The battles onscreen in “Pacific Rim” are likely to incite equally ferocious battles in the minds of film critics, especially male film critics, everywhere.
The internal debate will go something like this:
Critic’s adult self: “The story’s a little simple, but in the classical sense it works.”
Critic’s 12-year-old self: “It’s robots fighting monsters. How cool is that?”
Critic’s adult self: “Some of the acting is a little wooden.”
Critic’s 12-year-old self: “What acting? It’s got robots fighting monsters!”
Critic’s adult self: “Guillermo Del Toro is an action director with a strong visual sense.”
Critic’s 12-year-old self: “What part of ‘ROBOTS FIGHTING MONSTERS’ are you not getting?!?”
Yes, as a critic, I can find things to pick apart about “Pacific Rim,” but ultimately I was won over by the visceral thrills and the giddy delights of Del Toro’s sleek homage to the monster movies of his youth.
In a rapid-fire prologue, Del Toro, who shares screenwriting credit with Travis Beacham, sets up the situation. In 2013 (hey, that’s this year!), a breach opens up in the Pacific Ocean, through which massive alien creatures from another dimension start popping out. At first, the world’s armed forces are able to take down these monsters, dubbed Kaiju (the Japanese word for “giant beast”), but with more attacks comes the realization that something bigger has to be done.
That bigger thing is the Jaeger program, skyscraper-sized fighting robots that can match the Kaiju pound for pound and punch for punch. The Jaegers (named for the German word for “hunter”) require two pilots to link mentally with the machine and each other, so “the deeper the bond, the better you fight,” says one such pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam).
By 2025, a dozen years into the war, the Jaeger program is being disbanded as the Kaiju’s fighting tactics are evolving faster than human mechanics can. The head of the program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), aims to cobble together the last four Jaegers into a last-gasp attempt to seal the breach with a nuclear bomb.
To do so, Pentecost recruits Becket, who quit as a pilot five years earlier when his brother and fighting partner, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), was killed in a Kaiju attack. Becket chooses as his new co-pilot the untrained Mako Mori (“Babel’s” Rinko Kikuchi) over Pentecost’s mysteriously paternal objections.
Del Toro zips through all this exposition, feeding us just enough information to make things plausible, because he’s as eager as the rest of us to get to the main attraction: Yes, robots fighting monsters.
The fight scenes evoke fond memories of “Godzilla” and a thousand movies where guys in rubber suits battled through cardboard miniatures of downtown Tokyo. The difference is that Del Toro has replaced the cheesy rubber suits and collapsible skyscrapers with sharp state-of-the-art computer animation, with an eye-popping level of detail and sophistication. Coupled with powerful sound design and a thunderous score by Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones”), the overall effect is astonishing. This is a rare instance where seeing it in IMAX 3-D is worth the extra money.
There are weaknesses here and there, namely the overcooked dialogue and Hunnam’s wooden acting. But there are other charms, including Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Burn Gorman (“Torchwood”) providing comic relief as feuding nerdy scientists, Ron Perlman chewing the scenery as a Hong Kong black marketeer, and Elba delivering the gloriously over-the-top morale-boosting speech before the final battle.
Mostly, “Pacific Rim” works because Del Toro delivers the spectacle that every current and former 12-year-old wants to see, in high style and juvenile abandon.
Humanity fights for its survival, using robots to combat alien monsters, in this flashy special-effects spectacle.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language
Running time • 131 minutes.