Next year, when the Godzilla franchise gets rebooted, people are going to look back at “Pacific Rim” as the film that blew the doors off of the giant monster genre. No matter how good Godzilla turns out to be (probably not very, but at least it won’t have a B-track Rage Against the Machine song attached this time), it is going to be nearly impossible to top the spectacle of “Pacific Rim.” Guillermo del Toro flexes his directorial muscle and pulls off the year’s first real summer blockbuster. Gather your friends, its robot fighting time.
When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes-a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi)-who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse. (Synopsis by Warner Bros.)
The last film that truly deserved to be seen in IMAX 3D was “Avatar,” but if you don’t see “Pacific Rim” on the largest possible screen with the goofy glasses, you are missing out. The 3D is as close to perfect as you can get. There are no odd coming-out-of-the-screen moments; only texture, layers, and depth—exactly how 3D should be used. In a movie about robots and aliens fighting each other, you shouldn’t be pulled out of the moment with a pointless CGI pop-up book effect. It was great when you were two. It has been increasingly less thrilling ever since.
It is time to bring back the Michael Bay Fund for Better Film Making. For those who don’t remember, this is where we collect money to buy Michael Bay a copy of a movie that is similar in plot or theme to one of his, only vastly superior. In this instance, the obvious comparison is “Transformers.” “Pacific Rim” is most successful when it is sticking to its main point – giant robots fighting giant monsters. Unlike “Transformers,” this film makes the action sequences dark and dramatic. Rather than a flashy, kaleidoscope blast of explosions, “Pacific Rim” opts for action closer to “Hellboy.” There is a palatable suspense to the battles, and you are never quite sure if the humans are going to succeed. Michael Bay, this is what a good director does. Take notes. It is refreshing that del Toro recognizes that people are here to see the action. There are multiple monster fights, mostly at the beginning and end. All are awesome.
The plot structure, loose as it may be, does just enough to establish characters and get the audience invested. There is not a lot of depth here, but really who cares? This is giant robots and giant monsters. If you wanted a deep, nuanced thought piece, go watch “Pan’s Labyrinth” again. The target audience for this grew up on “Voltron,” “Transformers” (before it sucked), “Godzilla” (before it sucked), and “The Iron Giant.” Who doesn’t want an iron giant? Give me a steam-powered iron giant and I’ll show you a man who can get things done! Not that del Toro doesn’t inject some thought into this. There is a not-so-subtle reference to the Great Wall of America and it’s failings. There is the symbolic humanoid robot controlled by two operators; a metaphor for the necessary symbiosis of the human race towards solving our large scale problems. But you know what? I still don’t care, because GIANT FREAKING ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS!
Film nerds can complain all day about this not being a thought-provoking take on a cliché-plagued genre. But sometimes, the film you really want to see doesn’t need to be anything else. “Where the Wild Things Are” is a great example of intelligent filmmaking. But that wasn’t the film that anyone wanted to see. Sometimes you just want to sit back with a sack of popcorn, a bottle of Malibu, and enjoy the experience. This isn’t high art. This is “Ultraman.” Just class it up enough that we don’t see the zipper on the rubber costume.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it. Get some cardboard boxes. Build a mock up of Hong Kong. Throw down!
THREE AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Rated PG-13, for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language.
Runtime: 2 hr. 11 mins.