I was planning to complain about the mediocre dialogue in Pacific Rim, but I reconsidered. Who cares about word wrangling in a “robots vs. monsters” movie? The film knows its fans base very well and it’s particularly generous. You get introduction fights, montage melees, flashback battles and a final brawl of spectacular proportions. Pacific Rim lasts over two hours ten and feels like 15 minutes (unlike that Lone Ranger snooze).
Director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) provides a hard sci-fi set-up and gets it out of the way in the opening ten minutes. Earth is being invaded by massive alien creatures (kaijus) through an interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, the best weapons against said monsters have been the jaegers (robot symbiotes that require a two person crew). But as of late, the number of kaijus to emerge surpasses the jaegers’ capabilities and governments around the world have opted for massive walls instead (because those always work out).
The last Hail Mary for the jaegers is to send a nuclear bomb through the portal, but with only four robots available, mankind’s odds of survival are very low. The human factor, however, is buoyant: The commander in chief (Idris Elba, oozing gravitas) is a veritable force of nature, the star pilot (Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy) is as talented as he is hot headed, and his partner (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel) has revenge entrenched in her mind.
Story wise, there is nothing particularly original in Pacific Rim: There are traces of Top Gun, Lethal Weapon, ID4 and even An Officer and a Gentleman in the film. No matter. All the kicks come from the mechanical wonders in full display. Del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth) want you to see every jaeger nut and bolt. The battles are carefully choreographed and are easy to follow (Transformers looks downright amateurish next to Pacific Rim). While the characters are not very sympathetic, the war against the kaijus is rousing.
The sci-fi spectacle privileges special effects over big names (Tom Cruise was up for a part, but was deemed too expensive), but Elba, Kikuchi and Hunnam are consummate pros and deliver. Predictably, Del Toro’s favorite Ron Perlman shows up in an entirely disposable subplot and steals the movie. (Perlman is 63, how much longer until we get Hellboy 3?) A passing environmental plea feels hollow and the comic relief (Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses) is more shrill than amusing, but these are small blemishes in the overall picture.
There is a good chance Pacific Rim bombs this weekend due to lack of awareness and the competition of Grown Ups 2. This could be a bad blow to the very few original movies to open during summer. Having seen both, there is no question frame-by-frame Pacific Rim provides the most satisfactory experience.
Three and a half unusually large prairie dogs.