only with what Kee can symbolise – Ejiofor’s vigilante Luke can’t even get the sex of the baby right). Kee is vulnerable, but strong and determined, someone trying to carry the burden of being the hope of mankind.

She’s also brilliantly a member of the very migrant community that the government is trying to destroy. Cuarón’s film wants us all to remember that we are all the same deep down, that what happens to one affects us all. The horrors of what the British government are doing in the war-torn slums of migrant prisons (all of Bexhill has become a lawless hell hole, where executions and riots are daily occurrences) reek of everything from Auschwitz to Guantanamo. But amongst these migrants come the only strangers who seek to help Theo and Kee out of simple goodness and humanity. Strangers put themselves at huge risk, and in many cases sacrifice their lives, to help them. It makes a stark contrast with the revolutionaries who claim to fight for the migrants (but show no compunction in shooting them when needed), but really are only interested in their own selfish battles with no understanding of the bigger picture.

This bigger picture is very much like the thematic richness of the film that was missed on its released. It’s almost a victim of its own technical brilliance, which attracted much more attention at the time. Cuarón constructs several sequences to appear as single-takes, and the stunning camera work really helps establish this grimy, brutal world. It’s a wonderfully immersive film, a technical marvel. Every single part of the photography and design is pitch-perfect, and the key sequences are stomach-churningly tense, inspired by everything from The Battle of Algiers to A Clockwork Orange.

But the film works because it is underpinned by faith and trust in the human spirit. Mankind is being challenged like never before, but Cuarón shows us that the human spirit can survive. That simple acts of kindness can still happen. That there is a chance of hope. The final conclusion of the film is both sad but also upliftingly hopeful. Cuarón’s direction is just-about perfect, as are the performers (not just Owen and Ashitey but also an almost unrecognisible Caine as an ageing Hippie). With its acute and brilliant analysis of humanity – both in its grimness and capacity for goodness and selflessness – and with its prescient look at how easily our world could collapse, Children of Men is vibrant, brilliant, essential film-making.

Cold Mountain (2003)

Nicole Kidman and Jude Law are souls in love separated by war in Cold Mountain

Director: Anthony Minghella

Cast: Jude Law (WP Inman), Nicole Kidman (Ada Monroe), Renée Zellweger (Ruby Thewes), Eileen Atkins (Maddy), Kathy Baker (Sally Swanger), James Gammon (Esco Swanger), Brendan Gleeson (Stobrod Thewes), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Reverend Veasey), Natalie Portman (Sara), Giovanni Ribisi (Junior), Lucas Black (Oakley), Donald Sutherland (Reverend Monroe), Cillian Murphy (Bardolph), Jack White (Georgia), Ray Winstone (Teague), Melora Walters (Lila), Charlie Hunnam (Bosie)

There was no difficult novel Anthony Minghella couldn’t adapt for the big screen. Cold Mountain is as beautiful and handsome a film as any he made, and his masterful scripting of a complex story is testament to his skill. So why is Cold Mountain not more loved? Is it because it’s almost too well made, too handsomely mounted, too literary and intelligent? Is it, actually, trying a little too hard? Is it a Cold Mountain itself, a giant structure of beauty but with an icy heart?

Based on Charles Frazier’s novel, set in the final days of the American Civil War, confederate soldier Inman (Jude Law), knowing the war is lost, deserts to return to the woman he loves, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman). The two of them have only spoken a few times but they feel a deep personal bond. During the years of war, poverty has hit preacher’s daughter Ada, although she has crafted a life-changing friendship with 18th century trailer trash Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger) which has helped her survive. As Inman’s odyssey home leads to him encountering a number of different vignettes that show the despair Civil War has brought to America, Ada struggles to survive and avoid the sinister attentions of home guard enforcer Teague (Ray Winstone).

There is so much to admire in Cold Mountain I want to start there. The photography is beautiful, and the film is assembled with a striking grace and skill. Walter Murch’s editing and sound design is perfect, with each shot of the film being fabulously composed and each carrying a specific message and purpose that contributes to the overall impact. The use of music – a collaboration between T Bone Burnett and Gabriel Yared – is perfect, a series of wonderful period compositions and impactful orchestral pieces. 

Everything about how Minghella captures the feel of the time, the mood of the South heading into war, and the disintegration of social conventions as the war takes hold and lays waste to the land, rings completely true. From the celebrations of the young men at the film’s start, to the increasingly haunted, tragic look of Jude Law’s Inman as he discovers new horrors at every point in his journey, you know war is hell. Minghella ironically opens the film with a catastrophic defeat for the North – but the slaughter disgusts Inman, and his burial under mounds of rubble during an explosion leads to a spiritual rebirths with Inman deciding senseless killing isn’t worth the candle any more. In a war of willing volunteers, how do we respond when these volunteers don’t want to keep fighting?

And why should they, as each of the various vignettes Inman walks through is a wasteland of moral collapse? From a sex-obsessed preacher (an amusing performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has lost his morals to a tragic widow desperately trying to feed her baby (Natalie Portman, effectively stealing the whole show with an intense performance of utter desolation), everything Inman sees shows that nothing is worth all this. The film gets a very good sense of the drive that pushes Inman forward: constantly moving, he’s rarely seen sitting or resting. Each of the Odyssey-inspired stories gives him something to reflect on, or another opportunity for moral and emotional torment , from dragging bodies in a chain gang to avoiding the lustful advances of a group of hillbilly sirens who trap deserters for money.

Meanwhile, things ain’t much better on the homefront, where corrupt bullies like Teague (a slightly too obvious Ray Winstone) are enforcing their own law at the expense of justice. Poverty is also the impact of war, and poor Ada suffers hugely from this, as supplies run low and eventually out. Minghella’s swift and skilful establishment of character shows from the start how Ada is a stranger in a strange land, a middle-class town girl who is completely unsuited for country life and utterly unready to fend for herself when the chips are down without support. 

Is it any wonder in this world, that Inman and Ada cling to memories? Part of the film’s effect depends on how you respond to the romantic bond between these two clinging to a few brief moments (a few exchanges and one immensely passionate kiss on the day of Inman’s departure). It’s an old-fashioned, sweeping, love story and it depends on you relating to that old-fashioned mythic love story. I’m not sure that the film quite sells this as effectively as it could do. Somehow, perhaps because Inman is so insular and Ada a little too difficult to relate to, the passion between them can’t quite carry the sweep that the film demands, even as Minghella skilfully intercuts between them.

Nicole Kidman in particular feels miscast as Ada. Kidman is too intelligent, too determined and strong a performer to convince as a woman who is unable to look after herself and nearly succumbs to fear – she’s just not an actress I can picture cowering in fear in front of an angry rooster. Kidman does her best, but the character never really wins the sympathy that we need for the performance to work. Jude Law has much more to work with as Inman, brilliantly communication a whole world of feeling with very little dialogue. 

What works less well with Law is that his plotline just doesn’t quite grip enough. The vignettes are often entertaining, but feel like episodic sketches, and the sense of a building picture of the despair of the South doesn’t quite come into shape as much in practice as it does in theory. Frankly, after a while, you are ready for Inman’s journey to come to an end and for him to intersect with Ada’s plotline back at Cold Mountain (which is built around a consistent group of characters who engage our interest).

In the home front storyline you’ll be relieved with the entrance (almost an hour into the film) of Renée Zellweger’s blowsy Ruby, a loud-mouthed, trailer-trash woman with a heart of gold and a mastery of farming who effectively saves Ada’s life. It’s a loud, big, Oscar-winning performance from Zellweger that plays with being a little broad, but is skilfully balanced by the slow reveal that this personality is a cover that Ruby uses to hide her own pain. Added to this depth, her heart-warming presence carries such simple pleasure and colour compared to the more muted performances from the leads that you welcome it. 

Because Inman and Ada don’t quite work as a romantic couple. There is something slightly cold about them, slightly hard to relate to. And for all the intense and brilliant construction and filming of the film – and the mastery of Minghella’s writing and direction – it never makes them into the sort of classic romantic couple you care for. You want to connect with it more than you ever really do, and whether that is down to miscasting or the lack of intense chemistry between them I’m not sure, but it means Cold Mountain never becomes the great romantic tragedy it should be. You want a film this good to be as good as it feels – and it never quite is.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Charlie Hunnam is a “Proper LEGEND” in disasterous geezy gangster King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur), Jude Law (King Vortigern), Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey (The Mage), Djimon Hounsou (Sir Bedivere), Aidan Gillen (Goosefat Bill Wilson), Eric Bana (King Uther Pendragon), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Tristan), Craig McGinlay (Percival), Tom Wu (George), Neil Maskell (Back Lack), Annabelle Wallis (Maggie), Katie McGrath (Elsa), Freddie Fox (Rubio), Mikael Persbrandt (Greybeard), Michael McElhatton (Jack’s Eye), Geoff Bell (Mischief Jack)

Okay we’ve all seen bad movies. And we’ve all seen movies that don’t make a lot of sense. But it’s a pretty special film that is both at the same time. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is one of those. It is jaw-droppingly terrible and also insanely, ludicrously, incoherent. It’s completely impossible to follow what the hell is going on. Considering the studio planned this as the first of at least ten movies in an Arthur-verse, it’s practically a textbook on how not to start a movie franchise.

Anyway the plot, such as I can work out, is something like this: back in ye olde England times, magic and Mages have been nearly wiped out after (I think) an attempt by Mage Warlord Mordred to seize the throne. Then former Mage pupil and jealous brother of King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), Vortigern (Jude Law) kills his wife to get powers to seize the throne. Only young Arthur survives – and an unspecified period of time later (he ages, no one else does), Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is a cocky geezer running a brothel in Londinium in the shadow of the Coliseum (yes really). Then one day Uther’s sword Excalibur turns up buried in a stone and Vortigern gets everyone to try and pull the sword out of the stone, so he can find the true heir (Arthur) and then when he finds him he puts on a show trial and it looks like he’s going to execute him because Arthur has become a legend in five minutes. Then Arthur is rescued by rebels who want Arthur to lead them, because the sword has special powers which Arthur can control if he can only get over his doubt and when it works… Oh God I can’t believe I’ve just tried to puzzle it out.

Scenes in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword follow each other with barely any structural link from one to the other. The film is convinced that the best way to pique our interest in a mystery is to throw us into the deep end and then info-dump flashbacks and voiceover throughout the film. The effect is rather like an ove- excited child trying to tell you a story (“And then a MASSIVE OLIPHANT SMASHED THE BRIDGE, and Uther fought it with a sword and it went boom and there was a big funeral and then Vortigern killed his wife and he was sad and he shouted and then a BIG DEMON killed Uther because the sword couldn’t go boom and then Arthur grew up”) who keeps leaving out the key details so has to throw them in later (“oh and Vortigen killed his wife because he needed to become a BIG DEMON and could only do it if he killed someone he loved and he had to become a BIG DEMON because it was the only way to stop Uther from making the sword go boom and he needed to get the sword – umm – well I’m not sure why but he needed it to build his tower. Did I mention his Tower? I think it was why he wanted to become King so he could build the tower. I think the tower made him a powerful magician. But of course he already was a magician he just wanted to be a betterer one. Did I mention that Arthur got the sword and made it go boom?”).

Instead the film showcases absolutely all the worst instincts of Guy Ritchie. All of them. Everything happens really fast and incredibly loudly. There are huge senseless battles and enormous CGI beasts who attack for no reason whatsoever. Arthur and his cronies are all transformed into cockney wide-boys, with Vortigern’s enforcers basically gangsters, all speaking with the Lock Stock rat-a-tat vibe that was fresh in 1998 but feels impossibly dated and tiresome now. This mixes with the ridiculously loud and fast pace of the film that makes it almost literally impossible to work out what is going on – and certainly makes it impossible to give a shit about anyone or anything in the film as events, characters, action and dialogue fly past with nothing dwelling to make any impact.

Everything has been thrown at this. Monsters! Gangsters! Chinese Martial Artists! Knights as Nazis (Jude Law’s Vortigen hosts a full blown Nuremberg Rally)! None of it really ties together. Nothing makes sense. Everything is filmed dull and murkily.

Probably because the producers worked out what they’d put together was an impossible turkey, the film has been cut to ribbons. To try and make a virtue of this, frequently characters explain events that are going to happen, while the events themselves play out on screen. Ritchie pumps this up to the next level by having the dialogue delivered with manic speed, which clearly passes in his mind for cool. This is when it explains things at all. More often events speed by so swiftly that we just have to assume massive time jumps have happened. This sword must be important (its name is in the title) but when it pops up out of nowhere, we get no sense that Vortigern has spent any time looking for it. Not only that, his system of forcible sword tests is both a well-oiled machine and something Arthur (who lives literally in the shadow of Vortigern’s castle) has never heard of. In less than two minutes of screen-time after he pulls the sword, Arthur is spoken of as a legendary figure who must be killed publicly to kill his legend. What? How much time is passing here?

The film has both way too much plot going on, and not enough interesting plot going on. It’s so determined to set up future movies that we get lots of incoherent information about Mages, magic and powerful swords dumped on us really quickly. Anything that could be seen as a “special effect” has been left in, while it feels like anything dialogue-related has been cut. So we have a way, way, way too long sequence of Arthur in some place called the Darklands battling monsters for reasons never explained by the plot (its stated purpose, to get him to master the sword, doesn’t even work – making it a complete cul-de-sac). We get a battle at the start where we literally don’t know who is fighting whom or why. At one point, the Mage commands a giant snake which pops up to save Arthur and is never used again. On the counterside, we are never clear what Vortigern is trying to do or why he seized the throne, why he is building a huge tower or why he needs the sword – or indeed why the sword is important other than it makes things go BOOM.

The actors stumble about the wreckage of this film, like shell-shocked survivors of some kind of apocalypse. Perhaps this is at last the end of Charlie Hunnam as a star of big budget movies – he is, to put it bluntly, awful: a complete non-presence. Jude Law swans through the film as if just turning up was repaying a favour to Ritchie – although god knows Vortigern is a character that makes no sense at all. The rest of the actors make no impact – Aidan Gillen looks a little ashamed to be there – with the one exception of Neil Maskell who gets some very small emotional force out a father-son relationship. But to be honest, this is one where you want to be forgotten.

A film that wants to start a franchise but gives us no reason to care about anyone in it, is on a hiding to nothing. What on earth in this movie would make you want to come back and see the future adventures of Arthur and Pals? I can’t think of anything. If you can work out what is going on you are welcome to it. Lord knows no one else wants it.

Pacific Rim (2013)

Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi are cancelling the Apocalypse in Pacific Rim

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket), Idris Elba (General Stacker Pentecost), Rinko Kikuchi (Mako Mori), Charlie Day (Dr Newt Geiszler), Max Martini (Hercules Hansen), Robert Kazinsky (Chuck Hansen), Ron Perlman (Hannibal Chau), Clifton Collins Jnr (Tendo Choi), Burn Gorman (Dr Gottleib), Diego Klattenhoff (Yancy Beckett)

Film can be a beautiful and thought-provoking art-form. But sometimes, gosh darn it, you just want to leave the works of the great artists behind and watch a big, loud film in which giant robots hit giant monsters. Over and over again. In lurid, glorious, high colour detail. That’s pretty much the life and career of Guillermo del Toro. Make something like Pan’s Labyrinth. Then follow it up with something so wildly, tonally different you won’t believe it’s from the same guy: Pacific Rim.

In 2013, huge monsters (Kaiju) emerge from an interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. As they destroy cities left, right and centre, mankind is pushed to the limit. Eventually they develop Jaegers – giant robots controlled by two pilots, whose minds are linked together and used to drive the Jaeger’s movements. In 2020, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) leaves the Jaeger force, commanded by General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), after his brother and co-pilot is killed by a Kaiju. By 2025, the world governments decide to cut the funding of the Jaeger programme – forcing Pentecost to call Becket out of retirement and team him with his adopted daughter Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to launch a final, desperate, assault on the portal with the few remaining Jaegers, in an attempt to stop the ever-increasing number of Kaijus for good.

Pacific Rim is loud. It is silly. Its plot is a collection of clichés and offcuts from other movies. Some of the acting in it is ludicrously bad, over-the-top, poorly accented or all three. It looks and sounds like a direct-to-DVD movie made on a massive budget. Yet, despite all this, it’s really, really good fun. The ultimate guilty pleasure. Deafeningly dumb, but somehow it sort of knows this, and it knows you know it, so it just gives you what you wanted when you sat down – bangs, bashes and silly dialogue. Maybe this all works because Del Toro is actually a real director: he can shoot this nonsense with a sense of flair and scale, and is confident enough as a storyteller to just accept he’s making a dumb film and doesn’t need to try and pile some spurious depth on it, but just run with the emptiness.

Pacific Rim gives you this: some truly sublime robot vs. monsters battling in a variety of beautifully shot locations, in particular downtown Hong Kong. I mean, who wouldn’t love seeing this smashy super-action? The robots basically look really cool, the monsters are really imaginative, it’s tonnes of fun. Of course the battles are silly, there is always “one more weapon” to use that is bigger and better than anything they’ve used before (so why not do that from the start?). Del Toro also shoots the fights with a surprisingly calm camera, that makes the action the frantic lead, rather than the normal thing you see in these films, with the camera flying around all over the place. They’re edited really well. The score is great. The battles don’t overstay their welcome, and the characters at the centre of the Jaegers are always kept front-and-centre. Who wouldn’t love them?

The plotline of the film has a B-movie directness, which del Toro manages to fill with some depth. It’s a film about co-operation and learning to work together. This should be pretty wearingly obvious – okay it is – but somehow it strangely moving in the film. The Jaegers literally need two people to work together so closely they share a mind to operate it. The whole Jaeger programme only works from intimate co-operation. Characters feud and argue – but the film is about them learning to overcome these differences and work together. The film hammers home the fatality rate of this war with kaijus so well, that you end up really caring for sacrifices and risks these people are running. When Jaeger pilots start dying, I find it actually rather moving in its brutal suddenness. 

At lot of this comes from the wonderful, hero-worshipping, film style del Toro uses. Look at shots such as when (in flashback) Idris Elba’s Penthouse climbs out of a Jaeger, framed by the sun behind him – he looks like some sort of ultimate hero. The Jaeger pilots all have their own distinctive themes, and are framed and shot with idealism and adoration. Sure their personal issues are the most rampant form of clichéd melodrama – but it’s sold with complete conviction, and told with such unabashed simplicity, that you end up caring for it. 

This is despite the fact that most of the acting is pretty below par. Idris Elba is the one major exception – the only one with the charisma to sell such basic plots as “dying of brain tumour” and to make chuckle worthy lines like “we are cancelling the apocalypse” sound like rallying cries, rather than seriously awful crap. Charlie Hunnam, by comparison, has nowhere near that level of charisma and Raleigh Becket is probably the most forgettable lead character you’re going to see in a movie like this. Robert Kazinsky is pretty awful as his rival Jaeger pilot (his accent is dreadful). Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are hit-and-miss as the comic sidekick scientists. Rinko Kikuchi is however pretty good – and with her “drift” memory loss she has probably the film’s most affecting sequence.

But this isn’t a film of subtle character work or sharp scripting. It’s got a B-Movie aesthetic, but it delivers it totally honestly. Basically, Guillermo del Toro is a good enough director to be comfortable with making a really, really good bad movie, Pacific Rim is deeply silly and stupid, but it is a lot of fun and its characters (despite their pretty forgettable or clichéd nature) are still people you really invest in. Del Toro pulls off a neat trick filming this, perhaps because the film is so sweetly honest, and unabashed, about what they are doing here. It’s got a heart-warming message about co-operation. It never feels exploitative. It’s got a childish sweetness about it, a real family robot basher. It’s the best bad movie you’ll ever see.