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Monstrous Fun

by Shawn Stone on July 18, 2013

Pacific Rim
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

 

The trailer for this film was dispiriting. Even with the wonderful Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) on board as director and cowriter, the bad vibe was inescapable and left just one wearying question in the viewer’s mind: Another damn film about giant robots?

Kikuchi in PACIFIC RIM

It’s not just another film about giant robots. In fact, it’s the most engaging—and most fun—of the summer blockbusters so far. Part of what makes it interesting is the unusual premise. Here, the aliens don’t come from outer space but another dimension, and they break into our world via a fracture between dimensions in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. (Don’t think about it too hard, just be glad they aren’t from outer space.)

The aliens are giant monsters, quickly dubbed “Kaijus” (the Japanese word for monster), who emerge from the ocean to stomp and destroy Earth’s great cities, from San Francisco to Manila to Sydney. You know, like Godzilla and Rodan back in the day.

To defeat the monsters, the nations of the world put together an army of giant robots. The robots are controlled by a team of two “Jaegers” (German for hunters) who must mind-meld to operate the machine and attack the Kaijus.

Del Toro and his collaborators make all this compelling with a straightforward script that features human drama at its core; at times, Pacific Rim plays like one of those old World War II movies where a group of diverse soldiers must pull together to be effective. This is a compliment: Like those old movies, the threat is taken deadly seriously, and the relationships between the characters are deeply felt.

The cast is perfect: Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi as Jaegers with family issues; Idris Elba as the authoritative, wounded commander; Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as wacky scientists who as smart as they are comic; and Ron Perlman as a violent, hilarious black-market dealer in Kaiju parts.

The fight scenes have wit as well as heft: It’s exhilarating when one of the robots wields a battleship at a monster. And the action varies enough that it’s far from the same damn thing over and over again. For such a big movie, Pacific Rim succeeds because the filmmakers understood the scale of the drama is as important as the size of the hardware.