Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up! Grab the popcorn and check your brains at the door: Pacific Rim is this year’s first legitimate summer blockbuster. Guiellermo del Toro, writer/director of original fare such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, ratchets up the scale for this epic creature feature while retaining the intimate, child-like wonder that make his movies so accessible. The result is a fun ride, especially in IMAX 3D, that eschews deep dialogue and plot for the sake of watching monsters and robots beat the crap out of each other. While the appeal is certainly reminiscent of TV shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and The Big O (I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Pacific Rim action figures, lunchboxes, and other tie-ins), the flick’s action and production value ensures that it remains enjoyable, whether you’re a 12-year-old boy or not.
According to the expository dialogue opening the film, someday soon, larger-than-life monsters named Kaiju will emerge from a crevasse in the Pacific Ocean, causing massive casualties and terror around the world. In classic “take on someone your own size” fashion, each country builds monumental robot warriors called Jaegers to fight the Kaiju. Because Jaegers require enormous amounts of brainpower to navigate and can cause severe cerebral damage when driven solo, the Jaegers are piloted by two soldiers who share a “neural handshake” (just go with it). The stronger the bond between pilots, the more lethal the Jaeger. At first, this is wildly successful. Jaegers take out Kaiju as if it were a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game, and the global fear turns into sport, with Jaeger pilots becoming celebrities and Kaiju turning into nothing more than punching bags for amusement. But as the Kaiju appear more quickly and in higher numbers, Jaegers begin to fall, and The Rapture returns to focus. Global government abandons hope and prepares for the end while the Jaeger program, run by Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, The Wire, Prometheus), leads the resistance in a last stand against the Kaiju. And that’s just the first 5 minutes.
Once the rules of the film are set, Pacific Rim becomes a visual action feast strung together by melodramatic conflict between its characters. The dialogue can border on corny, the emotion may be ham-fisted, and I still rolled my eyes when I heard “today, we are cancelling The Apocalypse!”, but come on… the movie is about robots fighting dinosaurs. Guillermo Del Toro is well aware that the allure of Pacific Rim lies in its action sequences, so the soap opera in between never takes itself too seriously, and its audience shouldn’t either. The CGI is fantastic in its execution of size and scale, the soundtrack is sweeping and epic, and the tone is decidedly airy considering the subject matter.
In a year filled with apocalyptic doom and gloom, Pacific Rim stands out. The film is an entertaining spectacle that is intense enough to hold the attention of mature audiences while simultaneously appealing to a younger generation of boys who never experienced the source material that served as inspiration for Pacific Rim. See it in IMAX 3D.