In these uncertain times, we all want bright futures for our children.
The best thing you could do for them right now? Train little Bobby or Susie to dedicate months of their life to constructing elaborate digital cityscapes only to have them carelessly torn asunder. If this summer is any indication, they’ll never want for food.
“Pacific Rim” is the eleventy-fifth movie in the past year to do just that. But at least it has a good excuse. Heck, that destruction is nearly its raison d’etre.
Co-writer (along with Travis Beacham) and director Guillermo del Toro has created a futuristic world in which enormous crustacean-looking beasties have emerged from deep in the sea, through a portal between dimensions located in a breach in tectonic plates, to terrorize the planet.
As a result, each nation has set aside its differences to help create the 250-foot-tall metallic warriors that will ultimately protect Earth.
So, yeah, it’s two-hours-plus of robots fighting monsters. And it’s a blast. It’s just not as delirious a blast as you’d hope considering it comes from the visionary behind “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the “Hellboy” movies.
It’s 2020, seven years into the wars against the Kaiju (Japanese for “giant beast”). Raleigh Becket (“Sons of Anarchy’s” Charlie Hunnam) and his older brother (Diego Klattenhoff) are two of the baddest Jaeger (German for “hunter”) pilots around. Standing in the robot’s head where the eyes should be, they control their Jaeger through a process akin to some sort of crazy offshoot of “Dance Dance Revolution.” But to steer such complex movements, their brains need to be synchronized to the point where even their memories are shared.
The danger in this is that one of the pilots could get lost in a memory. “Chasing the rabbit” in Jaeger parlance. Because, you know, otherwise the process of sharing your brain with another person as well as a giant robot would be way too simple.
After plenty of successful missions, something goes horribly wrong and Becket isn’t seen for five years. The commander of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (Idris Elba) eventually finds him barely scraping by, chasing dangerous work on the coastal wall being built from Alaska to the tip of California. It’s a defense plan designed to replace the decommissioned Jaegers.
But Elba’s ex-robot jockey wants to bring back Becket for one final assault on the Kaiju. Before long, Becket returns to training, looking for a compatible partner, under the watchful eye of Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who deems him a risk-taking, rule-breaking rebel before inevitably falling for him. Think “Top Gun” minus the homoeroticism.
Del Toro and his team clearly spent far more time developing the Jaegers than “Pacific Rim’s” human characters. Coming from the U.S., Australia, China and Russia, the Jaegers all have varying specs and weapons, ranging from missiles and plasma cannons to buzz saws and swords. And they’re given distinct markings and names such as Gipsy Danger or Crimson Typhoon. Just like World War II bombers. Or burlesque stars.
But for all the time and money spent on the Jaegers — not to mention the Kaiju, no two of which are identical — most of their fight scenes are constructed in such a way that not only is it hard to tell what’s happening, it’s often hard to discern to whom or what it’s happening. Although, to be fair, the sight of a Jaeger dragging a cargo ship across a city before wielding it like a baseball bat is giddily spectacular.
A couple of characters even manage to rise above the mayhem. Charlie Day (“Horrible Bosses”), with his neo-Bobcat Goldthwait twitchiness, adds the necessary levity as a Kaiju-groupie scientist covered with tattoos of his favorite monsters. But most of the joy comes from del Toro regular Ron Perlman, whose arrival was greeted with knowing laughter from the fanboys in attendance.
His flashy black-market Kaiju dealer harvests what he can from the dead beasts, selling their ground-up bones for 500 bucks a pound as a sort of sci-fi Cialis. Not only did he christen himself Hannibal Chau in honor of the military commander and a Szechuan restaurant, he makes a point of telling you he did it to honor the military commander and a Szechuan restaurant.
I’d pay good money to watch a spinoff that was little more than those two arguing.
Odds are you knew before you even started reading this whether “Pacific Rim” was for you.
The idea of robots fighting monsters either makes you roll your eyes or long for a time machine so you could bring your 12-year-old self to see it. If you’re in the latter category, be sure to stick around through the first phase of the closing credits. You’ll be almost guaranteed to leave the theater with a goofy grin nearly the size of a Jaeger.
(Christopher Lawrence is the movie reviewer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)