Three stars (out of four)
Getting in touch with your inner 12-year-old, as Guillermo del Toro sincerely hopes you will with his robots vs. monsters mash-up Pacific Rim, has never been this big or loud.
Or awesome, it must be said. Even if you smirk at the plot conceit of mind-linked humans inside skyscraping robots fighting blockbuster sea beasts, the technical prowess on display can’t help but impress.
You don’t just see and hear these frame-filling behemoths — as they smash and bash each other in coastal cities across the globe — you also feel them.
In mounting this tribute to the Japanese movie monsters he has adored since childhood — dino-sized Godzilla, of course, but also the likes of multi-headed Ghidorah, spiky Rodan and winged Mothra — del Toro and his team have laboured to make a complete sensory experience.
There’s a weight and depth to these Kaiju (monsters) and Jaegers (robots), much more than there is to Michael Bay’s Transformers, the understandable but not-so-accurate comparison.
Every thud, pow and bam registers in your bones, thanks to advanced CGI, skilled camera placement and 3D that actually works.
These beasts and ’bots also have distinct colours, glowing with unearthly luminescence as they rise out of the sea by way of “the breach,” a molten rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Watching Pacific Rim is often akin to staring at a vivid fireworks display, or animation on hi-def TV with the colours turned way up.
Del Toro hasn’t forsaken the human element of his film, although no one is going to look to Pacific Rim for any acting nominations come awards time (the technical categories will be a whole other story).
There are no A-listers among the cast, and the plot is as skeletal as you can get: brave humans build and operate Jaegers to battle a scourge of Kaiju that keep threatening to stomp the planet into sawdust.
Still, there’s definite rooting interest in the story of a burned-out Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) joining with promising rookie Mako Mori (Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi) to suit up in a clanking robotic antique to grapple with advanced versions of the ever-evolving Kaiju, whose spiked snouts and sharp claws can tear into a Jaeger like a massive can opener.
The goofiest angle of the jargon-heavy script by Travis Beacham (with del Toro) demands that two pilots are required to operate each Jaeger. They must be mentally conjoined through a process called “drifting” that also leads to shared emotions. (Think of the Vulcan mind meld, writ large).
The pilots have ornery humans to contend with, too. There’s a stiff-necked commander (Idris Elba), a mocking rival pilot (Rob Kazinsky, TV’s True Blood), and a meddlesome underworld trafficker of Kaiju parts (Ron Perlman). Most troublesome of all are the faceless government bureaucrats who foolishly believe that building giant walls to keep out the monster is better than fighting them (we saw how well that idea worked in World War Z).
The Jaeger pilots are obliged to act like the sheriff in High Noon, taking on ever more powerful foes at increasingly long odds of success. Still, even a lesser-value Jaeger suit allows humans to “fight the hard game” against the Kaiju, Beckett tells us via voiceover narrative, and right now, it’s the only game in town.
There is comic relief in the presence of two eggheads, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, who constantly spar with each other even as they are obliged to work together to study the traits of the Kaiju, who may not be the dumb brutes everybody assumes they are.
And Pacific Rim isn’t so dumb, either, although you could be forgiven for thinking at first glance that it’s just a big-screen version of the old Rock’em Sock’em Robots game that enlivened many a rec room.
Through the welcome presence of Rinko Kikuchi, del Toro has taken pains to put an intelligent and resourceful woman into his testosterone-rich scenario, and that’s more than you can say about the Transformers franchise, where females are little more than eye candy.
Robots, monsters and gender equality, too? Pacific Rim is more than just a blockheaded blockbuster.