On its sleek surface, Pacific Rim is just another action-movie summer slamdance. Things explode, glass shatters, buildings fall, and heroes, before taking on some particularly brave feat of derring-do, say Lets do this!
Certainly, if the idea of giant human-controlled robots battling giant alien monsters doesnt strike you as the most amazingly awesome idea ever, Pacific Rim isnt going to convince you otherwise. But if that is something that stirs more than passing interest, then Pacific Rim delivers the goods in all their cacophonous, city-crushing glory.
Its the very near future and a rupture in the earth at the bottom of the Pacific opens a portal to another dimension where monsters which look like a cross between Godzilla and that thing from Cloverfield storm through with their beady eyes set on every metropolis on the coast. (Fans of such British sci-fi shows as Torchwood and Primeval, where odd creatures were always wandering through such temporal distortions, will no doubt feel right at home.)
After having our Pacific cities terrorized one too many times, humankind fights back with some monsters of their own called Jaegers towering robots controlled by two human pilots. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, The Wire) is in charge of the program and Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy) is one of his best pilots, even though he was traumatized when he lost his brother and co-pilot years earlier going mano-a-mano with a monster.
As the attacks become more frequent and ferocious hey, did one of those things just almost step on the Sydney Opera House? the humans realize theyve got to somehow close off that portal once and for all. Is our pilot up for the challenge?
Pacific Rim is saved from utter cliché by a few things. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro ( Pans Labyrinth, Hellboy) has long wanted to put his vision of Japanese kaiju (monsters) on screen, and the look of the film, from the clanging retro-futuristic robots to the dark claustrophobia of the urban panorama, bear his personal stamp. Mans saviors arent cute, wise-cracking Transformers but brutal killing machines, and theres none of the sense of camp that might be expected in an update on the Asian monster movie.
Then there are the performances, especially that of Elba, who takes the standard-issue, no-nonsense military commander role and infuses it with a sense of depth and gravity. Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi ( The Brothers Bloom), as a trainee pilot, also adds layers to what could have been a predictable part.
Charlie Day (Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman ( Torchwood) as dorky scientists and Ron Perlman as a gangster dealing in black-market monster body parts are meant as comic relief. While this element doesnt always work, it does give the script (from Del Toro and Travis Beacham, Clash of the Titans) some levity.
Most of all, there are the bot-vs.-beast battles. Lots of them. Maybe too many.
And no one bothers to ask this question: If the military engagements with the monsters destroy the city theyre trying to protect, whats the point? (In other words, anyone living in Hong Kong might want to get out now.)
No matter. The fights are well-staged and theres just enough interstitial humanity among boxing matches to keep things from getting monotonous.
As many others have already said this season, Lets do this!