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18 Jul 2013

Finally, a Blockbuster That Doesn't Suck: 'Pacific Rim' Delivers the Action Goods

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A scene from Pacific Rim. A scene from Pacific Rim.

Gigantic alien beasts get their asses handed to them by robots that don’t turn into trucks and cars in Guillermo del Toro’s alternately exhilarating and stale Pacific Rim.

This movie is full-on crazy, often in a way that’s rather fun. This is del Toro’s first directorial project after abandoning The Hobbit—and he made a good call. I had a hard time staying awake during The Hobbit. Such was not the case here.

It’s the near future, and freaky beasts called kaiju are rising from the ocean depths and tearing cities to shreds. Do we nuke them? No. That would be too easy. Instead, we spend kazillions to build a bunch of hard-core robots that are driven by pilots melding their minds together. It makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t care—because it’s fun.

Nearly all of these battles take place in the dark, in the rain or in the ocean. Normally, I would scream “Copout!” because this is a technique used by directors to cheat a bit on the CGI. (Obviously, it’s a lot harder to create computer-generated monsters doing things in broad daylight.) Even if del Toro is cheating, it works. Having the battles go down in the dark makes them scarier.

As for the people inside the robots: Watching them throw their fists and move their legs as a means of controlling the robots results in something immersive. I felt like I was throwing punches and wielding swords; del Toro puts the viewer into the battles.

Unfortunately, some of those people are a little dull outside of their massive steel shells. Charlie Hunnam, who plays the main protagonist, Raleigh, has one of those movie-trailer voices. Every time he spoke, I thought he was going to say something like “IN A WORLD WHERE ROBOTS BEAT MONSTERS … .” He fails to distinguish himself. Rinko Kikuchi is fine as Mako Mori, a wannabe pilot with a secret past that is keeping her from her robot dreams.

Speaking of Mako Mori's past, it provides perhaps the film’s greatest moment. Del Toro takes us into her memory as she is running away from a monster on a city street. Experiencing the horror of one of the monsters from the vantage point of a child is powerful stuff; del Toro makes it an amazing sequence.

For comic relief, there’s Charlie Day as a hyperactive scientist who collects kaiju tattoos. The bespectacled Day is 2013’s answer to Rick Moranis; his presence here reminds of the nerdy Louis in Ghostbusters.

Ron Perlman gets perhaps the film’s biggest laughs as Hannibal Chau, a monster collector who sells their crap for fertilizer. Idris Elba lends his formidable presence as Stacker, leader of the robot guys and the deliverer of huge, rousing “Cancel the Apocalypse!” speeches.

When the movie isn’t dealing with robot on monster smackdowns, it’s a little boring—perhaps even tedious. Those looking for a summer blockbuster that delivers the action goods, however, won’t mind sifting through the sleepy passages to get to the good stuff.

The kaiju are great movie monsters, because they come in many incarnations. They look like everything ranging from a rhino to the devil; they spit plasma lasers that act like acid; and the bastards even fly on occasion.

Pacific Rim isn’t the all-time classic for which I was hoping, but it is good, and in a summer when many, many blockbusters have faltered, I’m glad to get one that is at least enjoyable.

Also: If you can catch it in 3-D, do so. It looks great.

Pacific Rim is playing at theaters across the valley.

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