I wish there were a more artful way for me to express my thoughts on Guillermo Del Toro’s newest movie, Pacific Rim, but there isn’t, so I’ll just come right out and say it: this is a kick-ass piece of summer tentpole entertainment. That’s right, kick-ass. I’ve seen the movie twice now, in standard two-dimensions and IMAX 3D. Being a cinema purist, I tend toward conventional theatrical exhibition almost exclusively, but would suggest to you that the employment of a third dimension and a massive screen elevates Pacific Rim from a superior slam-bang action flick to a great one. If Del Toro was looking to create a cinematic masterpiece about giant robots kicking the holy living crap out of giant monsters from another dimension beneath the sea, then he has succeeded admirably.
To be honest, it’s all quite loud and bombastic action, as stretches of vertiginous visuals of robots and monsters smacking each other down whiz by with the frenetic energy of a hamster on a wheel. For that, we’re thankful for the few moments of respite, as the movie sets up its story and characters: After a series of pummelings by underwater monsters called Kaiju, the world’s nations come together to develop the Jaeger program, a series of massive robots built to take on the alien foe. The Jaeger are so large, in fact, that they require powering by two pilots that operate through a symbiotic mind meld called The Drift. The program gets on its feet, but the Kaiju keep coming, fast and too many, and soon the Jaeger are overpowered. Cut to the present, where the current Jaeger program manager, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), all hardened brow and clipped speech, finds his robots about to be defunded in favor of a Pacific wall meant to keep the Kaiju out. Pentecost wants one last shot at Jaeger victory, and, short on money, employs a washed-up pilot, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), and his own ward and secretary, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi).
This is about all you need to know of the plot, because Pacific Rim isn’t about a flimsy story that holds the film together or inert characters acting perfunctorily; it’s about great, grand and spectacular style, a virtue that swells in Del Toro like a balloon ready to burst. When the action scenes come, it’s with the force of a hammer blow, yet Del Toro has enough control to allow us to see the frenzy without resorting to fanblade edits to obscure the effects. Here is a movie where a Jaeger swings a cargo ship like a baseball bat. Transport containers are used to crush a monster’s head. Battles are fought and won and lost on land, at sea, and even several hundred-thousand feet in the air. It’s all a distillation of Del Toro’s favorite fantasies, from anime to classic Japanese monster flicks, presented with the loving care of the deepest diehard fanboy. Pacific Rim is the movie Michael Bay could only dream of ever making.
If the movie’s achievements are multitudinous, its drawbacks are few. Yes, I would like to have seen a couple of choice battle scenes take place during daylight hours; as it stands, we see the lion’s share of the fighting at night or underwater. I’m not exactly sure Charlie Hunnam is successful as the down-and-out Jaeger pilot, although I think this might be more the fault of the screenplay providing him with such a dull character than any of his acting choices. Idris Elba, on the other hand, is a joy to watch as the hardened captain steering his failing program to possible victory; taking this performance and his terrific turn in last year’s Prometheus in to account, I think we might be witnessing the birth of a major talent. And Ron Perlman has a wicked cameo as a black market Kaiju organ dealer, proving once again that he’s an invaluable supporting player in the right role.
Is Pacific Rim for everyone? Probably not. After all, what movie is? Those with sensitive hearing will likely run screaming from the theater as the decibel level is cranked up to 11, and the frenetic energy of the action might leave some dizzy from visual overload. But if you walk into a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters from beneath the sea, I suspect you already know what you’re in for.