[note: this is not a "review" in the critical sense - this is how I would explain the film to someone I know. Do not expect objectivity or a balance between positive and negatives. I can talk negatively about things I really love and disappointment is not equal to disapproval.]
As most films do, the hype and previews for this entirely passed me by. I saw the massive poster at (or, indeed, on) the BFI IMAX but it didn't mean much to me - I thought it was "Pacify Crime" for a while.Pacific Rim is the ultimate otaku film that all of us had always been waiting for. Who are you, if you are Japanese and won't watch this?
Then I saw the quote and was intrigued enough. Then I saw the poster by Yoji Shinakawa* and had to see it.
I read a little about it and so came away with an expectation of a live-action exploration of the anime world of mechs and monsters. It sounded a bit like "Neon Genesis Evangelion" actually - which I found quite dull by the end but had a genuinely mental (even by Japanese narrative standards) ending. And with the "support" of Kojima**, I was not expecting a necessarily coherent film....
And, upon watching it, I think those expectations were met. I wouldn't say I am necessarily an anime fan but I have seen more than most people - and am appreciative of the a lot of them. This was a lot like the anime series that it seemed like - a lot borrowed but animating things allows different things to happen to live action. It was, in an overarching way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion but not in terms of a lot of the themes - just the story.
And the story is not always what people go for with blockbusters so it will hit a lot of buttons. Essentially, there is a fissure in the earth from which monsters are coming out every so often to destroy cities. This is the story of the earth's defence force. Discarded by the bureaucracy and forming a resistance using older tech after funding has been pulled.
For me, the real strength of anime over live action is in action scenes. I really like that staccato feel you get and the framing that draws from comic book (manga) heritage rather than other films. The action here was still quite shaky and didn't really have the juxtaposition that it could have had. To have the battles taking pace, overwhelmingly, in poorly lit areas may have made sense from a narrative point of view, but it was a waste. And the final scenes start at in soft light and so seem set up for a battle bathed in the warm glow of a new dawn.
I enjoyed the film and it was definitely a ride. I would recommend it with caveats - not a life changer but fun and silly. To be honest, I think most people will know if they will like it or not without watching it.
*artist on Metal Gear Solid series - beautiful pencil and ink work
** The MGS series is famous for long cut-scenes, even longer codec/talking head expositions and stories that flit between serious and silly with no apparent regard for conventional narrative structure.