By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 9, 2011 at 12:30PM
Guillermo Del Toro hasn't had the best run of luck in recent years. The Oscar-nominated "Pan's Labyrinth" might have catapulted him onto the A-list after years of developing a burgeoning cult, but he hasn't made a film since 2008's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." The Mexican director spent years on "The Hobbit" before leaving the project last summer due to frustrations over delays, and the financial uncertainty of MGM, while his pet project, the $150 million R-rated H.P. Lovecraft adaptation "At The Mountains Of Madness" was scrapped by Universal when a compromise couldn't be reached on the film's rating, despite the presence of James Cameron as producer, and Tom Cruise as the mooted star.
Del Toro swiftly jumped onto a new film, "Pacific Rim," a giant tentpole set up at Legendary Pictures, from "Clash of the Titans" writer Travis Beacham. But almost immediately, the film hit a speedbump: the plot involved giant creatures emerging from the Pacific ocean, wreaking havoc on a number of cities, including those in Japan, and the project's announcement came only days before the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the country, which killed thousands. Reports started to circulate that the studio was nervous about the subject matter -- had fate once again scuppered Del Toro's plans? It seems not: the project is not only moving forward, but it's just landed its lead actor, and it's not an entirely expected name.
Deadline reports that Charlie Hunnam, the British actor best known for his starring role on the FX series "Sons of Anarchy," is in advanced talks to star in the project. Hunnam's been a familiar name for over a decade, beginning with his breakout in the U.K. TV series "Queer as Folk," before going on to make his U.S. debut in Judd Apatow's "Undeclared" opposite Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen. That show was swiftly cancelled, but Hunnam's worked in movies both big ("Cold Mountain," "Children of Men") and small ("Green Street Hooligans," this year's Sundance indie "The Ledge"), but "Pacific Rim" is easily his highest profile role to date -- other than a screen test for the title role in "Thor," the actor generally hasn't appeared on the same casting wish lists as his peers, the Taylor Kitschs and Garret Hedlunds of the world -- and it's undoubtedly thanks to the success of "Sons of Anarchy," which is about to go into its fourth season.
Having read the script, we assume that Hunnam, who'll next be seen opposite Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde in the crime flick "Blackbird," will be playing the role of Raleigh Antrobus, who along with his brother, piloted Jaegers, enormous building-sized robots constructed to fight off the malevolent creatures, driven telepathically by a pair of specially-trained pilots, working in tandem. As the script begins, Raleigh has lost his brother in an attack, and is paired with another 'leftover,' a young Japanese woman named Mako (paging "Babel" star Rinko Kikuchi...), to help stave off the attacks, which are increasing in number. Meanwhile, his brother's fiancée, a journalist, investigates the source of the monsters.
There's a reason that Beacham's script has become such a priority for Del Toro and Legendary -- it's pretty terrific, at least in the early draft that we read. Melding "Avatar" and "Inception" with "Godzilla" and Japanese anime, it wears its influences on its sleeve, but combines them in a genuinely fresh way. It's consistently thrilling, occasionally soulful, and is easily one of the most confident, well-executed pieces of tentpole writing that we've come across . Plus, the Siouxsie and the Banshees song "The Last Beat Of My Heart" plays a key role in the plot, which we kind of love.
Obviously, Beacham and Del Toro are continuing to work on the script, so things could change -- certainly, we hope that the somewhat rushed climax, the script's principle flaw, has been worked on. Hunnam's a strong choice for the lead, even if it's come out of left field, so things are shaping up nicely for the project at this stage. Filming's due to get underway in September, and Warner Bros will release the film some time in 2013 -- with only "Iron Man 3" and "Monsters University" currently set for that summer, now that "The Dark Tower" appears to have been derailed, we imagine the studio will grab one of the prime summer slots any day now.