If you spent the bulk of your childhood evenings actually playing in the great outdoors, and not on a couch with your eyeballs glued to the boob tube waiting for “Godzilla week” movie marathons like this young critic, then chances are you might not be familiar with the word kaiju, or all the wonderful, cheesy memories it evokes. In Japanese, the term translates roughly to “Giant beast,” which generally means the sort of gigantic, world-ravaging menace played by a man in a rubber lizard suit tromping around, smashing miniature replica cities. Pacific Rim is visionary director Guillermo Del Toro’s attempt to marry that creaky, old-school tradition to megabudget CGI-conjured modern blockbuster filmmaking, and the results are both spectacular and a little dopey, which may just be the point.
The setup here involves a near future besieged by giant amphibious mutant monsters that suddenly begin to emerge from a mysterious interdimensional rift in a trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. In order to defeat these monstrosities, the world’s great nations do something unexpected: They co-operate, teaming up to build massive robotic fighters called “Jaegers” — no, we don’t mean the mind-erasing beverage, we mean the German word for “hunter.” These flashy, skyscraper-sized cyber-pugilists require humans to operate them through a cybernetic interface, and due to the enormous size of the machines, two pilots are required. These amped-up, monster-hating combat jockeys must work in tandem through a potent psychic link called “the drift,” which causes a lot of predictable issues with intimacy, shared memories and crippling remorse when one of the pilots gets killed. Still, the giant robo strategy seems to be working, until the invaders’ attacks become more frequent and the kaiju themselves become much bigger and harder to beat. Of course, once things get a little tough, the brilliant government suits shut down the program and decide the best course of action is to build a giant wall and hide until the baddies go away. (Yeah, like that’s going to work.)
Refusing to surrender, Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) rounds up the few remaining Jaegers and their crews for a last-ditch effort to take the fight back through the portal and end the alien menace once and for all. These gung-ho, borderline suicidal pilots include a father-son team of Australian hotheads, some Russian fashion models and the token Yank, Raleigh Beckett, played with a semi-convincing accent by Englishman Charlie Hunnam. Beckett has all the stereotype traits of a Tom Cruise hero, including daddy issues, bad-boy tendencies, a distaste for authority and the justified cockiness needed when your job is punching enormous, city-eating dinosaurs in the face. His cockiness is softened by the shyness of his co-pilot, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi); she is long on technical proficiency but short on field experience, though she has good reason to hate the creatures. In another movie, their bland tentative romance would have been pushed to the front, but techno-obsessed director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy) is more concerned with cramming in as much metallic mayhem as the average cerebral cortex can handle.
If the human drama between the carnage comes off as cartoonish, then it is clearly intentional, with the movie paying obvious tribute to dusty anime and sci-fi staples, such as Gigantor, Gundam and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. Those versed in the clichés of that campy genre will revel in the widescreen chaos rendered in a gloriously detailed, colorful and excessive shower of malevolent pixels. If you’re not the kind of viewer that grooves on robots smashing monsters upside the head, then there is little about the exhilarating, noisy and sometimes exhausting spectacle of Pacific Rim that will sway you, but the geeky kid inside might beg to differ.
Pacific Rim is in wide release, rated PG-13, with a running time of 131 minutes.
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