'Pacific Rim': Monsters vs. robots? Yes, please!
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Yes, it's true: "Pacific Rim" is every bit as big and loud and bombastic as movie observers predicted and early reviewers are reporting. But it's also a few other things, among them fun. And it's also among the few genuinely joyous sci-fi blockbusters I've seen in quite some time.
That seems like an odd, and even perverse, thing to say about a movie that envisions a future in which gigantic, grotesque beasts from beneath the sea, termed "Kaiju" (a Japanese word actually applied to the film genre that produced Godzilla and others), have laid waste to many of the world's great cities, and substantial parts of the populations therein. (Why undersea, you ask? Because the alien threat to the world, for the kaiju are indeed products of that very thing, turns out to be extra-dimensional rather than extraterrestrial. It's kinda complicated.) Those horrific creatures are battled by giant robots co-piloted by psychically linked "Jaegers" (German for hunters, and if there's a German film genre built around the term I'm not sure I wanna know about it) who, by 2020, may be Earth, or at least humanity's, final hope.
The reason "joyous" applies though has to do with Guillermo Del Toro, the movie's director, an accomplished and energetic genre aficionado who's clearly thrilled to be making his own giant monster movie in the dual tradition of Ishiro Honda and Ray Harryhausen, the two filmmaking icons to which he dedicates the movie. "Pacific Rim"'s future world is overflowing with quirky detail, and the movie's scenario serves up a lot of conventional tropes with unusual energy. The movie's lead, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), is the standard-issue former fighting ace now licking his wounds after a personal tragedy, brought back into the Jaeger fold by a single-minded commander with issues of his own (Idris Elba). His new co-pilot in the mind-meld called "the drift" is Mako Mori (Rinko Kukuchi), not as enigmatic a foil as she first seems, and a pretty refreshing female action figure in a summer that's woefully short on such things. Adding some "Top Gun" style rivalry is a petulant Aussie Jaeger (Max Martini), and contributing comic relief are a pair of mad scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman and an imposing contraband dealer played by Del Toro stalwart Ron Perlman.
The real stars, of course, are the creatures and the robots who battle them, and the stomach-rumbling, temple-throbbing action sequences are pretty formidable in 3D, although at times the speed of the images and the bone-crunching volume of the soundtrack threaten to relegate the movie into a more generic realm than it wants or deserves to be. But just when it starts feeling oppressive or samey Del Toro pulls out a witty visual detail (as in the amusing appearance of a Newton's cradle at the end of one real-estate-damage extravaganza) or a gratifying character bit. But the movie is more than the sum of its grace notes; the gargantuanism IS a feature, not a bug. If you can't hang with it, then maybe this isn't for you. But if you are hankering for a really BIG monster movie that won't, well, insult either your intelligence or your love for big monster movies, this is just the ticket.